I finally found a place to live. After hours of driving around Islamabad’s various sectors, tramping up lots of stairs, and poking in corners of countless empty houses, I have found a spot to call home. It’s totally unfurnished, which is crazy because this means I have to buy everything, including such luxuries as a refrigerator and heaters. But it was either this or live in a cramped apartment with furnishings that resemble brothel decor or rejects from a seedy motel in Reno. I just couldn’t do it. This does mean I may be sleeping on the floor for a little while.
As I imagine a near future that doesn’t include me living in a hotel room surrounded by 739 pounds of my personal effects in cardboard boxes, let’s take a moment to look back and reflect on the guest house that has been my home for two months. After all, this is the place I have spent the vast majority of my hours upon moving to Pakistan: living upstairs, working downstairs, and trying not to eat anywhere due to my deep suspicions about the sanitary conditions of the kitchen.
We’ve all made the joke a million times: “This is the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house in Islamabad, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting Real.” Other than the “taped” part (well, I got what I could on my little Flip camera), that’s scarily accurate.
And we’ve managed to have some fun along the way. In addition to putting a roof over my head, this guest house has been good for more than a couple of laughs. There was the Roach Incident, the Pilates Session, the time one of our guards accidently discharged his machine gun in our courtyard at 7 am (perhaps that one’s not so much “funny” as “terrifying”…), Red Wine Night, the ongoing antics of the staff, and many other moments of comedy that made the days go by faster.
There will also be some things I won’t miss. The smell of dead lizard emanating from the air conditioner in Office #6. The toxic little white balls the cleaning staff puts in all the sinks for no apparent reason (you’ve seen them before, in urinals). The reception desk ringing my room at 11:30 at night out of a sound sleep to take the breakfast order I already gave them for the next day. The awesomely horrid 1970’s comforters in taupe with geometric shapes. The Cadbury milk chocolate bar and bag of potato chips that refreshes daily as if by magic in my minibar fridge. [No, I will miss that.]
But I’m ready to start fending for myself, remembering how to make my own hot water and clear up my own dishes. It will be weird not to pick up the phone and expect a hard-boiled egg to appear 10 minutes later, but I will learn. It will be strange to find that my bed no longer makes itself and damp towels aren’t mysteriously replaced every day with nice fresh clean ones, but I’ll adjust. As much fun as it’s been to eat breakfast simultaneously with a roomful of colleagues, I’m probably ready for a little alone time. And I’m definitely ready to start making a home here, rather than just occupy Room #8.
What happens when you spend every waking moment of your life with the same people, in the same guest house, sometimes under lockdown? In our case, we got a lot of work done, amassed a lot of inside jokes, tried not to get unnerved over the latest security threat or sinister warning from the embassy about beheadings, ate a lot of dal and chapati. We had a surprisingly low number of brawls or catfights (unlike the real Real World). We also didn’t have a hot tub, although the nice open terrace on the roof would have made a great spot. Maybe for the reunion show…
Of course, it feels callous to talk about housing without mentioning the more than 2 million Pakistanis recently homeless and displaced from the NWFP as a result of the upheaval there. For you non-CNN types, NWFP stands for the North-West Frontier Province, a region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan and is the scene of the ongoing US drone attacks targeting terrorist leaders. Like usual, I have nothing to complain about.