Sunday, June 03, 2012


You shouldn’t lie to your mother.  I know this.  But – as all those of you that have ever been born know – they are kind of stress-cases once in awhile.  And – as those of you that have been reading this blog for awhile know – mine is particularly a bit of a stress case.  So I told her I was going to “India.” 

But try to imagine the conversation last month that would have preceded my departure – “Hi Mom.  Happy Mother’s Day.  Glad you like the lawn fountain from Katie and I.  By the way, I am going to Pakistan today.  Hope Dad takes you somewhere nice for dinner tonight.  Bye!” 

Pakistan is the big bad wolf these days.  If you believe the mainstream media – it is a country where they stop warring with India only long enough stage cross border raids on NATO troops in Afghanistan.  If you believe the right wing loons – it is a country where they offer tax breaks to rogue international terrorists to set up multi-wife compounds in major cities.  In any case – I wasn’t coming in with particularly high expectations for the week-long training course that I would be teaching in Islamabad. 

As it always is with these things, the truth was much more mundane.  Islamabad is a South Asian city with relative good infrastructure.  (I daresay it might even be efficient if it were for the security checkpoints and the check-the-trunk-mirror-the-underside routine done every time one enters any commercial or residential establishment.)  The people seemed very nice – hardworking bureaucrats who actually seemed interested in learning more about statistics – or at least nice enough to humor me for a few days.  It was hot – over 100 degrees every day.  Bit on the dusty side – but the developing world will get you with that one every time.  All in all – not really any different than anywhere else I work.

All this is with the caveat that I barely left the confines of the hotel / office carousel.  One day I went shopping – because I discovered that what looked conservative coming out of my closet in DC – didn’t look quite as conservative on the ground.  One night a fellow alum of my grad program snuck me out of the hotel to go to dinner.  (Okay – it wasn’t quite as cloak-and-dagger as all that – all I did was blend into the crowd leaving some function and get into his car.)  He showed me around the city a bit and we had tea on the mountain that borders the city.  Beautiful view to watch the rolling blackouts blink different neighborhoods on and off.  And much cooler. 

The only tense part of the whole trip was the departure.  The airport in Islamabad is a bit serious.  They take customs and immigration to a whole new level of scrutiny.  Plus my colleague was Indian American (dot not feather) – so we basically looked like a Bollywood star travelling with her faithful sidekick Casper the Friendly Ghost.  She cleared the first check point like a pro – but there was a great bit of discussion over my ticket.  (Note that all of this takes place at 3 am because the flight departs at convenient hour of 5:40 am.)  One guard looks at it for awhile.  Then he calls over another guard.  As the third guard arrives, I am beginning to get a bit nervous.  I know everything is in order, but had the situation been reversed (Pakistani in an American airport), I would have already been being swabbed for bomb making residue.  The third guard looks at my ticket, turns to the first two and says, “Vegetarian – no eating meat,” followed by an Urdu version of the explanation.  All three look at me like I’m seriously deranged and very possibly dangerous – and I slink off to immigration. 

Thus ends my adventure in Islamabad.  I have been told that real Pakistan begins 10 km outside the city, so I know that it might be a bit premature to give the country the thumbs up – but someone might want to call Fox News and suggest that they hire a fact-checker.  Someone might want to do that anyway.

P.S. Since I didn't do anything photo-worthy in Pakistan - I am attaching a pair of pictures from Istanbul - where I stopped for a day on the way back.  


Anonymous said...

You totally crack me up. Vegetarian got you stuck in security, eh? Glad that it was the most eventful part of your trip! Thanks for your continued blogging- I've been a loyal reader for years.

Tara Dairman said...

Wow, Kristen, impressive! I hope to make it to both Pakistan and Iran at some point in my lifetime. Glad you had a good experience. How was the food? =)