The story of “How I didn’t leave Pakistan”

22 06 2009

22nd of June, 07.20 AM: the date of my departure from Karachi towards Doha, then Istanbul, then finally Bucharest.

22nd of June, 04.15 AM: I’m on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. I change my Pakistani currency into dollars, I light up a cigarette and think of the great moments had in Karachi

22nd of June, 04.25 AM: I pass one security check point and head to Qatar Airlines officers

22nd of June, 04.30 AM: After I weigh my luggage I find out that it has 10 Kg over the limit and I start thinking of how much would I have to pay extra. The guy doesn’t let me finish my thought and comes up with something like 9000 Rupees the equivalent of 110 USD

22nd June, 4.27 AM: My sharp senses notice that when the neighbouring luggage of a fellow citizen is taken of from the weighing machine my luggage doesn’t have 10 Kg extra anymore but 6 Kg instead. I notify the guy from Qatar office and he seems to restart some calculations. The result: I don’t have to pay anything!

22nd of June, 4.35 AM: I got my Boarding passes and then I loaded my luggage on the outgoing conveyor belt and got my control receipts.

22nd of June, 4.38 AM: I’m heading towards Gate nr. 24 but first I have to pass Customs of course. There were 2 types of Custom wickets  – one for Pakistani passports and another one for foreign passport. I obviously chose the foreigner’s wicket.

22nd of June, 4.43 AM: I arrive in front of the Immigration Lady Officer, I show her my passport and Boarding pass. She looks through them and notices that my Pakistani visa expired a couple of days before. I say to myself that this shouldn’t represent an issue as I knew that I had a 2 weeks period to re-new it or leave the country.

22nd of June, 4.45 AM: The lady officer doesn’t seem impressed with my explanation and tries to say something but English was not her best ally right now. In fact her colleague from Pakistani passports tells me in a fluent nice English language to wait a bit.

22nd of June, 4.55 AM: After waiting for 10 minutes a mustached Immigration officer appears and addresses some questions such as “Who am I?”, “What was the purpose of my visit in Pakistan?” and some others. He also doesn’t seem impressed with my answers but now I already now that this might happen because his lack of English skills.

22nd of  June, 5.05 AM: After leaving for a few minutes with my passport and boarding passes he comes back without boarding passes, and with a big stamp on my passport: OFF LOADED!!!

22nd of June, 5.06 AM: The mustached dumb-ass (I changed his status meanwhile) tells me “Come, come!” and I understand I have to follow him. He takes me into a Customs office where there was another mustached officer and a guy with a pajamas blouse, bell-bottoms pants and slippers snoring his heart out on a couch. I repeat the same story over and over again to the new mustached dumb-ass (his status was also changed quickly) of course interrupted at some points by strong and loud rounds of snoring.

22nd of June, 5.20 AM: The mustached dumb-ass nr.2 finds himself in trouble with my case so he decides to wake up the snoring dude which in fact was his superior.

22nd of June, 5.20 AM – 06.20 AM: The snoring guy first wakes up, then he is updated on the issue, he barely moves from one end to another of the room, he looked for one pen for 5 minutes and solved nothing. He gave me back my passport, and said I cannot leave Pakistan since my visa expired.

22nd of June, 06.20 AM: a guy appears with my extra 6 Kg luggage which was called back. He hands me over a receipt and then asks for a tip, which of course in the heat of the moment I found it to be totally outrageous. I tried to say something to him but the only English word he knew was “tip”. Of course, I didn’t tip him.

22nd of June, 06.30 AM – 07.00 AM: I am on my way back to the Intern’s House where Jeremy greets me with the traditional: “What the hell?!?”

22nd of June: 07.10 AM – 09.40 AM: I went to bed dreaming of heading back to my country.

22nd of June, 09.40 AM – now: I checked with Qatar, I can leave Pakistan on Thursday, 25th, of course only if by then I get my visa extended (AIESEC is working on it). Qatar guys also became dumb-asses when they told me on the phone that my round trip ticket to Pakistan is expired since May  – and this considering the fact that the round trip on the ticket is 22nd of June first of all, and second of all – in the morning when I got my boarding passes there was no such issue.

