Friday, February 27, 2009

Utility Prices on the Up and Up

Yikes! I just got my gas and water bills and was shocked at how much prices have gone up in the last year. In the 2007-2008 academic year, our gas bill was always around 300 rupees a month. At the time, that was equal to $5. Our water bill was about the same price.

We don't use gas heaters so our usage of gas and water doesn't really change much through the seasons. The gas bill for February 2009 is 1175 rupees ($14) and the water bill is 650 rupees ($8). In local currency, the water bill has doubled and the gas bill has almost quadrupled. Electricity prices have also been raised significantly in the past year. Our weekly food budget has just about doubled with the price of foodstuffs going up and the rupee losing value.

If you're reading from the US, you may think these prices are low. The cost of living in Pakistan is low compared to many other countries, but the pay scales are a lot lower as well.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Women's Book Club Starting in Lahore

For any ladies in Lahore, I've just heard about a book club starting up on Saturdays.

The book club will be run by an American friend of mine living in Cantonment. She loves to read and is looking forward to meeting some other ladies in Lahore who like to read.

The group will meet Saturdays in the afternoon or early evening, depending on when members are available. If you're interested to practice your English and meet some new friends, contact

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Maid's New Trick

My maid pretends to be ignorant of many things, but she's quite smart when it comes to shirking her duties! Today I wondered how she got done with her work so fast. I was busy with work so I just let her go and didn't check to see if she'd done everything she was supposed to. Just a few minutes later, I went outside to check on the clothes, and I realized that the majority of the clothes hanging on the line were completely dry. She left them up so that she didn't have to wash that many clothes, due to lack of space of course. In doing so, she successfully avoiding all the ironing and putting away the clothes. She must really dislike washing clothes, because one of her other favorite tricks is to leave soaking wet clothes on the line so that they don't dry for two or three days. Because they take so long to dry, she claims she can't wash the other clothes because there's no space. Leaving dry clothes to fill the space is a new technique.

Here's a pic of our maid, although her eyes are closed cause she was staring into the sun and a bit confused about how the camera worked. It makes her look blind in the picture, which my husband sometimes thinks is true when he sees how she washes dishes and cleans, but she's not. I couldn't get a bigger picture because she was a bit embarrassed to have it taken. It's too bad, because even though she drives me crazy she does have a friendly smile!

Why do I have so many posts about the maid? Most Pakistani ladies spend hours complaining about their domestic help. I guess I need to vent somehow!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wonder What Bride Price He Paid...

As if the news couldn't get any stranger, local paper Dawn reports that a New Zealand man by the name of Mark Taylor was recently arrested in South Waziristan.

What was Mr. Taylor doing in Waziristan? His story is that he had four wives, and that they all died, so he was on his way to Wana to marry a tribal woman. At least, this is what he shared with the local police at Tank station.

Quite honestly, that story strikes me as a bit odd, but it would be ever stranger if he made up a story like that as a cover. It's not like foreigners marry tribal women on the Afghan border every day, and I've never met another foreigner who converted to Islam and had four wives to prove it. This way of living used to be quite popular in the days of the British Raj, but foreign men and their harems were based mainly in cities in the Punjab, not remote areas like Waziristan. With the rise of evangelical Christian missions in the subcontinent and the end of the Mughal reign, these culturally assimilated men became hard to find. Besides that, for a foreigner, traveling or living in Waziristan nowadays stops just short of suicidal.

Continue reading article here:

New Zealand Man Arrested in South Waziristan is Suspected of Links to Al-Qaeda

Simplicity of Village Life

When we went to the village last week, I was able to get this photo of a baby in a hammock. She and her mother and brother were just hanging out in the buffalo yard, and at first glance I didn't even see her hiding under the charpoy (rope bed). Notice her dark eyes. Mothers often put eye makeup on little girls to make their eyes stand out. Local people also believe that the hair on the baby's head will grow back thicker and longer the more times it is shaved off, so when chidren are young they often shave their heads. This is done in many places in the world, although my husband assures me that scientifically it doesn't pan out. Anyway, what a cute little girl in her hidden hammock!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Customs at Karachi Port - A 5 Day Process!

Although it's created a new chapter in the Sergio drama, I'm glad we found out just how difficult it is to send anything out of the Karachi Port in Pakistan. Similar to picking something up at the Lahore airport and getting customs clearance, in Karachi you also need to hire an agent to guide your belongings through customs. For a large container, the process takes about 5 working days. Depending on your trust in the agent, you may or may not need to be present during this tedious process. To load Sergio's 1980 Fiat Van onto the boat, hire an agent, and pay customs duties, it is estimated to be about 90,000 rupees (900 euros, $1,136). Since Sergio was due to fly back to Italy on Thursday, now he needs to change his flight date and hang out in Karachi until the van is through customs and securely loaded on the boat. Talk about a nightmare!

