Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
45Trip End Aug 01, 2006
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We finished off with a trip to the communal kitchen where huge pots of lentil stew, rice, bread, water, and assorted veggie piece are doled out assembly-line-style for anyone in want. It did look interesting, but I had a pass, Ryan was starting to feel a bit peaked in the belly as well, and only Elliot enthusiastically inhaled all our food, stopping only to repeat "y'know guys, I really think I'm just cut out for Indian food." That's (what we call in the biz) foreshadowing.
The process of crossing the India-Pakistan border is a lot more laid-back than I imagined but certainly no shorter for that fact. I tried as we crossed from India to convince the guards not to mark that Elliot was leaving the country this time as he'd been mistakenly issued a single- rather than multiple-entry visa and thus would not be able to cross back with us should he desire. We stopped four or five times on the Indian side before they allowed us to cross into the mile-long corridor to the Pakistani turf. Few more stops there, including a good 30 minutes in side the second-to-last one with all the processes done but the guards not telling us we could leave because they wanted to hang out
We arrived in Lahore near the train station and, while waiting for Imad's friend Abed to pick us up, I was more surprised to find McDonald's and Pizza Hut right in the train station in what I had imagined would be a very un-Western country than I was non-at-all surprised that my bank card again wouldn't allow me any funds to purchase any said artery-clogging delicacies (I seem to be cursed when it comes to that sort of thing). We had a few minutes to hobo picnic in the park and run our heads under the nearby garden hose on this particularly-for-us but not-at-all-unusually hot day before Abed, Imad's roommate, gallantly arrived to whisk us away. Straight away we headed for The Friday Times, Imad's current place of employ. It had been several years since I'd seen my good friend (we were Senators together in ASUC at Cal) and his now-even-skinnier frame crunched that much more under duress of one of my hugs. How did he get so thin and why? Sir, we would soon find out.
Back to his childhood home that was abandoned and is now only occupied by the two young men, we could no longer pretend to be cool in the searing heat (as if our sweat-soaked shirts and dog-pant tongues didn't give us away already) and it was a race to strip to the skivvies and fight for prime real estate directly under the one AC vent for the house
We set sail on foot for adventure on the town the next morning and spirits were buoyed as my appetite made a guest appearance. I was starting to understand how, between heat and various digestive maladies that are unavoidable barring a lifetime of acclimatization to bad water, Imad will be nothing more than a silhouette by the next time I see him again. The extra energy provided by an actual meal came in handy as we made stop after stop in and around Lahore's wonders. First was the previously-mentioned mosque, our feet burning as we raced across the considerable marble courtyard to the prayer mats. On the way in, as they alternatively admired and confiscated my guitar, and a young boy gave me a native bracelet as a gift, they asked us which country we were from. Imad and Abed had told us that, while Lahore is the safest and most "enlightened" cantonment in Pakistan, it was still a better bet to claim our motherland as Australia or England, both somehow believable due to our lingering mohawks, than admit our allegiances to the USA
We continued in with a "guide" we'd picked up (really just a guy from outside the mosque who liked my guitar and knew a little more about Lahore's history than did our two hosts) and passed through the old city, bazaar, royal bath house, and a mosque that an occupying king used to store horses until his health began to suffer and the best local doctor said give the site back to the people and WHAMMY! within two days he could see again.
We doused our heads with water, sang in an echo chamber, and Ryan lost half his body weight in the world's only saunatoilet
We had left to climb to the tip top of the highest minaret in town and grab a tonga (horse cart) back to the car before we got to meet Imad's old coworkers at the Aurat Foundation, pick up supplies for that night's party in honor of us, and after another boxers-and-AC session, clean house in anticipation of the guests soon to arrive. Quite the eclectic collection of guests were soon to arrive to greet us, from the older crowd from Aurat to the philosophical Europeans to Imad's wacky menagerie of cousins to sassypants. Imad and I wore togas. No reason. Though our exposed biceps still didn't make us half the hit that Mr. Cohen was.
