28 July 2005

Leaving Pakistan

The saying going around here in Pakistan is that Islamabad is 30 kilometers out of Pakistan. I think this sentence gives a clear picture of how different is Islamabad than the rest of the country.

Still to this day the tribal system prevails. It is obvious in the west of Pakistan close to the Afghani borders, the tribal areas are living totally independent. They make their own rules, and have their own army. They are only part of Pakistan politically and that is it. Years ago when the British army was in Pakistan, they could not step a foot into these areas, even the Pakistani army today can not enter them. Last Monday I read an article in a local newspaper where a head of a tribe in the Waziristan tribal area was threatening to pull out his support to the Pakistani army due to the fact that some homes over there were searched without his permission. This morning in another article in the newspaper it stated that in the North Waziristan tribal area there were as many as 40 attacks on various posts of the Pakistani army last Monday. "The purpose of the attacks was not to kill anybody but just to remind the Pakistani army what happened to them last year when they tried to conduct operations in South Waziristan," commented a tribal source from Waziristan. The Pashtun tribes that dominate Waziristan cherish their independence from the central government, which cause severe embarrassment for the government of Pakistan in the global war against terror.

By the way there are around 20 million unlicensed weapon in Pakistan at least each family in the tribal area has at least 2 pieces.

Tuesday we went to have lunch at the Islamabad club. It is the posh club of Islamabad. It is nice very gree n and has different courts and fields. You are not allowed to enter the restaurant if you are not formally dressed, of course a jeans is a big no. But you can enter wearing the Shalwar Qamiz which is the national dress it is what the majority wears out here, a long shirt down to the knees and trousers the size of a small marquee. 2 months ago Sistal (an Egyptian) the program manger based and living in Islamabad for a year now was stopped from entering the restaurant in the club because he was wearing a jeans. He got really upset and went in an argumentative conversation with the guy at the door. Sistal went on telling the guy how can I not enter the restaurant when other wearing pajamas can??!!! Thank God I was not there at the time I don't know what I would have said or done. Luckily since started to work in Alcatel it is a suit everyday or worse case scenario a shirt and a tie. Some people are NOT culturally sensitive, I hate that.

There allot of Afghanis in Pakistan they have all emigrated during the Russian invasion allot of them never went back. Wednesday night we went to an Afghani restaurant called Kabul we had Afghani Tikka & Afghani Kabab (Kabab is similar to Egyptian kofta minced meat on a skewer while Tikka is similar to Egyptian Kabab chunks of cheap meat on a skewer), we had Brinjal Frai which is oil fried eggplants with a white cheesy sauce it is really nice, and we also had Mutton Karahi which is pieces of meat in a spicy hot brownish sauce, Afghani nan (bread) really really good has some herbs in it. Of course all this is accompanied with yogurt to ease up the pain. In general the food was good huge quantities cost is really cheap it was around 93 EGP around

Pakistani trucks/buses/rickshaws are fantastic! They have these incredibly outlandish patterns, designs, metal bits all over them. It seems every driver takes pride in decorating his bus, so they are all simply covered in ornaments, designs, gold tassels and paintings. I almost died out laughing reading stickers like "Welcome to my Bus - We go to Goodbay" , "Never Dead Mother" and "In The Name Of God Please No Smoking". Everyone that visits Egypt says that the driving is bad hahaha come to Pakistan even Egyptians are scared to drive in Pakistan, and each one got himself a driver. I went out from Islamabad to a place called Pindi oh the traffic is crazy, our driver raced with the ambulance and insisted not to let it pass.

I am now in Dubai for a 9 hour transit. Going out of Pakistan was hell, as if you are going out of heaven. First of all there is a guy at the airport door before you even step in a foot in the airport
checking passports and tickets, then you have to pass by customs were they manually search all your luggage, then you pass through a metal detector that beeps at every single passenger without exception so of course you are body search, you put your luggage through an x-ray
machine then your luggage is sealed with a plastic strap. Then you check in your luggage then you pass through passport control, they take a digital photograph and you have to fill an exit card, then you pass by another check point where they check your passport and boarding card, then you pass through another metal detector that beeps as well then you are body searched, your carry on has to pass through another x-ray machine, you have to have an airline tag on your carry on if you don't you have to go back all the way to check in to get the tag. If you are lucky to have the tag then your tag is punched with a whole. Then you have to see a lady that stamps the tag on your carry on as well as your boarding pass. Then your passport & boarding pass is checked in at the gate of the plane. Next you take the stairs to go the lower level of the airport to catch the bus by the door your passport & boarding is checked. By the stairs in front of the plane your boarding is checked again, then finally after you climb the stairs to the plane your boarding pass is checked for the zillion time.

