Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Packing for Pakistan

 

 

What baggage am I packing with me on my trip to Pakistan?

I have been thinking about my visit to Pakistan for a few weeks now.  I have never been before – and I want to take a snapshot of my emotional response and limited perceptions of the country in advance.  Previous travel has revealed the how-wrong-I-was factor loud and clear.  So allow me to be ill-informed, naive, and for a moment – if only to pick apart my prejudice at a later date.

Although I haven’t been to Pakistan, I have been to Afghanistan and India and spent three years living in Sri Lanka, so I have had some experience of the region.  That said, living in Sri Lanka was as much preparation for India as Germany was for France.  Same same but different, one might say.

I know from books that Pakistan is a diverse land.  The Indus valley civilisation.  A busy commercial hub in Karachi. A Baluchistan that floods too often sweeping away cattle and livelihoods.  Devilish mountains bordering China that challenge its inhabitants and thrill European mountaineers. The notorious FATA region – much in the news of late, I imagine to be full of mountain peaks, hidden fortresses and secret tunnels.  And of romantic figures on horseback (not unlike 007’s friend Art Malik as a Mujahadeen Commander in The Living Daylights).  And everyone has an automatic weapon.

People are what gives a country it’s heart beat.  Having never been there my perceptions of the Pakistanis are cast by the diaspora community in Britain (including Mr Malik).  This diaspora was invited to the UK to work when Britain had a labour shortage in the 1950s.  This diaspora were offered refuge when the Mangla Dam flooded villages in Mirpur.  A community invited to settle. And increasingly the diaspora consists of professionals – doctors – offered a managed migration route to help the sick in Britain.   They number nearly a million in Britain – and yet how is it I know so little about Pakistan?

At the school I went to in Bristol, we never stopped to ask each other where we were from.  It’s only looking back and with greater knowledge of the world do I understand from given names that my school mates were likely Tamils or Muslims or Indian or African.  One of my first boyfriends was half Pakistani and half Scottish and equally proud of both – but this was unusual in inner city Britain in the 70’s and 80’s nobody seemed to wear their heritage on their sleeves.   Besides, we were raised not to question where someone was from, lest we view people as “the other” and offend, so of the many colleagues and friends I have spent time along side over the years, I have rarely asked them about their roots.  I feel slightly ashamed that I haven’t now.  Perhaps going to Pakistan will be a starting point for a deeper understanding of my diaspora friends.

Next week I will be tentatively dipping a toe in Pakistan.  It’ll be hand luggage only and I won’t go far, but it will be a starting point for what I hope will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship with a country that I have longed to visit for years – and often wonder why I didn’t.  I’m happy to share my first impressions and better informed emotional response with you on these pages (as I have with Iraq and Afghanistan and even France).

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Back from Kabul – part 1

street in central kabul

street in central kabul

 
So I am back safe and sound from the Stan.  I did try and write in the few moments I could grab between filthy Marlborough Lights and restless sweaty sleep (interrupted by the throb of an ancient air conditioner and momentary power losses), but I was too busy living it, to be writing about it.  At last I am lancing the cyst and allowing some of my Nomadic tales to tumble forth.

 

Last time I traveled to Kabul it was on the UNHAS flight, and all previous trips to so called war zones have been diplomatic (ha!) so I was slightly perturbed by the prospect of a lone civilian arrival.  The airport smelt like the inside of a new car, and the Japanese funded concourse with a handful of shops and smiling shopkeepers children not an unpleasant place to await my gracious host, Dr A to arrive from his flight from Peshwar.   

   

  

 

boy at kabul airport

boy at kabul airport

 

Dr A was gracious indeed and made sure I was fed traditional Bolani  washed down with lemon tea within minutes of our arrival at his office which doubled up as his house.  Bolani was stuffed with leeks, dripping in fat and meant to be doused in sour yoghurt.  I apologized in advance, feigning a weight problem (you saying I’m fat?), but then surprised myself and gobbled down the whole plateful, to the joy of one of the cooks – a small lady dressed entirely in black, who later cared for me like a mother, bringing green tea, filtered water, rubbing my aching shoulders and even closing the blind, less my delicate European eyes should wince at the mountain sharp sunlight.  So to receive messages citing my bravery are frankly an embarrassment – there is nothing brave about being treated like a queen – unless you are Hilary Clinton.

 

Despite the quips about ancient air conditioning, the lodge was a wonderful place.  I had an enormous wooden paneled room, with a large writing desk (that called me to it in weaker moments and teased me with an intermittent internet connection) – and it even an en suite.  The shower was never warm, nor was it a shower (simply as waist high tap), but hey, the toilet flushed and the window opened to let in fresh air.  AND there was a light and a mirror, so I could fix my head covering arrangement appropriately.  Here is a tip for female visitors to Afghanistan – people WON’T get to see your hair, so DON’T bother washing it.  Washing it makes it slippery and silky, and for the amateur head scarf wearer, this is a constant anxiety.  Filthy, greasy hair provides far better friction (there is a sentence I never thought I would write).  And forget using volumising shampoo (what was I thinking?)