LESSONS to keep in mind: Pakistan might be the only place in the world where if your visa expires you have to spend some more time in the country; the immigration officers are so stupid that they are not worth getting mad at; when people would ask me if I want to leave Pakistan then I would say for sure yes, considering that during the last week I kept telling people around me that I would wanna stay some more and here I am;





Me in Islamabad and Murree

19 06 2009

After a 40 minutes bumpy flight from Lahore to Islamabad, here I was in the capital of Pakistan, a young city, built especially to serve as a capital as  Karachi already became to crowded, to exposed, and it was not close to the center of the nation.

So, in the 1960’s the Pakistani Government decided and started to build this city, near the town of Rawalpindi, in the middle of the woods. As per this reason, Islamabad is one of the greenest and well organized cities in South Asia. It is said to count up to 1.5 million people nowadays and if you would ask somebody from Karachi or Lahore how the life in the Capital is, the most probable answer you would get is: “boring”. You could say so, but then again what city doesn’t seem boring compared to the near 18 M people, agitated and nervous Karachi or 10 M people, fascinating and filled with history Lahore?

DSCF0251I myself liked Islamabad very much. It is somehow quiet, impressive through its organized city plan or through some majestic pieces of modern architecture such as Faisal Mosque, Pakistani Monument or Saudi-Pak Building.

One of the 3 days I spent in Islamabad was almost completely wasted as I had to confirm the already bought tickets to Gilgit – a pit stop on my way to Hunza Valley. I stayed 7 hours in the crowded, noisy and hot office of Pakistani International Airways (PIA) in Rawalpindi to get my flight tickets confirmed. It was the first time in my life I saw people fighting to get some plane tickets (the tickets to Northern Areas – Gilgit and Skardu – are limited), the first time in my life I saw an Airliner Office operating in such an archaic manner (imagine a countryside railway station from Eastern Europe and maybe you will get half of the big picture :P) and the first time when I was confused several times to a Pakistani Pathan – inhabitant of the Northern parts of Pakistan with the colour of the skin a little brighter.

Rawalpindi is a city that doesn’t say very much, but it was nice to walk around it and experience some genuine Pakistani daylife. Almost forgot: in Rawalpindi I saw a Pakistani porn Cinema :D, I had a nice cold beer at Pearl Continental and I saw the place where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Next morning, my flight to Gilgit was expecting me… but then guess what?!? After waiting for seven hours in PIA office of Rawalpindi to confirm the ticket, in the morning I arrived in the airport to find out that the flight was canceled in the last minute. Facing such a “disaster” the only logical solution was to join the Lahore interns (Matt, Laura and Stefanie) in their trip to Murree – and so I did.DSCF0386

Murree is a Pakistani mountainous touristic resort 70 km away from Islamabad. It was not as spectacular and impressive as Hunza Valley would have been but still it was a very interesting experience thanks to its markets, heights or people.

Overall, this trip around Pakistan was one of the highlights of my internship, either it was hot or cold (Murree – 10 degrees Celsius and rain during night time), plains or mountains; it gave a better perspective over Pakistan and also the occasion of some new nice friends ;). More pictures you can find either here or here.





The “Garden of Mughals”

17 06 2009

My experience in Pakistan is coming to an end unfortunately. Being in my last days here in Pakistan, my company – GlaxoSmithKline – thought it would be nice for me to travel around the country a bit, to get a deeper sight into Pakistani culture, society and beauties. The plan was made for me to travel to Hunza Valley, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, thought to be the the legendary valley of Shangri-La. On my way to Hunza I was supposed to visit Lahore and Islamabad, this meaning that I would see the the cultural capital of the country and also the administrative capital of Pakistan.

The experience itself was amazing and I would like to start with telling the story of me travelling to Lahore – also known as “The Garden of Mughals” because of its rich Mughal heritage.

I had only one day reserved for Lahore, and for sure I missed a lot of interesting spots. In fact… I saw only 3 up to 4 local attractions. In stead I was fascinated to how different this city can be to what I imagined it would be. I mean, I know Karachi, I stood here for almost 3 months but Lahore is so different and I somehow feel sorry that I didn’t had the chance of experiencing more of it, but at the same time I’m thankful for being there even for one day only.

