Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Marveling at Masjids

This is Badshahi Masjid in Old Lahore

We ate dinner at a restaurant called "CooCoo's" overlooking the mosque and the Old Fort

About every five minutes I kept looking at it to see if it was real! It felt like we were on a movie set, but we were really just looking at the extravant architecture of the Mughal Dynasty.

More photos from Lahore - 4 new albums

First Three Days in Lahore

We’ve spent three full days in Lahore and it seems like we’ve been here for months. I could fill a novel with everything we’ve learned in these first few days, but instead of spending the next six months doing that I’ll just give a quick overview before heading out into the fascinating streets of Lahore once again.

Wednesday – Day 1 – We slept in late and enjoyed fried eggs for breakfast, cooked by Hassan (aka Cha-Cha meaning “uncle”). The family we’re living with has several servants. Cha-Cha has been with the family for fifty years and is the head cook. He’s about seventy and so cute! He moves around quite slowly and likes to sit by the fireplace at night to warm up. Jeera is the maid who cleans the house every day and does the laundry. She’s also been with the family for years and is a sweet old woman with a beautiful smile. She usually wears gray shalwar kameez and a pink and purple shawl over her head. Mansha is the driver but he basically does everything. Helps cook, makes the tea, supervises the mason and the other servants who are outside. He rides his bike about two hours every day to get here. The other male servants live in the servants’ quarters which are next to the house. Mansha is a slender man with a full head of hair a big smile. He’s been the best one to practice Urdu with and speaks clearly so I can understand. The last one is Shaqil who is the teenage boy that thinks he looks like a movie star. He’s been on leave but he’s coming back to today. The family usually calls him “bacche” which means “boy.” He’s been calling every day to say hi and inshallah (God willing!) he’s coming back tonight. He serves the tea at night and helps out with things around the house.

After breakfast we got ready and went out to take care of our foreigners’ registration. In Pakistan you have to register at the local police office and let the authorities know your intentions. Alhumdullah ( praise God), one of Seema’s relatives works in Islamabad with this department and so she took care of everything for us. We just wrote up these little papers, signed them, and then sat in the car while Seema and Mansha brought them in and talked to whoever had the authority to accept them. It’s amazing that they were able to do that for, we’d have been there all day standing in different lines and going from office to office trying to figure out who we really needed to talk to…kind of like at UMass!

We spent some time walking around at a park which had a big old library from the British times. People in Pakistan are quite fond of parks. We spent some time talking to a retired army man on the way out of the park. He told us all about the different kinds of trees and the history of the park. The conversation started because there was one tree called the “Devil’s tree” (Shaitan!) and I was curious why it was called by such a peculiar name. It was said to be used to cure ailments, which is the opposite of what I thought a Shaitan tree would do.

Then we stopped by Lahore College for Women, which is where Seema works. We met all the girls who work in the office and got to stop into the TESOL class. Seema suggested that I teach one of the modules for the MA program, Speaking & Listening. I’ll be borrowing some books for her to come up with a syllabus and inshallah (God willing) it will work out that I can teach the girls! It was just a huge room of smiles when I was introducing myself. Some of the girls were wearing their scarves, others just had them draped around their necks. They were all dressed in colorful shalwar kameez, which of course had matching pants, tops, scarves, and shoes. Pakistani women LOVE to have matching outfits. It’s very strange to buy “separates.” They also like to wear thong sandals, even in the winter.

On the way back we stopped at Shezan, a famous bakery chain, to pick up some snacks for tea. The evening was just laid back; reading in the living room and chatting with the family.

Thursday – Day 2 – I woke up early to go for an interview at the Australian Cultural Centre. Mansha and I got a little lost on the way since I was the one who had the directions and I’m not quite sure yet how Lahore is laid out. The office is located in the neighboring section of town, Defence. It’s the “posh” area of town where all the ex-pats and people with new money live. The hippest shops, cafes, and restaurants can be found in Defence. The Cultural Centre is a cozy place with two classrooms set up for teaching, a lounge and an office. The guard who works there has one of the sweetest smiles I’ve ever seen, really everyone here in Pakistan is SO friendly and welcoming! He’s from a village and doesn’t speak any English, but the director, Sonia, has told him to speak Urdu to me so I can practice. The Centre (notice British spelling) just opened up in April and so they’re getting started and only have one full time teacher at the moment. He’s a guy named Summer (pronounced like Summa’ cause in Australia they drop their r’s….Galina this is for you!) who has been in 64 countries and also works as a journalist. Before coming here to Lahore he was living in Thailand for a few years. Sonia is also Australian and married to Rizwan, a Pakistani. They have four extremely cute kids, two girls and two boys. The oldest is 13 and the youngest is only 3. I really clicked with everyone at the centre and decided that I’d love to work with them during my stay here. Since they’ve just opened in the last year there’s so much room for creativity. I’ll be designing some of my own courses, the first one starting in February after Duiii heads home. A few rock band singers have been wanting someone to help them with their pronunciation while singing so they can sound more like native speakers, so I’ll be booking private lessons for that starting in the next few weeks. Maybe one of these rocks bands needs a bassist. Just kiddng!

