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Published: December 1st 2008
Saudi Pak Tower BLock
tower block and tent. Islamabad
In relaying our experiences of Pakistan, certain aspects of daily life got overlooked, simply because they became so commonplace. Power cuts became increasingly frequent, and by the time we reached Lahore 'load shedding' was every other hour, on the hour, across the country. Whilst this was an inconvenience for us, for residents and businesses it must have been a nightmare. Thankfully, at the time of writing, normal service has been resumed.
There were also the incidents that we heard about and read about in the paper of the barbaric justice meted out to those having sexual relationships outside of marriage. 'Honour killings' are frequent - one truly horrific incident that made international news was where a young woman was forcibly aborted, and fed alive to dogs; and another case in Balochistan of a man being tried for adultery by having to walk over hot coals to prove his innocence, or not. Unbelievable as this sounds, the photograph was in the newspaper.
The role of women in this Islamic society is complex, and it would be glib of us to make sweeping statements about their position. Our experience is that we've met very few women because they're difficult to meet: in some
families they are virtually imprisoned, and freedom seems to be proportionate to their wealth and education.
The soundtrack to our time in Pakistan has been of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. This happens throughout the day and night, and increases in frequency during Ramadan. Invariably, there are at least five or six mosques within earshot in the towns, all with cheap tinny amplfication, and all kicking off at more or less the same time. Some of the calls are quite melodic, and when heard simultaneously produce haunting and ethereal harmonies. Sometimes it just sounds like a bloody racket, especially at 5.00 in the morning!
Another element that has been in the background throughout our stay here has been the risk factor. We have never felt unsafe here, contrary to the information disseminated by the Western media that Pakistan is a no-go area. We decided on the basis of conversations we had here, both with other travellers and with locals whose opinions we respected, that certain areas, mainly the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and Kashmir, were to be avoided.However, our overwhelming impression has been one of an amazing country with friendly and hospitable people.
After the trials of the
Afghanis making delicious nan
previous 7 weeks and having given up on the visa and India, John decided to go ahead with the appeal and get the wheels in motion because he was concerned about the implications for other visas he might apply for. He emailed the consul with his 'representation'. The consul replied acknowledging receipt and suggesting John follow it up a month or so later. The next day, Friday 21st Nov., he received another email, saying 'URGENT. Are you still in Islamabad? Can you meet me?' Unfortunately he didn't pick up the mail until Friday evening, and over the next few days we were plunged into disarray again about our future plans. Finally, after numerous unanswered phone calls, abortive trips to the Indian High Commission and one final haggle over the fact that we both needed six month multiple entry visas to be in synch with each other, we were given exactly what we had asked for. We WERE going to India, after all!
Penny returns to England on 29th Nov, to spend a month with the family ( which will include a new member, Inshallah) and John is going solo, and heading south. Namaste!
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