The history of Lahore is pretty rich in facts and interesting happenings. It is said to be there for the last 4000 years at least and that its founder is Loh, son of Rama (hindu epic hero from Ramayana). More recently though, meaning in the last 500 years, it was ruled by Mughals (it was capital of Mughal Empire for a few years), Sikhs and British. Now its the second largest city of Pakistan with 10 million people, capital of the State Province of Punjab, a symbol for Pakistani independence and the cultural heart of the country.

In Lahore I was accommodated at the interns house (thanks for Laura, Matt and Stephanie ;)) and with the huge contribution of some friends (Arsalaan, Talha and Syed) I visited some important sites such as Badshahi Mosque – an impressive sized and extremely beautiful mosque build by the Mughals, the Lahore Fort – the place where every  power which was present in this city set its print in the architecture and aspect of the place or Cooco’s Cafe (in the photo) – a famous restaurant in the Old Town, built exactly near the former Red Light District of Lahore. We also spotted Minar-e-Pakistan – The Independence Monument (which was closed because people have a tendency of killing themselves by throwing themselves from the heights of the Monument) and The Sikh Mausoleum of  Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

I found Lahore to be more clean and neat than Karachi, but also hotter (at least this time of the year). The temperature reached at some point 47-50 degrees while we were roaming around the city and for instance when we were at Badshahi Mosque we thought that our bare-feet got burnt.

If you ever get in Lahore keep in mind that is a place that will kindly welcome you, it will show majestic pieces of history, culture and architecture or it will impress you with its immense dishes – which I think they taste better than in any other place in Pakistan (don’t miss the Food Street ;)) 

You can find my Lahore pictures right over here and I shall be back with some information regarding the rest of the trip as well 😉





Power Off!

21 05 2009

Few days ago I was talking about the unpleasant heat in Karachi and how KESC – Karachi Electrical Supply Company is contributing to it by cutting the power several times a day. Meanwhile, the heat issue somehow faded as the temperatures in Karachi dropped with 5′-10′ Celsius making it easy to survive now. But KESC, which i think that really stands for Karachi Electricity Stinks like Crap”, manages to exceeds its past performances by cutting the power in a more drastic manner – yesterday, between 4 PM and 2 AM – we had only one hour and 1/2 of effective electricity.

For you to get a better understanding of the electricity issue in Karachi is very important to know that this huge town is consuming more electricity than KESC can produce and distribute. So, how does KESC solves the problem? The answer is simple: load-shedding. Now, what is load-shedding? I never heard about this term until I arrived in Pakistan so I think it deserves a little explanation:

According to wikianswers.com load shedding normally used in industrial, large commercial, and utility operations, is monitoring electric usage continuously (usually by automated instrumentation) and shutting down certain pre-arranged electric loads or devices if a certain upper threshold of electric usage is approached. In English, this means that the city of Karachi never has power across all areas of the city at the same time. Let’s say that Karachi is split into 20 areas – 15 of them would have electrical power right now and 5 won’t have electrical power right now – and these areas are rotated at a 1 hour interval approximately. Thus, it results in 4-5 power cuts per day/ one hour each.

Now, you can easily imagine that KESC is not the most popular company in Pakistan. This load shedding issue is pretty serious sometimes as it can result in violent protests around different parts of the city – spontaneous or not – that often have bad consequences over the public safety. Moreover, you would think that this energy issue would make people more aware of the problem, encouraging them to save electricity when it is not required, to close the fans when they are not needed, to shut off lights during day-time… well there’s a long way until that would happen, it’s a long way until people will realize that is easier to save power than to burn tires while protesting.

If you ever think to come to Pakistan, and I suggest you do, take this little problem into account and make sure that where you’re staying there is an auxiliary generator ;). If there’s none, don’t worry, at some point you will get used to this issue and you will find some other stuff to do in order for the time to pass (like joining a anti-KESC protest, for instance :P).

While writing this post I had to make an 1 hour break.. wanna guess why?





Hot… extremely hot!

16 05 2009

The title unfortunately refers to the Karachi weather in these last days, days of torture and pain, of sweat and sleep deprivation. When I arrived in Pakistan the transition was from 0′-10′ Celsius back in Romania to 25′-30′ Celsius and still I thought it was hot… I was wrong, way wrong. 30′ C is a reasonable temperature, even cozy compared to the genocide that is happening right now.

