First communication breakdown: hot milk with my breakfast cornflakes. But if that’s the most I have to complain about on my first day in Islamabad, I have to say things are looking pretty good.
My 27 hours of travel time took me from Boston to Washington DC to Doha, Qatar and finally to Pakistan, arriving in the middle of the night. I have only good things to say about Qatar Air, which has nice wide seats, Jet Blue-like entertainment options, and sweet little candies and warm hand towels passed around at every possible opportunity. During my trip I watched 3 sitcoms, one episode of “House,” the pilot of “Life on Mars,” an entire movie (Marley & Me), and read an entire book (Eat Pray Love). (Hey, it’s about an American woman in her 30s who travels abroad alone for a year and learns all sorts of important lessons. Seemed too obvious to pass up.)
A quick note about this glut of entertainment. I figured it would be my last American TV for awhile, so I really ate it up. The episode of “House” was fantastic–it guest-starred Mira Sorvino as a scientist with a mysterious illness trapped at the South Pole–and I enjoyed the pilot of “Life on Mars” way more than I thought I would. It’s about a cop who gets into a car accident in 2008 and wakes up in 1973, only no one is surprised to see him there. He finds himself in utterly unfamiliar surroundings, and yet he is immediately presented with a complete set of useful things: an apartment, keys, a car, and a job, and everyone seems to know his name. It’s not unlike showing up in Pakistan and being presented with an apartment, keys, a driver, and a job, and everyone seems to know my name. Except I also got a Blackberry. As for Marley & Me, beware of gut-wrenchingly sad doggie snuff films wrapped up in the trappings of innocuous romantic comedies. Just beware. And try to avoid blowing your nose all over your aloof and distinguished Qatari seatmate, as this alerts him to the fact that you are a crazy American woman crying over a stupid dog movie.
All this TV got me through the journey quite nicely though, depositing me relatively whole and healthy to the Islamabad airport at 3:00 am local time. Immediately upon arrival I was presented with my first decision in Pakistan–which customs line to join. “Unaccompanied Ladies” or “Diplomats/Foreigners”? Technically I qualify for membership in both groups, forcing me to ponder at this ungodly hour of the morning which of these I am more of–a lady or a foreigner. Anyone who has seen me drop a crumb of food on my shirt and then eat it knows that “lady” is a bit of a stretch. I joined the queue of diplomats in their rumpled suits but did notice that the Ladies line went much faster.
After an uneventful drive to the guest house where I will be staying for the next month, I starting unpacking but quickly ran out of steam, so I ate a bag of Lays potato chips in something called “French Cheese” flavor instead, and then found with satisfaction a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate in the room fridge. After this morning snack, I peeked out the window one last time before going to sleep, just as the sun was starting to rise. The air was beautifully cool and fresh after all those hours on airplanes, and I saw a quiet little park across the street with lots of benches and an empty fountain. It looked just like a park in Whittier or La Habra or Santa Barbara, blue in the very early morning light and full of eucalyptus trees. Then I saw the line of four donkeys clopping slowly up the street, laden with passengers wrapped up in shawls and tunics, and it didn’t look so much like California anymore. Life on Mars, indeed.