Over the river and through the woods, to Imad's grandmother's house we went to break fast the next morning. Having lived in the area through the British-Indian-Pakistani transitions, she possessed a wealth of knowledge and memory to share
It was nearing the end of our days in Pakistan but we'd not yet gotten any more used to the heat than in the previous five days, plus Imad needed to get us off his hands for a while so he could meet his deadline at the paper, so we were dropped off at the pool (yay summer '93!) and I cannot even begin to describe how wonderful that was, my friends. We swam and explored the surrounding town until Imitaz came to collect us. Imitaz was one of Imad's friends from Aurat who had adopted me as his American son at the party a few nights hence because he and his wife had spent a bit of time in Moscow and we giddily spoke broken Russian in Pakistan like long-lost friends. He insisted we come to meet his family, and we got the honor of becoming acquainted with his wife and teenage daughter (both DJs, the latter the youngest in Pakistan) and young son. I spoke with the adults, the boys hit it off with the kids, and we all enjoyed our ice cream as the electricity faltered: load-sharing'll do that. Too soon, two other fellas from Aurat arrived to take us to Food Street where we again met Imad and Abed and happily/warily munched on the minced brains and testicles set before us. As we were amongst trusted company, I did get to participate in quite an interesting political conversation, though hushed as we were still in public. Not expecting to find this sort of perspective in a Muslim country, I learned that Abed, who used to live in Iraq under Saddam, was in favor initially of the war though disapproves of the way it has been conducted, and the older and larger funny man, who would have had no trouble blending into an NRA convention (he proudly showed us the gun he carries underneath the passenger seat in his car), was an absolute Bush supporter because he claimed that Bush was dealing with the Muslim world in the only effective way possible
Imad made us carry him on our shoulders down Food Street when he'd arrived with the news that he'd arranged a pool party that night with more of his fun and attractive friends, but while I'm happy to carry my friends anytime, it would have been just as fitting had we dropped him in a mud puddle along the way. As we strolled into the Europeans' house for this shindig, we passed a kiddie poolfull of brackish brown water in the front yard and had a laugh remarking to each other "wouldn't it be funny if this was actually the pool". It was. And not funny at all at first, even less so when Skinny McEurope took a dip in only his this white clingy boxers, but grew more hilarious as we at least relieved them of their vodka. We felt like teenagers again making toasts as alcohol is not exactly allowed nor forbidden in Pakistan: Muslims may not indulge, Westerners can, foreigners can buy it but no one sells it. We got our few small bottles from the maintenance bay underneath a swanky hotel. Occasionally, there can still be a little trouble but with a little sweet talking like grandpa taught, it usually "amounts to nothing".
On our last day in Pakistan, we made sure to tag the last activity on our list, one that we'd been preparing for since India: playing cricket. We headed for the university grounds after a stop to buy tennis balls and white tape to cover them, as you do not want beginners hurling the real croquet-ball-hard cricket orbs
We do sleep on occasion, however, though we started out latest slumber to get out on time to get back to Delhi that day. Wishing fond farewell and bon voyage to Abed and Elliot, Imad hauled Ryan and I out to the border where we big him adieu as well. We chilled at the way station for a good half-hour (border didn't open till 9AM: we had the Indian opening time on our minds and, just for fun, India and Pakistan are 30 minutes apart in the same place) before our frustratingly but surprisingly first real search of the trip (usually my guitar is enough to charm them into cursorily waving us by). On the Indian side, the border agent took us to the taxi union (which is why it cost three times as much going back as coming in) and hopped in to join us for the scramble to Amritsar to catch the last early train to Delhi. We were 40 minutes late but. hey, no problem, our policy of being bass-ackwards lucky ensured that the train was right there on the platform waiting for us. We were soon aboard and steaming full bore back to Delhi.
Moral of the Story: Don't judge a book by the media.