What the hell is wrong with these people….

I’ve been watching this mess unfold at the Red Mosque in Islamabad as minor matter of interest having just been in Islamabad recently.  We drove down down Constitution Avenue and contemplated visiting the Shah Faisal Mosque because its the biggest mosque in the world and can hold some 80,000 worshippers and has some 5000sq meters of bum space…. but dismissed the plan based on the fact that it looked like an abomination of modern architecture and would likely be a disappointment after the beautiful Ottoman architecture of Istanbul… and in truth I do recall saying I was a bit ‘mosqued out’. 

So anyway I am kinda glad we didn’t pop in for a visit…   makes me happy not to have been anywhere near these whack jobs…. geographically or temporally.    The situation has been going from bad to worse over the last week…

Wednesday   Thursday    Friday   Saturday    Sunday    Monday


I just don’t get these people… they don’t seem to operate on the same plane of logic as the rest of us.

Cool Things :) vs Uncool Things :(

Finally got into the airport, and managed to then wait there for another three hours before boarding our Emirates flight to Dubai.  The flight to Dubai was uneventful, thankfully.  Emirates is a great airline and I would have no hesitation flying with them again.  I was supposed to get a couple of hours in Dubai to do a bit of shopping, but as I have come to expect, nothing in Pakistan works, let alone works to a schedule, so we were late getting away to Dubai, so there was no time for duty free shopping at Dubai at all!  Bummer, I had planned to pick up some flying carpet mouse mats, some duty free tequila and maybe find some sunglasses for MrK.  So much for that. 

I have gotten so used to being stared at in my travels over the last six weeks, and particularly in Pakistan, where my appearance literally could stop traffic, then when I entered the departure lounge for my flight to Australia, I could FEEL that I was no longer being looked at!  It was a noticeable and palpable experience, I went from the main area of the airport where the majority of people wandering around are of arab or middle eastern descent to stepping into the departure lounge full of home bound Aussies and Kiwis, and I could just feel that I was no longer the oddity!  It was great, outside it was me being stared at… and then suddenly, inside the departure lounge… it was the two women in full black burkas that were the oddity and not the short blonde in the corner!  Yay!  Able to blend into the crowd again!  🙂

Our flight to Bris likewise left late… am getting sick of this shit… but this time we were stuck on the plane waiting to leave and held there for nearly two hours while they removed six men ‘for security reasons’ and then we had to wait while they took off their luggage.  Hey – I’m cool with that!  Take as much time to get rid of their luggage as you want … considering you have removed them from the plane as apossible security risk!  OMG … what exactly that might have all meant I don’t want to contemplate!.

Spent some of my time on the flight doing my lists of cool things and uncool things about Pakistan….

Cool things 🙂

.   Absolutely incredible and unusual landscape.
.   The crazy social contrasts.
.   Mangoes with every meal – prepared by someone else!  Yay!
.   Shopping hospitality… green tea with your carpet browsing Mem’sab?
.   Beautiful fabrics! fantastic clothing! Gorgeous embroidery on everyday stuff.
.   Gorgeous, gorgeous silk carpets.. I should have bought that Qum too!
.   Cute mud houses dotting the town (fall down in rain though! not good).  
.   Pakistani guards that wont go out in the rain!  Maybe they melt!  🙂
.   The multi cultural street 4 was fantastic!.  
.    Walking around with the equivalent of a years salary in my pocket!  🙂
.   The crazy painted jingle trucks… works of art in themselves.
.    Man Love Thursday… the men are publicly affectionate with each other..  
.    Little old lady holding their head scarves on with bulldog clips 🙂
.   Having house staff…. One shouldn’t have to dust for oneself! 🙁

Uncool things  🙁
.   Being stared at like a western whore – I got used to it, but don’t like it at all.
.   The children that just wont smile back at you… it’s alarming.
.   No alcohol – which reflects total lack of personal freedom here.
.   The evidence of poverty everywhere… plastic bags roofs, people without shoes…
.   My bathroom with no windows – effectively a bunker reminding you its not safe.
.   The lack of humidity – dries out your skin and hair something awful.
.   No mobile phone reception anywhere!  It’s crap.
.   Wireless broadband internet – US$270/mth for a 256kb speed! :S
.   Man Love Thursday doesn’t extend to PDAs with their womenfolk.  😐
.   Men who seem offended at being introduced to me socially.
.   Having to triple think my attire whenever leaving the house.
.   Nothing works in Pakistan

Verdict?  I am so glad I came, and it was amazing to catch up with MD again, as I had missed him so much…. but….. I have absolutely no desire to return to Pakistan what so ever.  And think I can unequivocally say I will never return.  It is one thing to intellectually be aware of how oppressive it must be living in an Islamic state, but until you’re there and you can feel it…. shrug – I just wasn’t really aware of what it must be like.


Take me away with PIA ….

Okay… so I left on Tuesday afternoon 27/06/07.. and I was expecting a horror transit with 37 hours of being stuck in planes and airports ahead of me.  And let me just say right off the bat – I was not disappointed in that expectation.

It started with taking nearly an hour to get out of the Cantonment, small mix up with the security detail, and waiting around for approval to leave.  When we did finally get to go, I was on a minibus with a driver, and two member of the Pakistani army carrying AK47s, Mjr Dazzles sporting a Glock 9mm and a shadow vehicle with five more army guys all with their AKs!!!  Talk about overkill.

Get to the airport, luckily have no more problems with my ticket, thank Allah!  Was scanned and frisked no less than 3 times before getting into the Quetta departure lounge but strangely enough was never asked for ID to see if my name matched that on my ticket!  Go figure.  I then sat in the lounge for about an hour, and tried to use my mobile phone… alas… Pakistan is a country with crap mobile phone reception… and sat there watching the power go out a couple of times. 

