In a Failed State

Trip Start Nov 14, 2007
Trip End Apr 20, 2009

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Monday, June 9, 2008

Strange things happen.

In Amritsar one week ago, sometime after midnight, Christina and I were floating on top of the dense spiritual emissions of Sikh families sleeping in a state of bliss on the marble floor of the Golden Temple. The state of bliss was contagious. My last memory of Amritsar was of falling into a blue rickshaw with my belongings and heading out of town across some parched fields.

It was hot, very hot. Christina was seated in the rickshaw, but her upper body was moving in circles - anti-clockwise: unusual for the Northern Hemisphere. The humidity was excruciating and with the perspiration - in body as well as in mind- I had become one with the atmosphere. My body was failing badly, but before black-out I heard Christina humming the old Al Green classic "Take me to the River", but in the way of Talking Heads' version from the "Stop Making Sense" tour of 1981.

............Take me to the riveeeeer........drop me in the wateeeer....................

And then we woke up in Pakistan.

It was by sheer good luck that in each of our passports where valid visa's for the precise time of our arrival with the necessary entry stamps!

With the ability of hindsight (the photo's and video apparently taken while in our stupor) we can tell you that we crossed the border with Pakistan at Wagah (accidentally) before remaining at the border (again, accidentally) to be VIP's for the legendary Wagah border closing ceremony which was performed by the lads from Monty Python.

"Is the short one John Cleese?" Steena asks me.

"No," I say - " Its Eric Idle."

"Of Course!"

Of course.

From the video I'd have to say it was some of the Pythons' best work despite Michael Palin's horrible fake tan.

A Lahori man had told us that we were deposited with him by good samaritans who found us wandering scared, dazed and confused at the Pakistan border. He told us that this was normal for people who witnessed the border ceremony, but we were safely now in his hostel. I swept the room with my eyes.

"Are we really in a hostel?" I asked.

He said yes.
I swept the room again - mossy cornices, an oily foam ceiling, silt depositing in a classic delta formation in the centre of the room.

"No really, is this a hostel?"

"Yes, of course it is a hostel- you here stayed last night!" He said.

"aaaah shit...."

I wanted to ask whether he gave refunds but this seemed futile, even to me. My mind shifted to those pesky 'Samaritans' - surely there was such a thing as negligence in Pakistani Law?

Christina, in her special way, was being a little more direct. Shattering my daydream of a court room showdown with the couple that left us in the hostel, she turned to me:

"Lets call our Lahori friend Amna Niazi, you know, the one we have been in surreptitious contact with over the past few weeks - she might be able to help us out, maybe help us find new accomodation."

Or something like that.

Regardless, within two hours we were firmly in the present, accepting of our accidental predicament and standing on the steps of a Lahori department store for a meeting with Amna Niazi.

Amna is an exceptionally vivacious and very beautiful Lahori woman. She is proudly Lahori and middle class, listens to Coldplay and Radiohead, works for Gloria Jeans Coffee and rates "Team America - World Police" as one of here favourite films. Later, she makes us laugh with here reciting of "Durkha Durkha, Mohammed Jihad" and the monologue of "Cocks, assholes and pussy's".

We go driving and we talk.

Lahore is full of cars - more so than any Indan city. And they are good cars - Honda's, Toyota's and even BMW's, not shitty impersonations but genuine imports. Between two double lanes of traffic, Men bathe in a muddy canal.

We drive through the Lahore Cantonment. It is a pristine suburb of high walls and impressive, if naive homes, of a style I have seen written before as 'Punjabi Baroque'. "Pakistan is a poor country full of rich people," Amna says, with utter conviction. I guess by her tone and the speed with which she says this, that she has said it before and that she is content with it as the neatest and simplest explanation for what is streaming past the window. Between conversations, I think about Pervez Musharraf smoking a cigar somewhere in a bright white building in Islamabad.

Amna takes us to a brand new Gloria Jeans franchise on what seems like an outskirt of Lahore (I discovered later that in the sprawl of Lahore we were relatively central). To enter we walk past a guard holding a firearm. Inside, I order a Creme Brulee Ice Shake, Christina, a Raspberry Ice Shake- we are both impressed. American goth-metal music is playing over the cafe's speakers. Amna, independent to my embarassment/discomfort at this, chastises the counter staff member who promptly lowers the volume. After ten minutes I notice the volume back at the original level. On the way out we pass the armed guard again, I decide that all the action movies and police dramas on the television cannot prepare you for the actual sight of a pistol grip, single guage shotgun in the arms of a civilian and I am conscious that someone must think this cafe a target.

We lunch at a nice restaurant next door to the cafe and share our experiences of Pakistan and India whilst tuning into the in-house music of Prince's "Raspberry Beret", The Beatles' "Come Together" and the Police - "Message in a Bottle". My (excellent) spaghetti bolognese costs the same as our room from the night before. I tell my hosts that I havn't told my mother I am in Pakistan because she would be worried sick- she only knows Pakistan for its terror.

Amna takes us to her family home to meet her parents and we are invited to her cousins wedding later in the evening, which we happily accept. The wedding is a peaceful affair relative to the weddings we experienced in India. Curiously, we learn that it is law to only serve one type of mains dish at a public wedding reception. After our chicken byriani we indulge in Kulfa ice cream. We meet many other guests who are eager to know what we think of the ceremony.

"It is lovely," we say.

"Is it like the Christian marriage?"

By default, I am now a Christian ambassador:

"In a sense, because It is a very public wedding. The Christian marriage is shared, it is important to share the ritual with the community," I say, all the while thinking whether or not this was the case in reality.

- "Aaah.....Very similar Islam and Christians, very similar."

Exactly what I was thinking.

The next day we visit the Badshahi Mosque, the Lahore Fort, the Shalamar Gardens and eat copious amounts of Lahori ice cream. The people are very friendly- a little curious- but overwhelmigly hospitable. Everywhere we look, Lahore is cheerful and full of people- people walking; people selling popsicle crafts; people going about their daily business - including us: we visit the Lahore Museum (Wonder House) and the Zam Zama Canon - I get to live out my Kipling fantasy - and we buy two Salwar Kameez from a lively bazaar in Annarkale.

A nice accident really.
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bird_dream on

Re: Not a Failed State
Wow, thanks for the comment Imwaqas. You're the first person not from our mailing list to comment on our blog!

A shame you didn't actually read the post- or for that matter- the next 10 posts(!) which were all made from, or about, our fantastic month spent in Pakistan.

If you want to comment on people's posts you should probably read them first.

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