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Published: October 13th 2006
I returned to Karachi on October 3rd and had the opportunity to meet with the new President of Aga Khan University – Mr. Firoz Rasul. Firoz has just relocated from Vancouver (yes another Canadian in these parts) and is the former CEO of Ballard Power Systems. He is an impressive man and has that rare talent of a leader to make you feel instantly at ease in his company. I sense he is a strong team builder and has the ability to get the best out of people. I very much enjoyed our discussions about his aspirations for AKU. This is a President not content to have AKU be the best University in Pakistan. The ambition is to be the best internationally and this view is quickly moving through the ranks. I was impressed by the consistency in message from all faculty members – that they aim to be a role model and a world class institution. I must also make mention of Mr. Asif Fancy – who is the chief architect of my Pakistan itinerary. Asif is the Senior Director of Resource Development and Public Affairs. Needless to say, Asif and I got on famously as we have lived in
each others shoes. He has a huge and challenging portfolio. He is a wonderful host and superb tactician – thinking of every detail. This also makes him a great fundraiser as he is masterful at relationship building. Asif was formerly in the carpet business – having sold his self made family business some 10 years ago. Realizing he was far from retiring – he joined the staff team of AKU as their chief resource developer. He leads an incredibly committed and dynamic team. Important also to note the carpet connection. Asif hooked me up with a dear friend in the business, Aziz, and I was given an amazing deal on two wool single knot, vegetable dyed carpets. Aziz even through in a suitcase to help transport the carpets eventually back to Canada. And good thing I got a deal – because the extra baggage charges are going to cost me a fortune -- $70 USD to date!
Let me also introduce you to Shareen who was my shopping and fashion consultant. Shareen works in AKU’s public affairs department and is an absolute delight. She is also a tough bargainer and knows her fabrics. We had great fun bartering for
silk. She also helped me buy some traditional outfits…Chemise, pants and scarf. And this was a challenge because the Pakistani women do not come in the size of us Amazonian Canadian girls. I had difficulty finding tops to fit me in the torso (and I am not busty!) and would you believe it in the arms. But we were determined and prevailed – I have two outfits that already have garnered many compliments. My hosts and locals were also very complimentary that I went to the effort of dressing in their traditional dress. Fact remains in the heat of Karachi – you want loose flowing clothing – I was dying in my blouses, skirts and pants. So this just made sense and the clothing is not only of beautiful fabrics, beading and embroidery – it is very reasonable -- $36 USD per outfit!!!!! Shareen also steered me to the premier shoe store in Karachi. And yes I did not disappoint – I walked out with four pairs of beaded sandals – gorgeous and again very reasonable – paid less than $50 USD for all four. The only thing that stopped me from buying more (remembering I now have an extra
suitcase) was again my amazon sized feet – there was not much to choose from!
I should also mention that I was in Pakistan and Dubai during the month of Ramazan (yes with a z – happens that in Saudi z is pronounced like a d). This is the holiest month of the Islam calendar – the month of atonement where muslim followers fast (no drink or food) from sunrise to sunset. Other indulgences such as smoking, dancing, entertainment are also not allowed or are toned down. For example during the buffet dinner in Dubai -- there was no belly dancing because of Ramazan. And in Pakistan there is no alcohol period – it is illegal during Ramazan – and is stored and served very discretely outside of Ramazan. The breaking of the fast – called Iftar – happened around 5:30. I happened to be at the Islamabad airport during this time and it was fascinating to watch at the moment the sun set…lunch boxes and cigarettes appeared everywhere in the terminal. There are elaborate Iftar parties and buffets. And again one can partake in food and drink before sunrise. Let me also say that I admired the discipline
of my muslim hosts. In Karachi it is hot – plus 40 degrees. So imagine working through the day without food or water. I tried to do it -- as I felt disrespectful eating and drinking in front of my hosts. But the heat got to me. So I finally agreed to take some water and to eat lunch behind closed doors. My hosts were most gracious about this. Also interesting is that all food & coffee shops and restaurants close. They re-open after sunset – and are open later in the evening to compensate. The only exception is international hotels who keep one restaurant open for non-muslim guests – and food and drink are available at all times. But more often than not these restaurants are tucked away out of view – again a sign of respect. I admired the discipline and the reverence of the people who were fasting. They were stronger than I!
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