I returned home for lunch and we spent the afternoon chilling out in the garden. When it got dark we came in and I got to hear about how Adam and Eve found out they were naked after they ate from the tree because they had to go to the bathroom. Did you know that Cain killed Abel because they both had to marry their sisters and Abel was going to get the pretty one? Cain was apparently jealous since he was getting the ugly one, so he killed Abel. Whatever happened to the two sisters? I’m not so sure. After hearing about this version of the fall and the two brothers, Grandma and I spent some time reading the first few chapters of Genesis together. She has trouble with reading so I had to read it aloud so she could follow along. She tells me she has studied the Jewish holy books and the Christian holy books, but we had to interrupt our Genesis study when the call to prayer came.

After dinner we met up with Sonia to check out an Indian classical dance class at Chitrkar, one of the only arts centers here in Lahore. We observed the class, very slow and disciplined. Not the kind of dancing for me! Then we sat and talked to the tabla instructor. Tabla is an Indian drum which has a really cool sound. There are two tables, a small one and a big one, and the small one makes most of the notes. The big one is used for bass. He told us he was offering a class on Saturday at 3:00pm, so we said we’d try to come back for it.

We stopped in at the English class located closer to central Lahore and got to meet all the students. They were all really sweet and one of the girls already invited me to come see her village. Another one the girls does fashion design and was wearing a really cute outfit with a short kameez and trousers (as opposed to the poofy shalwar). Maybe I should have her design some of my clothes for me!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

a few photos....

here's a few photos from the first week being here. unfortunately the computer that has internet here doesn't have a usb port so I've written a ton but I haven't been able to transfer it to this computer, and since the shift key sticks on this computer i've been writing on mine...I'll try to go to an internet cafe on the weekend and upload all the photos from the mountains in oman/the emirates and the amazing mosque we saw last night!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Arrival in Lahore

We've arrived safely in lahore after a fun day of travel with Gulf Air. We left the hostel later than planned and missed the bus we'd planned to take to Abu Dhabi to catch our flight. The traffic in Dubai was awful so we ended up arriving at the taxi station late and then ended up paying the 50Ds for a shared taxi straight to the airport.That actually worked out better since the other bus would have passed the airport and then we'd have had to wait for another one to go back 30 minutes to the airport. Like in morocco, you have to wait for the taxi to fill up, but in the UAE you only put four passengers instead of six. It was quite roomy by maghreb standards! We made it to the airport with plenty of time, only to find out our flight had been pushed back three hours. Apparently nobody knew of the time change cause everyone else for our flight was waiting at the airport too. Then a guy was walking around saying 'lahore, lahore!' and telling everyone the flight was going to leave 'early' at 2:15pm. it was originally at 12:50pm, then 3:30pm. We were so confused! We just went to the gate and watched the screen, which now refused to put a time and just said 'early' for our departure. Finally we got on the plane and we were off to lahore! Definitely some of the only ones on the plane, maybe THE only ones with the blue passports.

We arrived and had no problem at customs (my Dirty Dancing DVD was well hidden) and found Anita's mother and driver waiting among the huge throng of people. If we hadn't had someone pick us up this would have been crazy! I remember lots of people outside the port-au-prince airport in haiti, but wow in a city of 7 million there's bound to be at least a thousand just hanging out at the airport.

We enjoyed chatting over tea and samosas with Anita's mom and grandma, had a tour around town, and now i'm trying to write this while talking to the servant boy who is telling me he looks like a movie star. At least that's what i'm i'm having a panjabi singing lesson so i'm gonna go!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Link to Dubai photos

Check out the first batch of photos on the Facebook - you don't need to be a member to see them

Photos and Pak update

Here's a pick of glitzy downtown Dubai, and here's the two of us on our way from Abu Dhabi to Dubai on the bus. Can you tell we haven't slept in a few days?

I think I've come to the conclusion that Dubai is an interesting place to visit but I definitely couldn't live here! Everything is not only really modern but extravagant to the extreme. They have indoor snow skiing in the Mall of the Emirates. Today we saw construction on the Palm Deira, a hotel which will be made up of private islands in Arabian Gulf. The crazy thing is they are CREATING the islands.
They are also making one with 300 private islands which makes the shape of the globe. Materialism at its best. Really they've even outdone the USA. I just went to the nearby 'Hypermarket' which is aptly named to say the least. It's a combination grocery store and mall, only bigger. Think Super Walmart on steroids. And this is located about 20 minutes drive from the city center. You can get everything and anything at the grocery section. There are WAY more choices than there are in the US. They must import everyone's favorite products from home. Any Brits will be happy to know you can buy Quality Street candy. Americans, if you move to Dubai don't worry about bringing any of those comfort foods with you. You can surely buy them in Dubai, and if not i'm sure you could find someone to order it.

