My amazing visit to Pakistan

16/03/2010

Who would have thought that a little old lady who can’t walk much would be able to travel all the way to Pakistan to meet the wonderful friends she made online through Facebook and Twitter?  Well I did it, and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought because I could get wheelchair assistance at the airports and people in Pakistan were soooo nice and kind and helped me all the way.

I can’t write every little detail of my trip but will write what I remember most. First, being met at Karachi airport on Saturday morning by my friend and Karachi manager Arshad and Mr Khayal from the Royal Inn guest house where I had booked to stay. They hired a wheelchair for me and it was in the car but we didn’t need it. Karachi traffic – crazy, cars, bikes and people weaving in and out without accidents – amazing! At the guest house my room was nearest to Reception and I could call them for food, drink or help whenever I needed it. Great! I got my Pakistani phone and local number and started to learn how to use it.

My first meal there was mixed vegetables and rice – very tasty. I am vegetarian so all the meat items on the menu were off for me. I had a lot of those vegetables. They brought all meals to the room. Then finding out that when I asked for tea or coffee it came ready mixed with milk in a pot.

The next day Arshad took me to meet his family – wife, three lovely teenage daughters and one older son. They thought I was an important lady who had come from England to do social work. 

Two of his daughters Sadia and Ayesha were really sweet and showed me their room and drawings and art work and toys and everything.  His wife and daughters made a delicious  lunch with lots of vegetables, dal, yogurt and rice and more. What impressed me a lot was the way his son Abdullah came round and collected the used plates and dishes. Can’t imagine a boy in England doing that!

They had brought some material to make my first shalwar qameez outfit. The funny part was taking my measurements because I am not a regular shape by any means! They got a tailor to make the clothes and they were ready the next day – quick work. So then I could dress like a local and was ready to go.

I started contacting some more of my friends in Karachi by phone to arrange to meet them.

The first one to come to meet me in the guest house was Kashif Ahmad, also known as @ChaiPaniEtc and Sameer Shehzad. Like many other visitors later, he got a bit lost finding the place and I had to take my mobile to the reception staff to get them to explain in Urdu how to reach there. So I was sitting in the reception area when he came and found me there and said “Hello Jo, going somewhere?” He brought me delicious Pakistani sweets, rasmalai,  and I gave him a bar of English chocolate. We had a nice chat and got on very well. Such a nice man. And he was the last one to come and see me off when I was leaving Karachi for London, before 7am in the morning. 

The next friends to visit me were sweet Sheza (@shezzzles) and Osama Afzal (@oshiafzal) bringing lovely gifts and happy to chat before going off for their studies and other things. Such charming young people.

Then Sadiyah Ahmed came to see me in the morning before her busy work, and we had a lovely girl-to-girl chat. We both love cats. Sorry no picture with Sadiyah. She recommended her hairdresser to me, and I went there soon after. Interesting experience, specially when the power went off while she was drying my hair. Nice to see women taking their children with them to work.

Then one evening I had an important delegation of visitors – Sarfaraz Khan (@smkhan), Hameed Kath (@ahkath) and Abid Beli (@abidbeli). They each told me about their work and wanted to arrange a dinner in my honour, with members of the Karachi PYR (Pakistan Youth Revolution). Wow!

On the Friday Arshad took me to meet Sheza and her family at their lovely house. Her mother had just arrived from Saudi Arabia that day. And her grandma wouldn’t go and have her blood test because I was coming!  I couldn’t wait to meet her Mami (auntie) and her 20 cats. Well I didn’t count them but upstairs in her flat there were lots of them, and further up  in the cattery were several more, all looking relaxed. Good to see and stroke some cats.  Great job she is doing.

The next day young Hameedullah came to see me. As I was on my own at the time, he asked if he could do anything for me. I said I needed to go to a shop to get some cigarettes and he took me in his car to a supermarket. I got a few things but they didn’t stock the cigarettes I wanted. So he brought me back to the Royal Inn and went himself to get my Rothmans afterwards and brought them to me, and wouldn’t let me pay for them – so kind of him!

Saturday evening was the meal arranged for me by Karachi PYR at BarBQ Tonite restaurant. Sarfaraz Khan said we should be there 8pm sharp. Arshad and I were there on time, then we waited for the others to arrive. I know about Pakistani time so I wasn’t worried! Abid Beli and Hameed Kath brought their wives, nice to meet them. Sarfaraz, Beenish Qureshi, Ayesha Mehmood, Ammar Haider and lots of other people were there. They gave me a lovely shawl and presents. I ate delicious vegetables and rice and tried some other food, all very yummy. To drink I had sugar cane juice, which I remembered having in India years ago.

A  funny thing happened afterwards – one of my Australian friends was following my travels on Facebook and she told my other friends that I had been cooked dinner by Pakistani revolutionaries! My husband Sam and his family back home were getting worried about my activities in Pakistan – while all the time I was having a marvellous time. They didn’t need to worry but they didn’t  understand. Do these girls look like revolutionaries?

On Sunday morning more visitors arrived – my online friend Tabassum Quettawala and her husband and parents. They brought me a lovely crocheted bag. It was great to meet them after chatting online and on the phone for some months. Her parents looked very formal – I wonder what they made of a woman like me?

On Sunday afternoon  the handsome Owais Iqbal came to see me – and when my Australian older lady friends saw his photo they started an unofficial fan club for  him. I think he was amused lol.

On Monday morning I bade a temporary farewell to the Royal Inn after being given a lift to the airport to fly to LAHORE.

More to follow….

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