On Second Thought...

Trip Start Oct 06, 2008
Trip End Oct 27, 2008

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Flag of Pakistan  ,
Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My driver/so-called guide arrived over an hour late this morning while I sat in the lobby making small talk with the receptionist. Normally, I eschew drivers and guides and relish tossing government minders off my trail, as well as getting lost and heading to the worst neighborhoods where I normally make friends and report later that I "discovered a terrific new place today!" I'm an independent traveler and when people try to tell me something is unsafe or to be extra careful I have rarely listened --tell me I can't go somewhere and I mentally map the course. I'm in Pakistan for the love of Allah -- what does that tell you? This however is a whole 'nother ball game and one to which I will play by the rules --mostly.

Earlier the manager offered as a gift, a salwaar kamzi -- a tunic and baggy pants combo with matching scarf that all the women wear here. He practically begged me to wear it so that I wouldn't stand out "for your safety madam". I assured him that at 5' 10" with paper white skin I was not about to blend in no matter how hard I tried. While very appreciative, I humbly declined because well, I don't care for wearing pajamas outside the house and no amount of frequency of seeing these costumes will change my mind. That said, I still knew better than to run about like a harlot with free-flowing mane in hot pants and Candies. Wearing a head scarf and a full-coverage caftan, and looking not unlike a poor man's Vermeer (with Palsy), I stepped past the doorman to my awaiting air-conditioned car and as I sat down noticed the porter was sporting a machine gun -- an accessory that seems all the rage in these parts.

My driver/so-called guide had very little idea about anything I was seeing and more or less crapped his pajamas every time I asked a question. He did however know how to drive a car --though little else.

"Sir, what is that building were coming up on?"
"Uh, det, uh, veddy, veddy old market place."
"Well, isn't that strange -- because it says 'Lahore Museum' right there, by God!"

Later while visiting a Jahangir's Tomb he pointed out, "Look at dis, all real hand-made painting, veddy old --original." Rolling my eyes as I passed him, "Honey, that's chalk -- Jesus Christ Almighty."

My patience was wearing thin and once we arrived at the celebrated Lahore Fort I accepted a guide for around 2 dollars. My driver/so-called guide was miffed and they had a bit of a cock-about right in front of me. My so-called was telling the real guide which way we should go and yelled at him and So-Called corrected him and told me "Don't trust dis mahn." "Oh, like I'm supposed to trust you -- that was not a carousel back there --it was a GODDAMN FERRIS WHEEL --Mary Mother of God!" The tour was fascinating and Real Guide really laid it on thick with his descriptions. "This wide staircase was built so guests could arrive on elephants --those balconies are where the musicians played and these balconies were where the dancing ladies showered the guest with flower petalsfrom above --fahntastic, yes?" Terrific! So-Called snapped at him, snatched my camera away from him just as he was taking my picture --"You dun know photographee -- no good." Hateful --I posed and smiled while they plotted to kill each other.

I'd just about had it and told So-Called it was time for lunch and that I'd be dining alone in my room on chicken jalfreeze and watching BBC in some icy air-conditioning. "We still have 20 minutes left of our 'tour' so why don't you pick me up later and we can go to the tailor -- I need to have a dress made --6:00 and please be on time."

After he'd skulked away I bellied up to the reception desk explaining how disappointed in So-Called I was and how I wanted a real guide. The receptionist understood my frustration but explained that So-Far's English was shaky and that he was a good and honest man who'd worked for the hotel exclusively for over 3 years. He went on to say that there had been incidents with fake guides at the Lahore Fort who'd robbed foreigners and that he was positive that So-Called was only looking out for me. Nonetheless, pietra dura is not "clay and old paint" --it's inlaid stone for crying out loud! I came here to learn something not teach someone the names of carnival rides for Christ's sake!

At 6:30 So-Called dragged himself into the lobby, motioned for me to follow him and off we went to Anarkali Bazaar. The first stop was a fabric shop where I promptly introduced myself and flicking my hand to So-Called told the proprietor, "I found this place --not my driver --no commission for him I want the best price --fair? OK. Let's look at some fabric and I'd like a chair, please." So-Called stared at the floor a bit and occasionally actually helped interpret -- or at least that's what I think he was doing --unless he was talking some smack about me, which wouldn't be surprising frankly. I chose some fabric and then showed the man my dress I wanted copied, "No later than tomorrow afternoon --is that possible?" It was not.

So-Called seeing how distressed I was when told it would take a week offered to take the dress and find a tailor who could make it happen. I told him under no terms should it cost one rupee over 300 (around $3.75). He took the dress and was gone for around 20 minutes. Curious women came by and shook my hand and spoke to me and a school boy sat beside me and practiced his English. They couldn't have been more charming and when the lady asked me what price I paid per meter she nodded approval, "fair price".

I was looking out to the street when I saw So-Called head hung low holding my dress heading in my direction. I saw a different man then. I saw a man down-trodden and exhausted -- a man trying to keep his dignity while holding my dress in his hand --and knowing it was sincere -- he wasn't getting a commission. It was overwhelming really --it washed over me all at once, Here is a man with all the cards stacked against him -- he's got a really tough life -- he's working an honest job and doing about as best as he's mentally capable. He smiled, clearly proud of himself, when he saw me, "I found somebody --for 300 rupee --ready tomoddo."

In the drive back to the hotel, I thought of tipping him and I certainly hadn't thought of that earlier. I thought, "It's just a dollar -- shouldn't I just do the right thing?" But that didn't work either -- I couldn't decide really if he'd earned it --if it really was the right thing. And so I changed the question: "On second thought, isn't the kind thing better than the right thing?" I believe it is -- I gave him 100 rupees.

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