Coming to Pakistan with all the expectations of violence, danger and unrest (thanks western media) my first walk around town in Lahore, Pakistan was quite a shock.
One thing was that the people tended to be friendly and very normal people not unlike some people in the west or I would probably say like to 90% or more of people in the world who fit in this bracket.
The other thing was splattering of red all over the ground and for the first km of walking all I could think of was the blood shed that may have occurred previously from the demonstrations, suicide attacks etc… as I kept being aghast at all of this red blood everywhere I figured there was no way there could have been that much slaying of people on the street so my thoughts moved to the traffic conditions around me – which are horrible and dangerous at best. As my walked moved into the 9th and 10km I knew there was no way this was blood with the continuation of red stain scattered all over the ground.
Over dinner that evening with a very nice Pakistani man I then learned that the red is the remrance of beetle nut that is chewed here with the need to expel a mouthful of red mix every so often. Not an overly pleasant thought but better than people gunned down and hit by cars everywhere!
One of the slightly strange things I enjoy in developing countries is getting a hair cut. I never do this in developed countries and usually just get my head shaved but in developing countries it is usually a novelty for the hairdresser to cut blond soft hair. The other evening I was keen to get a trim and more of a neck hair shave than anything so I set off on my quest to find a ‘as-local-as-possible’ hairdresser. It did take a little time before finding my man after visiting hairdressers in a shop with windows and air conditioning and while I didn’t find the guy on the street I found the version as close to that as possible.
I was impressed with his own hairstyle and then set about trying to explain I wanted to keep my hair long but with a bit of a trim. My Urdu is still limited to hello and thank you so this level of conversation was not yet in my vocabulary. Hairdresser buddy also didn’t have a lot of English on his side – and why would he, I am quite sure I was his debut foreign cut. So in the end I pointed to a picture on his wall to someone that kind of had long hair.
He then set about almost meticulously trimming each individual hair – amazing but slightly annoying as I just want a hair cut and to get out of there but I appreciate his art and craft. We seemed to be on the same wave length as he gave me a neck shave and trimmed the mullet off the back and ears and all good – I thought…
Anyway see the end results below and I kind of felt like it was my 5-year-old play date where we played dress-ups and he gave me the Bieber look!
This mearly refers to traffic and my desire to walk a lot. In a country like Pakistan the biggest threat to my safety is traffic. Forget the kidnapping etc road safety is by far the biggest danger any aid and development worker usually has to face.
The reason I refer to traffic as involuntary suicide is that I love to walk and it is a great way to interact with a country and it’s people. The problem is that is comes with a lot of dust, carbon-monoxide and death defyng manoeuvres to keep out the way of trucks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, donkeys and anything else that happens to be on the road. This is all mixed in the obstacle course that is know as the side of the road that can range from a pleasant footpath as is known in places such as Australia to leapfrog over open sewers, potholes, manholes in the abyss, barbed wire, complete dead ends or anything that possibly couldn’t make sense!
Having played this wonderful Pakistani spot of ‘pedestrian’ for a week in Karachi I do feel as though I have lost around 15 years of my life. If the world has crept over 350 parts per million for CO2 then I think my walking environment was around 350 million parts per million – I can still taste the black smoke of truck that unloaded into by lungs.
Anyway a couple of examples and ways to look at this marvellous country where there is nothing in between and it is just simply a happy, friendly, generous place to be where the people are so appreciative that someone has made the effort to visit them at this time.
Keep your whits about you, don’t mind the red stains, get a haircut and walk amongst this beautiful organised chaos that is Pakistan!