Book by SMS!!! There’s a nice joke
These clowns lost my booking that was made in their office!

My flight finally boards (late as per usual), and were further delayed by the cabin crew reshuffling the business class passengers so that the little Pakistani women don’t have to sit beside strange men.  If one of these flights goes down, the manifest will be useless!  So instead of sitting with a spare seat beside me I end up with two veiled women alongside who spend the entire flight hanging onto the armrests and praying when ever we hit some tubulence!  I found the praying particularly unnerving when we were getting ready to land I must say… and even more unnerving was the cabin crew coming on saying “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, In’Shallah we will be landing at Islamabad airport at 5.30pm”  –  In’Shallah – If Allah wills it… they mean In’shallah in reference to being on time, but you cant help thinking they mean In’shallah in reference to getting there at all! 

I am amazed that PIA manages to land any aircraft safely… they pressurized the cabin extremely quickly,I can only assume because we were running late, then barreled off down the run way and took off at a 30 degree incline – I’ve never been on such a steep ascent ever!  And then I was amazed that even though people were told to turn off their phones, not only were they ringing during the flights, but people were answering them and the cabin crew weren’t stopping them!  The descent into Islamabad was equally adventurous and we hit the runway at an alarming speed.  I was not sad to see the end of my flying PIA experiences… by the end of it, I think those ladies praying under their burkas maybe had the right idea after all.

I spent the rest of the night killing time.  God it was awful.  I was at Islamabad airport from about 1800 and my Emirates flight to Dubai didn’t leave until 0415 the following morning.  Not such a problem except they that for security reasons they wont let you into the International airport until 3 hours before your flight… so I had hours to kill.

I started off by fighting with the PIA office to get a refund for the second ticket they made me buy when they couldn’t find my booking last week.  Two and a half hours wasted there…. at the end of which I was directed to the cashier’s office and not even offered an apology for the inconvenience!  The rest of the night was spent hanging out in a restaurant writing letters…. still with about 30 hours to go!

Everybody knows… you’ve been discreet!

The downside to living in a surreal construct like Street 4 is that everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everybody else’s business.  MD went to work yesterday and one of his colleages, Mjr Jordan  told him that his wife had seen Mjr Dazzles down at the fabric shops on Saturday and wanted to know if the blonde lady he was with was Mrs MD.   Mjr Jordan informed his wife that Mjr Dazzles was not married and the wife responded with “I knew it!  I knew she must be his mistress!  He was far too attentive towards her for her to be his wife!  He walked around the store BEHIND her and I even saw him carry her parcels to the car!”  🙂  So we managed to sneak out and escape the detection of the elite Pakistani Army security teams, but nothing can evade the Street 4 sewing circle!  Mjr Jordan’s wife and her crack squad have eyes and ears everywhere!

Spurred on by our success, we decided to try a variant on a theme and go for Plan B… the Great Stadium Escape.  Now you’d think a security lock down is a solid thing yeah?  But the little guys at the guard post didnt bat an eyelid when we told them we were going to the stadium so off we trotted to town again.

Firstly went to the PIA office to try and get a refund on the second ticket that we were forced to buy in Islamabad when they couldnt find my e-booking.  They could find the booking in their archaic little system, but the chickie who was trying to help us had to keep escalating and escalating the problem until she came back and told us that we had to take it back to the PIA office in Islamabad for a refund.  Nothing works here…. absolutely nothing.  Sigh…. I miss Qantas.

After that we went back to the fabric store to find some embroidery stuffs and have a further hunt through the materials.  I had to restrain myself as I am now well and truly over my baggage limit I think… especially when you include the weight of the carpet I bought yesterday (cringe).  I couldn’t resist!!!  It was the hand knotted Persian rug from Esfahan in central Iran that I saw there last week.  I positively hate bargaining but I think did pretty good on the price in the end.  It was well down from the 180,000Rps that MD was originally quoted when he first saw this rug a couple of weeks ago.  And it will go lovely with my house  🙂  But needless to say I didnt go spare in the fabric shop again – as much as I wanted to!

After shopping we did actually go to the stadium for a handball game.  Because Australians are known for their sporting prowess, MD is highly sought after for any team sport events they might be running…. even rubbish like handball that he’s never played before in his life!  I watched a bit of the game, but couldnt figure out the rules and found all the yelling in Urdu to be a little offputting – the sound like they’re going to start fighting any minute!  So I went for a walk up along the ridge behind the stadium to take some photos of the mountains that surround Quetta.  Forgot about the whole altitude thing here, and a very short walk up a rather low ridge damn near killed me!  The late afternoon light was doing cool and strange things so I got some wild and weird photos which was cool.  I found out later there is usually snipers in position around the ridge to stop Afghans taking pot shots at them while they are using the stadium… but I didnt see anyone up there.  :S

When I came back down, I went for a wander down towards the road, and got roused at for being out of eyesight of the secuity guard… apparently I am not allowed out of the stadium to watch the traffic.  I was hoping to get some photos of those jiggle trucks or perhaps some pics of the family of 4 or 5 riding around all on one little 75cc motorbike… but so much for that.    😐  The security guy, Ashgwar, who was posted to the gate of the stadium all day regardless of whether anyone was using the place, was nice to me though.  I thought he was just  practicing his English but kyboshed that concept when he asked me for my mobile phone number?!?!


After handball we headed back… and this time we got quizzed by the guards about the swimming pool/stadium excuse probalby because we’d been out foe night on six hours.  I think they’re on to us!  🙂  Back to Street 4 for another of Shahid’s excellent curries and then MD and I settled onto the couch with some movies before turning in early.

Still having lots of trouble getting any decent sleep here though  :S