Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sleep Evades Me

At least once a week I find myself on the verge of tears because I just can't get what I want: sleep.

I live in an extremely quite neighborhood, by Pakistani standards, but any little thing can wake me up. Some nights I move from room to room trying to escape on noise or the other, only to be awakened by something else in the next location. I'll move from the bedroom to the guestroom because my husband is just moving a little bit and waking me up. Once I get to the guestroom, the power will go out and the neighbor's generator will turn on. I'll try the couch, but it's not comfortable enough to fall asleep, so finally I'll move back to the bedroom and sleep on the floor. Then I'll be prematurely awakened at 5:00am because of call to prayer blaring over ancient loudspeakers from the nearby mosque. No matter what time I end up falling asleep, my body clock wakes me up around 7:00am.

If I don't get enough sleep at night, I try to take a nap during the day. My whole day evades me too, because I feel too tired to focus on anything and not tired enough to crash. When I try to take a nap, more often than not I'm unsuccessful. I can't get my body and my mind to rest at the time. A beggar will come and pound on the door. The maid will uncharacteristically come an hour early without any warning. My husband will merely walk from one side of the house to the other. The landlord's family will come to bring snacks or discuss something. The neighbor's door will continually slam shut as servants go in and out while arguing with each other. The internet man will come to collect the money for the monthly bill. A gutter cleaner will drive by on his bicycle loudly proclaiming his services, or the 'security man' will bike past blowing on his high pitched whistle. The sound of the whistle is supposed to let me know that everything is safe. I would much rather have silence when things are safe and whistles when I actually need to get woken up.

Today's culprit was the call to prayer at 5:00am. I'm hoping I can find an hour of peace to catch up on sleep during the afternoon...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beware of Knock Off Deodorant

Many hygiene and beauty products from around the world are available in Pakistan's supermarkets, but at the same time many imitation versions masquerade as the real thing. I was told one time that this industry is a specialty of the northern city of Peshawar.

The packing will many times look exactly like the original, except for a minor spelling mistake or two. Check all of your hygiene products to see if the spelling and labels are up to international standards. There are two products that have plagued me during my time in Pakistan, fake hair products and knock off deodorant. At least two out of three 'name brand' hair products that I have bought have been vastly ineffective. As I've used the same products with success in the U.S. and elsewhere, I know how the product should look, feel, smell, and work. There is no way to know if a product is real until you buy it and try it.

Many deodorant products in Pakistan serve only as body spray/deodorant and not as anti-perspirent. Make sure you read labels carefully. Even if the label looks good, the product might not work. When I run out of deodorant, I always end up going to at least five stores looking for a legitimate product. It can be quite embarrassing when you use a fake product that doesn't work, especially in 120-degree heat!

Places that have real products in Lahore include: Europe - Defence Market, HKB - Y Block DHA, Pot Purri - Y Block DHA, Pace - Y Block DHA. Be warned that while some products on their shelves are real, some are fake. It's easier to fake liquid roll-ons than solid stick deoderant, so if you want to be safe buy a solid stick brand.

Grocery Shortages Due to Long March

I usually do my shopping on Sundays, but with my husband's sickness last week we didn't run out of groceries until Tuesday. When I went to the stores, I had to spend more time than usual looking for particular products. Finally, at the last option (after going to three other places), I asked one of the workers what was up. He let me know that the stores were dealing with shortages, as trucks had been delayed due to the Long March protest. The government had blocked main roads in and out of major cities, and the highway between Lahore and Islambad proved a "no go" zone for many. I was assured that after one or two days, the stock should be returned to normal. Thankfully, there were no shortages of staple items such as wheat, flour, sugar, fruits and vegetables.

