Okay, I haven’t even been here for 48 hours and I think I’ve died and gone to HEAVEN! Pakistan is more fun, more amazing, has more history and culture than any where I've ever been.
So far in the last 48 hours I’ve had my hand kissed by one ambassador, got into a political argument about the NH primary with another and gave career advice to the son of another. So far I think I've met Parliamentarians, Cabinet Minisisters, a whole bunch of World Bank folks and 4 ambassadors. I also came nose to nose with a lizard that lives in my friend's LaserJet, and gotten stopped from hiking up the hills above Islamabad by the Pakistani Army. (Blame it on Hu JinTao's visit)
I've also eaten the most delicious traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey, gravy, home made cranberry sauce (with real New England cranberries lugged back by Susan on her last trip home) stuffing, carrots and beans mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes -- in the garden of a lovely villa in Islamabad under a tent in November. But it wasn't just the food, it was the company. We've always prided ourselves on the diversity of our table on Thanksgiving, congratulating our selves when we have three or four different nationalities. Susan and John's Thanksgiving Dinner took cultural diversity to a whole new dimension. There must have been people there from at least dozen different countries.
Probably the most fun has been the historical conversations. I happened to have written my senior thesis on“The Interaction between Hinduism and Islam in Medieval and Mogul India," and for the first time in 30 years, I'm surrounded with people who know exactly what I was talking about and can actually debate me on the subject!
The highlight of today was touring the incredible historical village and gardens of Wah. Legend has it that a Mughal emperor stopped in the village on his way across what is now Pakistan and saw the gardens and said "Wah!" which is an expression of amazement in Urdu. I totally agree.
My tour guides were two cousins who’s ancestors owned land in the village and who's great grandfather was given additional lands as a thank you present from the British for his role in uprising. My favorite line was when one of the cousins pointed to what looked like an historic ancient building and said “my grandfather gave that to my mother after she was divorced.”
The other revelation was a much better understanding of the cultural (as opposed to religious) customs that shape Pakistani society. Some so very different, some amazingly similar. I went to the
Pakistani version of a rehearsal dinner called a Mendee – Men sat on one side,
Women on the other and when we went to eat the men and women formed separate serving
areas. But in the end my final impression was of the pre-pubescent and teen age set eyeing each other, flirting and
giggling and realizing that kids are kids, and weddings are weddings, no matter
where you are.
The other major revelation is that in my next life I need to do tourism PR. By the end of the evening I was trying to come up with tag lines and story lines to promote travel to Pakistan. If Berlin can be the new Portsmouth, why can't Pakistan be the new Paris -- or more realistically "Islamabad -- it's the new Istanbul?