When the Fiat van broke down in the first place, we encouraged him to fly back to Italy and buy a new vehicle. So far, shipping the Fiat to India, repairing it with Toyota Landcruiser parts, getting it sent to Karachi, and the process in the port have cost about twice the value of the van! Lesson learned here? If a car is worth so much to you, and you depend on it for your livelihood, don't ship it all over the world! Visas, customs and shipping in developing countries are processes best avoided if you want to remain sane.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Guest Free

Well after 24 days, our house is guest free! Sergio has made his way south to Karachi, with the help of our landlord's son, to put his van on a boat and send it back to Italy. With the worsening security situation in Balochistan and the fact that the visa for Iran may or may not ever be granted, he realized the best thing was to get back to Italy as soon as possible and give up on his crazy solo overland journey. His van was loaded on a Bedford truck (an all night affair just to get it loaded) and shipped down to Karachi from Lahore. To ship the van, it costa bout 46,000 rupees ($581). Now, we are praying that Sergio's van gets through the port and clears customs. Not until that van is somewhere in the open sea and Sergio is on a plane to Italy will be really be able to relax! Anything could happen dealing with the bureaucracy at the port.

After three weeks of not sleeping properly due to this drama, we're ready for a break. It seems we've been running on empty since before I went to Bangkok. May there be a miracle at the port so that van can get sea borne, Sergio can get air borne, and we can all rest in peace!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The City Folk Go to the Village

Today was a holiday, Kashmir Day, so we went with our landlord's family to visit a village near Sheikhupura. It was great to walk in the fields, breathe cleaner air, and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We even learned how to pull beets from the ground!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What NOT to Drive in Pakistan

Pakistan is not a country you just decide to drive to for a weekend jaunt unless you're Taleban fighters retreating from Afghanistan. You need visas, a good map, and you certainly need to know current safety information. Driving in Pakistan is treacherous in cities and rural areas, although for different reasons. In cities, a low vehicle will scrape bottom on the badly engineered speed bumps, and a big vehicle in impossible to park outside of spacious suburbs. Aside from the motorway, roads are better suited for 4WDs or large buses. Nobody in Pakistan drives camper vans, so you'll stick out like a sore thumb....or an obvious target. The worst part is, if you decide to sell your vehicle and head home, nobody will buy this type of car here in Pakistan. Customs duties will be three times as much as the car is worth, and besides, where will anyone drive it? How will they get replacement parts?

The only place you have a chance of selling it is where you can sell it ilegally without customs duties, such as in the Northern Areas or to some tribesmen who are a law unto themselves. If you meet them, they'd be more likely to relieve you of your vehicle, and possibly your life, without giving you any money.

Please, if you are considering driving across Pakistan, now is not the time. Quetta and its environs are not safe for independent travelers. Even well-traveled Pakistanis are avoiding going there nowadays. If you do need to drive through Pakistan, choose a less conspicuous and more practical vehicle.

Guess What This Boy Was Doing...

Any guesses why a pink-shirted boy with an electric rotary saw was doing at our house? It certainly wasn't a fashion shoot, although you might wonder with the choice of clothing and shades.

Well, first he plugged the saw into the socket in the typical Pakistani fashion as shown above. You must picture that this extension cord is sitting on wet ground that he maid has just hosed down. Then he proceeded to cut the giant metal tool box off of Sergio, the stranded Italian's, camper van so that the van could be loaded into a Bedford carrier truck. Sergio's van broken down three weeks ago on the way over the border from Attari to Lahore, and he's been stuck since trying to figure out how to get back. The truck was fixed, but when he started to really think about driving from Quetta to Iran and talking to the local authorities about it he realized it would be akin to a suicide wish. Balochi separatists and Tabelban back from Afghanistan are ruling the roads these days, and just two days ago an American UN worker was kidnapped in Quetta. A very white Italian man in a camper van coming down the road is like saying, "Here I am! Kidnap me for some ransom!" It's much safer to go by public transport in Balochistan these days than by private transport where you're alone and more vulnerable. Anyway, there goes the tool box. Now, they're trying to load his van on a Bedford carrier that will drive it to the port in Karachi. Bedfords are slow moving, so it will take about three days to reach there.