If you haven't heard the US bombed northern Pakistan the other day, inciting riots in the streets. It was the top headline in the NYTimes today. Thanks to mom for giving me the heads up on the story. I have a lot of things in my head which I'd like to say to whoever planned these attacks, but you can guess what they are.... The area where they bombed is quite far west of where I'm planning to be but it's the same region (Federally Administered Tribal Areas - FATA). Not sure what this means for the trip, but we'll be based in Lahore for the first few weeks so we'll be sure to avoid the mountainous area where they think Zawahiri is.

Next update should be from Lahore! Please write comments. :)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Arrival in the Emirates

Wow so here I am sitting in the hostel lounge in Dubai after two straight days of traveling by car, plane, bus, and taxi. I've never been to Asia before and it was cool to wake up and be flying over Beirut and Riyadh. The trip was fairly uneventful up until our arrival in Abu Dhabi, where we were unable to find one our pieces of checked luggage. Al humdullah (praise God), it was only my sleeping bag, which Gulf Air assures me they are looking for at Heathrow cause it was not found in the Abu Dhabi airport. To file the lost baggage claim I had to go through a series of what seemed like highly unnecessary procedures like weighing both mine and Duiii's backpacks just to check how heavy they were (not even close to the weight limit) and spending about 10 minutes trying to describe what a sleeping bag was before finding it on their little chart of possible luggage types. With that finally over we made our way to the door to catch a bus into the center of town and were stopped by a bored customs officer. I say he was bored because he spent quite a bit of time looking through ALL my CDs and DVDs. Since I just packed my whole collection, there was a copy of the Dirty Dancing – Havana Nights DVD in there. He paused on that one for a long time, decided that it must be pornographic material, and took my passport and my CD case to go check it out. Honestly I think they are just waiting for some porn so they can watch it. Watch out for those sexy PG-13 salsa movies! Meanwhile, two of the Gulf Air stewardesses were consoling me that they do this to everyone and he ended up just giving everything back to me. Humdullah they didn't search our big backpacks because it took me long enough to repack my little carry on suitcase.

After making it through customs, our next goal was to find an ATM and get some UAE dirhams. We asked one of the airport workers where to change money and he brought us to the bank. At this point Duiii had not yet learned the magic of "La shukran" (no thanks) and the guy was trying to convince him to have us take a taxi into town, or even all the way to Dubai, for more than ten times the price of the public bus. While this was happening, Duiii put in his ATM but took too long to take the money so the machine sucked it back in! We were told that the guy would could remedy this problem would be back in 15 minutes, but he never showed up so we just gave up on the ATM crisis. We didn't have anywhere to stay so I spent about 30 minutes (while Duiii was waiting on the possibly nonexistent ATM expert guy) figuring out how to use the phones so I could call the youth hostel in Dubai. I checked out the phones, bought a phone card, and then proceeded to be baffled by the "hach" key which needed to be pressed and the area code for Dubai. Finally I heard what sounded like a busy signal (which means that it's ringing here) and made a reservation for the first three nights.

We gave up on the ATM expert man and set out to find the bus to Dubai. I was so impressed by the taxi drivers! In Morocco most airport taxi drivers are just waiting outside to prey on tourists with overpriced rides. The first driver we asked told us it was 85Dirham ( 3.6Dh = $1) to go 30 minutes into town, but when he realized that was too much for us he told us that if we went quickly we could get the public bus into town which only costs 3Dh each (less than a dollar). I was so happy! I've been here a whole day and no one has tried to rip me off just because I'm a foreigner. I'd say it's the new hair color but with those giant backpacks we are definitely not fitting in.

I'm excited about the safety precautions taken by society to protect women. When we were getting on the bus to Abu Dhabi center the driver kicked some other people out of their seats so I could sit in the front. The whole front section of the buses has a little sign that says "Ladies" so if any women get on the bus the driver makes sure they don't have to sit in the back surrounded by men. I actually felt a lot better walking around in Dubai than any of the major cities in Morocco. I remember in Casa when Jenna and I were followed by this group of guys and had to duck into a shop and ask the owner if there as a back exit so we could lose them. Guys there would always be making cat calls and whispering in your ear as you walked down the street trying to get away from them. People don't seem to be as excited by the tourists here, maybe because there are so many ex-pats living in Dubai. It's nice to be able to walk around and not be constantly harassed!

