Friday, May 04, 2007

Out and about in Karachi

Most of my time in Karachi was spent cooped up in the 5 star Pearl Continental Hotel which was all very well, but I got a bit stir crazy at times. However we did get out on one or two evenings to see some of the sights and sounds of the city (traffic jams mostly). One evening, for example, after a very nice dinner at a kind of stylised "village house" (I think the place may have been called "The Village") next to the sea, we stopped off at the beach on the way back to the hotel. Even though it was 10pm-ish the place was still very lively, with stalls selling food, people with balloons, camel rides etc. It was all very upbeat. Then, to my surprise, our group was approached by a heavily made up bloke in a dress who started imploring us in Urdu (I'm not sure what we were being implored to do, not speaking Urdu, but we were certainly being implored). He/she was quickly joined by a couple of others, who carried on with the coy flirty looks and gravelly voiced begging. It was all quite odd. I mean not that transvestitism is odd as such, but that it was there in Pakistan, in this fairly Islamic country, which is currently undergoing a lot of division between Islamic fundamentalism and the rest. It seemed like a precarious existence being a "eunuch" which appeared to be the word used. (Here is a short article about the Hijras, and a longer site all about the history etc)

The other big trip was to go out on a boat in the harbour. We had to get permission from the navy or someone, as we would be sailing past their ships, and we were told we could not bring cameras (though I kind of wished I had, since nobody checked), and then we were bussed off to the docks to start bargaining (not that I was involved in bargaining, that was the role of the course participants who'd organised this whole maritime shindig). This took a while, and involved us sitting in the back of a car, with our very worried host. Before travelling to Pakistan, my colleague and I had to fill out a form called a "Risk Assessment" which basically involved signing a piece of paper saying that we understood that Pakistan was possibly dangerous and that we could get killed or kidnapped or something. Our local contact, who was coming with us on the trip, began to get very concerned that this boat trip wasn't covered by the risk assessment we had signed, and that we were possibly taking too big a gamble by putting ourselves in the hands of some nefarious looking boat captain and sailing on a rickety wooden boat into the middle of the bay. By this time, though, it was too late to back out, and we all boarded and set off, watching the sun set over the rusting hulks of metal common to most harbour areas, while the Muezzin drifted across the water. It was all very enjoyable - and to cap off a fine evening, we were not kidnapped, murdered, sunk, boarded by pirates, or any of the other dire possibilities that we faced. Though I did get a severe case of diarrhea from something we consumed while on that boat. I strongly suspect an Al Quaida (bacterial) cell.

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