In other news, I found out that the allergy medication I usually take, Zyrtec, will no longer be available in Pakistan. He sold me the last 9 pills that he had. Here, people usually buy medication in small amounts, often cutting up the original packets to sell smaller numbers.I was bummed because a month's supply of it over here costs me 120 rupees ($1.5), where the same amount can cost upwards of $75/month in the U.S. The pharmacist owner was quite helpful and gave me a different, locally available brand to try.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mood in Lahore Exuberant as Pakistani Government Backs Down

After another frenzy of high level meetings, Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani announced that the government would re-instate the judges deposed by President Musharraf, including former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry. In response, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif called off the culmination of the "Long March" on Islamabad which was set to take place today. Since the judges were kicked out of office, lawyers across the country have been demanidng their reinstatement.

Pakistanis are celebrating, as they believe that this decision is a watershed that will lead to greater freedom and more transparency in the government. Many are hoping that once Iftikhar Chaudry takes his post on March 21st, he will immediately open up the cases against President Asif Zardari (known as Mr. 10% for allegedly funneling state money into his own bank accounts) and former president Pervaiz Musharraf.

Today the mood was celebratory, as children flew kites in for the annual Basant spring festival. Everyone is excited that the people of Pakistan were able to force the government to comply with their demands for justice.

What will happen next? I suspect that this decision may be a big step towards the departure of President Zardari, and that the political drama will continue.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Calm is Broken as Lahore Erupts into Riots

Some time after midnight, police erected barricades across the city to block roads and prevent the lawyer's "Long March" from leaving Lahore. Today, thousands of protesters gathered outside Nawaz Sharif's house in Model Town. Sharif, then defied house arrest (which the government claims he is not under anyway) and started off in a convoy of vehicles towards Central Lahore.

Police are fruitlessly trying to hold back the throngs of supporters by throwing rocks and using tear gas. They are severely outnumbered and there seems to be no law and order. The convoy has so far made its way through Model Town, along Ferozepur Road to Kalma Chowk and to Muslim Town. They plan to arrive in Islamabad tomorrow in order to stage a sit in. Protesters have turned to rioters as they retaliate against police attempts to hold them back. Both sides can be seen throwing rocks. A barricade of city buses was set up to block passage of Kalma Chowk, and rioters smashed out windows of buses and tried to push them over. Sharif's convoy eventually made it through the block and continued on Ferozepur Road.

There are also riots at the Lahore High Court, and surely there will be more continuing throughout the day. I must admit that although I champion the security of Lahore, today is not a good day to go outside the house. The protesters are mostly men, and although their agression is being directed towards the police, you wouldn't want to get caught up in the fray. The only women seen at the scene of the riots have been journalists, whereas during yesterday's peaceful demonstration in Lahore more women were present.

Read more here:

Riots Paralyze Lahore an Protesters March Onward

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lahore Calm After Lawyer's Long March

After a day of protests in central Lahore, the city remained calm. News broadcasts showed the bruises of journalists and lawyers who had been beaten by police, but at least 100,000 people were able to gather for a march of protest.

Driving along Mall Road around 9:00pm there was little to let the passerby know about the current political crisis. Some banners were strung up in support of President Zardari, and others featured Imran Khan and his "Insaf" (Justice) party message. "Free the judiciary! Free the nation!" was written in Urdu. The streets of central and Old Lahore were busy as usual, and the only sign of the clash of ideologies occuring were a few riot police hanging out near the Press Club.

We went out and enjoyed steamed chicken and biryani at Tabaq near Lakhshmi Chowk. The only unnerving event was going to and from the car while being stared at by men on motorbikes. I'll admit I was a little more tense than usual, hoping that we wouldn't run across some foreigner-hating fanatic at an intersection. Our drive through Old Lahore and central Lahore was without incident, and there were many other families out enjoying a meal together or shopping.

Too Much Free Time

I've got a list of people to call, things to do, and friends I want to hang out with that's about a mile long. How Pakistani men have time, money and energy to continually prank call people until they've driven them mad is beyond me.

Imagine, your phone is ringing so you pick it up and say a greeting.

You: Hello?

Mystery caller: Salaam alaikum. (Traditional Muslim greeting)

You: Alaikum salaam. (Muslim greeting response)

Mystery caller: Aap kaun bol rahe hai? (Who is this talking?)