Downtown Dubai: shiny, flashy and filled with gold jewelry. If this city has theme colors they are definitely silver and gold. Same goes for Abu Dhabi. The buildings are tall, sleek, and covered with mirror glass so all the stylish Emiratis can check out their fashion as they walk by. If you have a car here it's either an SUV or a luxury sedan. Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar. It can come in three colors, silver, white, or black. Charcoal gray also seems to be popular, and an occasional red sports car. I'm not sure if the nationals trade their cars in every few years or what, because they all look like they just came from the dealer. White and gold Toyota Corollas serve as taxis. I'm never quite sure what language to speak because 80% of the population is made up of workers from the subcontinent. Buses play Urdu music and passengers seem to switch freely between Arabic and Urdu. More than half the people I've tried to speak Arabic with have no idea what I'm saying and use English as their primary language. Many people address each other in English since they don't share any other language. I've only had one real conversation in Arabic so far, which to no surprise was with a taxi driver who spent the whole time complaining about Bush. He spoke mostly in English until he realized I could understand Arabic, but I was confusing him with my Moroccan lingo. Memorable yet all too familiar quote from our taxivala friend "Bush – he cowboy. He like to kill Muslims. Iran is next. Bin Laden – he good." Duiii was in the front seat for this conversation (because it's more appropriate for the men to sit together) so he had a nice intro to the UAE!

We reached our hostel, which is also big and shiny, and took quite some time to check in and get settled. Their website said they took credit cards but in actuality they only take cash so we had to reserve our rooms and then walk down to an ATM (located in a nearby grocery store) to get some cash out. This time we made sure to take the money from the ATM before it sucked it back in! We paid our bill and got ready to take our bags up to our rooms, but the reception guys neglected to tell us that there was no third floor in that building and were actually staying in the one next door. They watched us get ALL of our stuff and walk up the stairs. Then finally some cleaning guys told us we were in the wrong building. We went across the way and I was convinced that all the doors to the other building were locked so were walking around and around the building (with all our stuff) looking for a way in. At this point we were just so exhausted and frustrated that the reception guy couldn't even point us in the right direction. Well I went over to ask the guy to show us to our rooms since we couldn't figure out how to get to them. Apparently in my fatigued state I had neglected to try pushing the door instead of only pulling it. It was open all along! Duiii's not gonna let me forget that one for a while.

The hostel is bunk style but it's off season so the rooms aren't full. The first thing I did was find all my shower stuff and warm weather clothes (at the bottom of my huge backpack) and take a shower. I'd forgotten that shower curtains don't exist here, but no one else was in the room so mashi mushki (no problem). It was a nice surprise to find that the hostel has toilet paper! Only place in Dubai we've heard.

We headed out to town on the local bus (which costs about 35 cents for a 20 minute ride) where I again got the front seat. Sometimes it IS good to be a woman in the Middle East. We got off in Deira near Al Sabhka Road to look for some cheap eats. Downtown Dubai is like Vegas. It's this big city smack in the middle of desert which uses way more electricity than any city should for flashing neon signs. Everything is neon and flashing. It almost makes you dizzy walking around the place! For dinner Duiii was introduced to shwarma (ladid!) and freshly made fruit juices. I even got my jus de banane! Maroc me manque. L

We walked around the city checking out all the stores. The only reason people seem to come here is to shop. The Gold Souq was definitely impressive. I've never seen so much jewelry. I'm not a fan of gold (usually wear silver stuff) but looking at all those glimmering necklaces and bracelets kind of made me want to buy some, but I know I'll never wear it so I was able to refrain. Now I'm not sure if I'll be able to hold myself back from getting one of those really extravagant belly dancing outfits. Hey I used my coin belt enough to justify getting another outfit, right? Maybe it could be a side career to fund grad school…haha just kidding…or maybe not. J If I do get one the Maple Ridge ladies will be the first to see.

Duiii got his first experience of buying something from a guy on the street. In true Arab fashion, the guy approached us asking if we'd like to buy a watch and then proceeded to take us down a series of dark alleyways which we could never find out way out of. Then we walked up the stairs into this little hole in the wall shop (literally it only fit about two chairs inside it and the watches) where we saw tons of watches all hidden away under the counter. As opposed to Morocco I don't think he was exorbitantly overcharged, but next time I'll make sure we get a better price. Je suis comme une femme berbere when it comes to bargaining.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Send Off Party

Here's me with my family (grandpa & grandma, dad, me, Jen, mom - my little bro isn't in the picture) at my send off party. It was great! About 30-40 people came to say goodbye and celebrate my graduation. I felt a little bad with the congratulations since I took an incomplete and still need to finish my Anthro exam and archive my thesis, but it will be done before I go to Pakistan wednesday morning! Speaking of which I really should not be writing on my blog now but going to sleep so I can wake up early and get back to my massive "to do before I leave" list. Posted by Picasa