The temperature reaches 40′-45′ C on a daily basis, but still this is not all. Combine that temperature with an humidity index of 80% here in Karachi and it will result in a heat parameter of 50′-55′ Celsius – meaning that this is the actual temperature your body is feeling (Heat index). As you can see, since I started to experience such an extreme weather I  started to become more updated with Meteorology as a science, otherwise a mystery to me.

I have AC at work so the office is quite pleasant, it’s like heaven compared with the outside hell; at home my room is “equipped” with a ceiling fan which makes the living there somehow bearable but thanks to the KESC – Karachi Electrical Supply Corporation the power goes off 4 to 5 times a day (1 hour each time). This kind of unhealthy jokes coming from KESC transforms my room into a huge oven, wakes me up in the middle of the night and even gets people out of their houses into the streets, on the roofs so they can have a good sleep at night (the picture is pretty revealing for this issue) transforming the sidewalks into huge open-air dorms.
Hot… extremely hot. I don’t even want to get into the mosquitoes discussion.





Karachi Buses

15 05 2009

It would be a real shame to bring Karachi into discussion and not mention one of the things that makes it so fascinating: The Buses.

The Karachi buses look like nothing you have seen before: colorful, hot, noisy, crowded, unsafe, adventurous, fast, undisciplined, fascinating, you name it.

The first things that will struck you are probably the colors and the decorations on the bus. I mean they look like a  Public Transportation Christmas Tree or like an advertising bus for the Amusement Park. The more colors or ornaments a bus has the more respect the driver that is taking care of it gets. It’s a matter of pride and of social status among the bus drivers club. The same thing applies for the truck-drivers as well for instance.

You should know about this buses that they are split into 2 parts: men and women, they don’t stop to pick you up – they just slow down a bit, they are almost all the time over-crowded with people – inside and out (the photo is pretty relevant) and they also have an important contribution to the chaotic traffic in Karachi sometimes.

But… there is a big “but” here… don’t even think about visiting Karachi and not having at least one bus ride. It is amazing, it is a wonderful opportunity to take a good glimpse at Pakistani society in general as they cut the city across – residential areas, city center, slums, markets, etc. You get the chance of interacting with random Pakistani  fascinated by the presence of a foreigner riding their bus, of enjoying some extra loud local music up to the point you won’t be able not even to hear your own thoughts. Plus, it’s like a cheap roller-coaster adventure.

You may think that you won’t come out of it alive as they travel very fast considering the technical condition of the thing. In fact, I heard that the bus drivers are more often referred to as Bus Pilots instead of Bus drivers as their buses are almost taking off.

busMy Bus trip around Karachi was one of the highlights, I think, of my staying here as it happened in my second day and it really helped me in shaping an image of how Pakistan is like and how my internship could be around these places. It was amazing… 3 hours of intense bus-riding.

You can find the album of the trip here on my Facebook profile ;).





Why I like Pakistani food

13 05 2009

There are many things that you could enjoy for the first time in your life here in Pakistan but I think one of your first shocking experiences would have to be the food, the very specific Pakistani dishes.

First of all, for everybody to understand, the term shocking is not that randomly picked as we’re talking about some very unusual (for me and for some of us at least) spicy dishes. The first two or three bites might not be that pleasant in the beginning…. but afterwards believe me, a storm of different and well picked tastes will unleash in your mouth.

I’m not a specialist when it comes to cooking, I’m not even a specialist when it comes to talking about food but I think I could be a specialist when it comes to enjoying a great meal. What makes Pakistani cuisine so special? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I think that in a plate of  Chicken Karahi for instance, you would find some of the history of this region, some of the characteristics of the people cooking it or even a short description of your experience in Pakistan: first you get the shock of the spice but then you can let your senses having the real feast out of it.

Now, the thing is that the transition from your normal daily menu to Pakistani food might be at some point painful (stomach issues – not that bad after all – more time to read the press), but as I was told, everybody should experience this and as soon as you get sick the better  – afterwards you are free to enjoy at free will whatever you like (almost!).

Some of my favourites: Chicken Tikka, Chicken (Beef) Karahi, Biryani, Tandoori, Nihari, Handi Chicken, Pakora, etc

Instead of bread you can have one of the many varieties of naan, a type of  round flat-bread made of white flour, and of course, I almost forgot, make sure you try instead of Coke or Pepsi the Pakistani Cola – Pakola.

After eating some of these wonders you can relax or enjoy yourself with a shisha 😉