Thursday, July 10, 2008

High Society or High Security?

We are happily using our friend Barnaby's house as a base to read up on Pakistan and think about which treks to do in the mountains in the north. He has a very comfortable house, with a guard, a gardener and Younis, who prepares the meals and keeps house. It is a very typical ex-pat's house here and seems a little strange at first, but we take no time adjusting and settling in. It is still hot and humid, with morning rains, and we don't feel inclined to dash about anywhere. I find I'm enjoying reading about doing things.
As we arrived in Islamabad a bomb went off - targetting policemen. It is the anniversary of the ending of the siege in the Red Mosque here when at least 100 people were killed. Barnaby is just coming to the end of a three and a half year posting in a senior position with the UN's Development Programme. He looks happy to be leaving, but saddened that the situation seems worse now than when he arrived. He looks a little frazzled to us. Just after he began there was the huge earthquake and the response to it more than tripled the UN input in the country. Now the security concerns mean that he cannot work at his office until it has been made bomb-proof - a wall of sandbags is under construction. He advises us not to walk anywhere and to avoid places that might be used by ex-pats at peak times. His wife and children returned to the UK earlier this year and he is obviously counting down the days to his departure. "Actually it's 20 days 16 hours 34 minutes and 18 seconds". We try not to feel too apprehensive and go to the bank and a bookshop. The city has grown since my last visit here 18 years ago. It feels more like a model provincial town than the modern village I remember - lots more cars on the roads. A few more roundabouts and it could still be the Milton Keynes of the East. It's certainly not got the buzz of most capital cities, but it is an incredibly green city and not overcrowded - rather dull, but easy at the same time, so a mixed blessing I guess. It could be a difficult place to live though - in a recent report Pakistan was listed as no. 9 in a list of the 10 most dysfunctional countries in the world. Afghanistan was listed at 7. Thankfully Barnaby has a generator - which keeps the fans going during the six scheduled hourly powercuts each day.
A few days of relaxing and reading is just what we need. It's amazing how easy we can adapt to this lifestyle. We meet Toby again - he is now heading back home through Central Asia and he gets his Chinese transit visa here without a hitch. We have decided to try and visit China and, with hope, Tibet too, later on our journey. Now we need to sort out a few more things and then we're off up the Karakoram Highway.

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