Thank God you are in the plane you arrive to Dubai your passport is checked in once and you are in the country!!!!! My colleague says there must be something wrong they only checked our passport once, we have to go back and make sure they don't need to search us.

24 July 2005

In Islamabad

With my previous job I was asked to travel to Pakistan several times, I always managed to escape. This time with Alcatel it was almost impossible. I tried to avoid so for almost 4 months now I got stuck and here I am.

Just arrived to Islamabad this morning at 2:00 AM. The airport reminded me of the Cairo airport not that I am proud of it, but it is the same chaos. People act the same way trying to cut in lines acting stupid or disoriented. You have to shout with a mean grin on your face and suddenly they wake up from there day dreaming realizing that there scam failed and quietly walk back to the back of the queue.

After waiting for almost an hour for the bags to arrive. I gave up and asked the police officer if I can go outside smoke a cigarette and then come back in to collect my luggage, he said no need to go out just smoke here. Cool! I was trying to respect the tiny sign at the end of the arrival hall that no one seems to respect but even the policeman is ignoring so I decided to ignore it myself and just lit a cigarette, no one even complained or gave me one of these dirty looks that you will
probably get in Paris when you follow the crowd of smokers in Charles de Gaule airport.

This morning I woke up really early went from breakfast which was amazing. Lots of cooked beef and chicken?!! Chicken Masala, Chicken with Oranges, Beef Shashlik, beef with I don't know what and so on.

The following thing was to straight head out for shopping. Luckily I am with a colleague from Alcatel who came to Islamabad 4 times before so he knows the city inside out.

Islamabad was built in 1958 by a Greek architect, and it was designed to be the capital. The city feels strange, it feels artificial in a way, it is very well planned wide roads, green and clean. I still did not go to the poor areas as I was mainly downtown and in the diplomatic district. But I am so far impressed.

First day was a triumph so far got some cheap books and DVDs not original of course. I got for example "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" book six for only $4 USD, while the list price is $29.99 and on Amazon you can get it for $16. DVDs are sold around $2 and $3. Amazing!!!!

Well I am in the Marriott now writing this email, today is Sunday so it is the weekend still. Tomorrow my misery will start as I will have to go to work but now I am enjoying my bowl of Pakistani Mangos and a nice Mango juice. An Egyptian will always remain Egyptian so I have to add that our mango is much much much better, the Marriott in Zamalek Cairo is at least 10 times nicer :)

I will be leaving Islamabad heading back to Cairo on Wednesday night so if you need anything don't hesitate to ask :)

23 July 2005

I shed a tear for Sharm El Sheikh & Lodon

I am shocked and stunted about what happened in Sharm El Sheikh it was sooo unexpected, allot of people died for no bloody reason. For years we have been struggling to reassure the tourists and inviting them to back to Egypt, that our country is safe. At last the tourism season this year was very prosperous, then Sharm was attacked!!!

When will this violence STOP?!! Why killing innocent people? What is the objective behind all these murders? The world is obviously going insane. When will it end? Where is all this taking us?

I am honestly worried and frightened. For a while I thought I should try to find another job in London and move back to the UK. But now even London is not safe? People are even scarred to live their common life and use public transportation!

Where should we go to feel safe? There were terrorist attacks everywhere Egypt, USA, UK, Saudi Arabia, France …. name it is every where?! Where should we hide? Should we go to the moon???!!!! Will we be safe there?

I pray and hope that we will wake up tomorrow in a better world, living withpeople that use reasoning to solve their issues and problems, Amen!

16 July 2005

Who is Gecko-girl ?

A friend of mine used the Cairo Metro by the beginning of July, when a female passenger started preaching loudly that people should pray to God and respect their parents. She went on explaining that: “A lady in Oman was reciting the Koran while her daughter is watching a musical channel on TV, the mother asked the daughter to turn it off. Angrily the girl threw the holy book, and then God immediately turned her into a lizard.”