(You're thinking, hello, you called ME buddy. Why should I say who I am?)

You: Aap kaun hai? (who are you?)

Mystery caller: Aap kaun hai? (who are you?)

You realized that the caller has dialed a wrong number, likely on purpose to try and get a female recipient, and that now for the next two weeks your mobile will be ringing off the hook as he tries to get in touch with you.

Seriously, these guys calls at 6am, midnight, all day and anytime that you're busy and don't want to get up and answer the phone. On my phone, I can only screen 10 numbers at a time. It's a nice feature, because once I screen a number that phone doesn't ring when the number calls me. Unfortunately, 10 numbers is just not enough!

I need to learn how to say "Get a life!" in Punjabi.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Special Treatment for Me, the Ghori!

Usually I arrive at the bank at 9:00am on the dot so I can avoid waiting in line. Well, today I got a late start and when I got there at 9:30am there were already some men waiting in the queue. It wasn't that many, just three men in each line, so I took my place and waited. While I was waiting, one of the ladies from the bank came out and greeted me. She asked what I was at the bank for, and I told her I was just paying my utility bill. She promptly told me that she'd take care of it, and that I could have a seat. She then went in the office and gave my bill and cash to the man, asking him to do my work before the three men I had been standing behind.

In Pakistan, as a foreign woman you will find many perks such as this type of service at the bank. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it's nice to not have to stand in line and to get my work done more quickly. On the other hand, I find it embarrassing that my work should be considered more important than what others are doing simply because of who I am. I don't mind standing in line, and I think that if the men are civilly standing in line and waiting their turns they also deserve my respect. In many places in Pakistan, there's no concept of a line and everyone is just pushing and shoving to get to the front. When people do stand in line, I appreciate their restraint.

Pakistan is certainly a male-dominated society, but then sometimes you'll see Pakistani men showing a lot of respect and concern for the women around them. Many times I've been ushered to the front of the line or to the best seat because I'm a lady. I've heard the bank manager ask the men to step aside for the ladies (myself and local ladies) so that we didn't have to wait in the line with men for too long. Part of me wants to stay in the line, but then am I disrespecting their efforts to show me respect? It's a tough call!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Traveling Goldfish Salesman

Enough about gunmen and grenades. One of the things I love about Pakistan is the ingenuity of the people. I still need to take some time and do a photo shoot of all the things they manage to transport by bicycle or donkey cart, because if you don't live in the subcontinent it will just blow your mind. The other day while driving to a friend's house, I saw this guy, the Bicycle Fish Salesman! I couldn't get the best photo because there was just a ton of stuff going on in this scene, but look at the way he's made his bicycle into a traveling goldfish store! You can't see it in this photo, but on the back there's even a large fish bowl with two 8" fish in it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sophisticated Attack by Gunmen in Lahore

Usually when Pakistan makes headlines, I write home to friends and family and I'm able to tell them something like, "Don't worry, that attack happened somewhere really far away." "It was near the Afghan border, and I'm not planning on going there so don't worry." "Karachi is a 24-hour drive from Lahore."

When things happen in Lahore, I can usually comfort people with, "Oh that was on the other side of the city. People don't protest in my area."

Well today I don't have any excuses, as the sophisticated attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team happened just a mile from where I work. Twelve highly organized gunmen came at the cricket team from four different directions as they moved towards Qaddafi Stadium. The stadium is in central Lahore, and one of the entrances is on Ferozepur Road. It's a place I've gone several times for different events, and the stadium's location near the Daewoo bus station makes it somewhere that we often find ourselves driving past. Qaddafi stadium is smack in the middle of busy areas of Lahore; it is not located in some out of the way place. At least five policemen were killed in the attack and several players were injured. Two players from Sri Lanka are in the hospital, and the rest were evacuated by military helicopter from Qaddafi Stadium.

Continue reading here:

Gunmen Attack Sri Lanka Cricket Team in Lahore