Kabul

nomadic in the bathroom mirror

The Lodge catered to my vegetarian tastes pretty well too.  The first evening we were treated to a vegetable stew and potatoes, where every single bean and vegetable was cooked to utter melt in the mouth perfection.  And the green tea flowed and flowed, as it did throughout the week.  Enjoyed mainly on the seating outside next to the rose and geranium borders washed down with nicotine and the Afghanistan Times.

green tea and newspaper

green tea and newspaper

Travel around Kabul was in a dusty four by four and our preferred driver found his way to our meeting points by getting lost, questioning policeman and having long and multiple phone conversations.  I was here to research the media in Afghanistan and talk to journalists – they were not always easy to find it seems.  As this is my travel blog I think I will stop there.  I am sure in days to come I will blog some Nomadic Wisdom  and some public diplomacy not to mention a fair bit of World Bank on more serious notes, but this is a more personal take on Nomadic’s travels, not her work.

I want you to know that the majority of people in Kabul don’t where Lungee turbans nor pakol hats, and many of the women don’t wear Burkhas.  I want you to know that Kabul has streets lined with shops, some very modern looking, akin to malls even.  People have mobile phone, have a choice of 30 newspapers and hundreds of radio stations to listen to and TV to watch.  They can fill up their modern cars at the smart new petrol station and drive past a beautiful park in the centre of town (al be it down a pot holed road).  To say the people I have met are resourceful would be an understatement.  They are able to learn a whole new language (usually of an occupier) in the blink of an eye, and carry out business in the most extreme conditions. 

As I mentioned, a few weeks ago (if that) a bomb tore through the Shar-e-Now district, where I was staying.  It killed 41 people, mainly Afghans who were queuing up to apply for visas to India.  The stores along Passport Lane (which surprise surprise houses the Passport Office) were blown apart – ceilings collapsed, glass windows shattered, equipment destroyed.  Young students were also blown apart, bits of them landing on the lawns of the lodge I was staying in.  But just weeks, if not days later, all that remained was a small pile of twisted metal and rubble littering one side of the street.  Shop fronts restored, generators bought in, businesses making do and bringing in an income.  And smiles on faces, perhaps a little jaded, but there for this curious foreigner.  I was impressed.  Without getting too political (I did say I wouldn’t do that) – the only mystery to me is how a country which is under going multi million pound regeneration and a reconstruction project list as long as your arm has an unemployment problem.  That, my friends, is an outrage!.

Far too long for a blog….I’ll tell you about houses dotting the side of the mountains, goats, Herati glass and carpets next time.

passport lane bomb debris Kabul
passport lane bomb debris Kabul

 

Live from Kabul part 2

Thanks to everyone for sending me supportive messages – as I said, reports of my bravery are wildly exagerated, for the most I have been sipping green tea opposite smiling friendly Afghans, enjoying the sunshine, and hearing amazing stories from amazing people. I am here, as you might guess to talk about and to Afghan media – a wonderful opportunity and exploration…which I shall write more about.

I have very poor internet and phone access right now – so I am amazed I am even able to post this. I am sitting at the reception desk of the lodge house I am staying typing away – my green tea awaits outside. Once the self imposed 10 o’clock crufew is over I will go about town again. Once 10 o’clock is passed, the suicide bombers have either detonated or given up. Having lived in Colombo, I think it is mighty generous of the said matyrs to stick to a time slot. I am not being alarmist – I am staying metres away from the Indian Embassy and evidence of the tangled wreckage and blown out windows remains.

Pictures will follow, but the technology isn’t with me at the moment I am afraid! More soon……..

Live From Kabul

I’m thrashing this entry out very much on the back of a fag packet.  I have a ten minute gap in my day and wanted to rest the old Nomadic kit bag for a moment and pause for breath.  I’ll shower in a moment.

 

I have arrived in Kabul.  The sun is shining brightly and the city actually looks as if it is sparkling, traffic is moving, bicycles, blue burkha clad women shopping with their children at stalls bursting with fresh fruit, vegetables, cooking pots, rows of car exhausts (? A bizarre impulse buy), alongside the streets we drove down. The mountains loom over the city providing a backdrop of small houses like brown cardboard boxes dotted up the slopes.  Well more on that soon enough.  The cynicism will kick in, in about…..oh….ten minutes, so enjoy the romantic description whilst it lasts.

 

My journey here was uneventful.  The Kam Air flight didn’t crash into a mountain as feared (although it is odd flying through valleys with peaks either side of you).  In fact the most distressing thing was not getting to watch the end of North by North West which was interrupted by the captain of the Emirates flight to Dubai saying we should prepare to land.

 

More later, of course, but loved ones rest assured – the Taliban may blow up mobile phone masts, but the power of the internet is a force to be reckoned with (at least in those VERY well protected parts of town, and where people can afford a connection).  Nuff said.  I will be in touch.

 

PS – Apparently there was a suicide bomber strolling around town this morning, suffice to say he didn’t detonate anywhere near Nomadic……

 

 

Hello world!

NomadicLike any good Nomad – I HAVE MOVED. 

All pevious ramblings can be found on www.travelpod/members/nomadic.  From Bristol to Baghdad (is just a shameless list of everywhere I have ever been 1970-2007), Into Afghanistan (my first free-to-speak flirtation with blogging) , musings on the UAE, and On the Edge in Bonn.  Travels after June 2008 will be posted here.

The scenesetter – I am a single mother of three who is not adverse to living on the edge and visiting some of lifes more challenging places.   I like to write about it.  4nomadic is now my self indulgent web place – where I can rest my kit bag, hang out and share some of me travel treasures with you. Pure escapism. 

Nomadic can also be found online at www.nomadic-wisdom.blogspot.com