Another female passenger questioned this preacher; she asked her where did she get the information? The preacher confirmed that it was discussed on all satellite channels and they also showed the picture of the lizard woman. Then the passenger insisted by saying I am watching TV all the time but I never saw a single news about a woman transferred into a lizard, so where exactly did you see that?? The passenger’s station had arrived so she walked out of the train; as soon as the door closed the Preacher went on saying do you see she does not watch the right channels, remember…. Then my friend’s station had arrived. On the station platform she heard 3 girls seriously discussing what this “preacher” was saying on the train; One was saying you know all what she said was true but the girl turned into a monkey not a lizard??!!!!!!

It seems that this rumor was very well spread; it reached Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Afghanistan.

How did all that start? It turned out that the above picture is a cropped image from the sculpture The Leather Landscape by the Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. The sculpture is part of the We Are Family exhibition that was a big hit at the Venice Biennale in 2003. http://patriciapiccinini.net/

14 July 2005

Did you know?

Did you know that Hosni Mubarak is Egypt's longest-serving ruler since Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century? and one of the longest-serving leaders in the Arab world.

Did you know that he succeeded President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981, and was re-elected in 1987, 1993 and 1999?

Did you know that he is expected to run for a fifth six-year term in September 2005?

Did you know that Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's long-serving leader is a great survivor? He has escaped no fewer than six assassination attempts.

13 July 2005

Business Relations

Today as I was listening to the radio it was mentioned that in Egypt there are 77,000 managers married to their secretaries?!! Yes Seventy Seven Thousand!

10,000 of these cases are secret marriages (Orfy Marriage)?!


11 July 2005

Compulsory Military Service

I heard a strange story a couple of days ago. As I was smoking a cigarette, outside the building there was a bunch of guys standing close by and I could clearly hear their discussion. They were talking about things people do in order to avoid the compulsory military service.

Gaining weight is the easiest way to do it, one of the guys was saying that one of his friends had a plan to gain 25Kg which will definitely assure him a military exemption. On the day of the medical checkup as soon as he stepped on the scale he realized that he is 4 Kg short from his exemption ticket. He went out of the medical checkup room. The guy drank 24 bottles of cola knowing that each is a quarter of a kilo, he went back in stepped on the scale and bam he got his exemption.

This was a funny story but what I heard next was not so funny but rather sick and horrifying. A guy actually placed the palm of his hand on the train rails in order to avoid 3 years of military service. What??! Could a normal human being amputate himself in order to escape the service? What a price? What a way of thinking. I started asking myself is this story for real? I can’t believe it.

Omar 05/07/2005

Today was a very sad day for me. I lost one of my best friends. Omar who has been fighting Leukemia for more than 2 years has passed away.Yesterday at his final stage he was suffering tremendously and went in a coma for sometime. I think after all the agony and the pain he has been through, in the hospitals in theUK, Germany, and here in Egypt, he has finally rested.

I have seen him suffer in the hospital in London for months, I spent nights with him in the hospital where he was hitting the wall out of pain. I have seen torture that I pray to God that none of us would have to endure, I am sure that he now is relieved.

A friend called me this morning at 9:00 AM to tell me Omar passed away 5 minutes ago. I left the office and I ran to the hospital. I went to the room and I saw him lying on a table covered with a white sheet butbut his face was uncovered. It seemed that he was smiling. I think this picture will remain in my mind for ever, I will never be able to forget it for the rest of my life.

The burial today and seeing the tomb opened, it is just a whole in the ground!! This is where we end up?! Placing his body rapped with a white cloth under the ground then covering it with dust, made me realize how life can be so short. But what hurts me the most is that the tears were there in my eyes but they never came out. I wanted to cry but I could not. I don't know why?! I feel my eyes watery I am on the edge of crying but no tears!!! I WANT TO CRY!!!!!!I hope that he will rest in peace. God please be merciful on him.

05 July 2005

Omar my friend

Peace be on OMAR, his family and his dearest friends.

I know how Omar suffered and I am so sorry that we lost him. We only lost him physically though. We will have him become equally present in our lives through our best of memories. That is the really great part of memory. Omar has left us many gifts of memories.

Omar is through suffering and that is wonderful. You must not suffer his loss, you must create joyful space for all of your best shared memories.