Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Back to Liberia - that little bizarre and weird country in West Africa

So I made it back to Liberia safe and sound. My staff was so happy to have me back they decorated the whole place with balloons and welcome signs. My most senior staff member ran down the stairs to give me a hug. My secretary was carrying my bags upstairs. How sweet!

Since I am my own boss I gave myself another day of rest and recuperation from all that flying I did from Asia to Africa. I took it easy for the next couple of days.

Sadly, the sense of holiday and relaxation does not last very long in Liberia. It wears off after a few days because small things around here do not work and that can really raise one's stress levels.

But let me not dwell on the negative. Guess what? Since I have been back, LEC has been on all the friggin' time! I mean, the whole friggin' time. I am IMPRESSED. It's even better than Pakistan. All the times I used to curse them and their seven generations back and forth are gone. I have power all the time. I don't need to go and transfer NLTC at Mama Susu's restaurant. S-W-E-E-T!

I just hope this doesn't jinx my electricity tomorrow!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Are things as bad as they seem?

Things are never as bad as they seem. The reason I say it was that even I was a little swayed by the news of regular bomb blasts and suicide attacks in Pakistan - from the northwest to Lahore, from Karachi to Islamabad. I started to wonder whether it was all blood and mayhem. I wondered whether I should have just stayed put.

Unfortunately all that BBC or CNN ever blast about Pakistan is the blasts. They never run any other story. As if all that is going on in the country is people blowing themselves up. This is the 6th most populous country in the world. Surely there is something to talk about. But nooooo. We have an agenda. We are fighting the War on Terror. And Pakistan is not cooperating. All terrorists are coming out of Pakistan. Lookit, lookit.

Luckily, things did not seem so bad as they really are. Suicide bombers were not running amok in Islamabad neither in Karachi. Things were as they have been.

What was a little different was the scheduled power cuts even in the commercial areas. So, I would be there shopping and suddenly the persistent and annoying humming of the generators would start, plunging my senses back into the familiar chaotic noise of downtown Monrovia. Pretty much every restaurant and shop has a generator as a back up. Every house also has a generator or a UPS. Life goes on and people work their ways around obstacles.

Apparently, the state owes $ 2 bn in unpaid electricity bills! I guess that explains a lot.

Unbelievable as it may seem to the Western media opinion-makers, there is a lot going on in the Land of the Pure.

Now that I have blasted enough at the Western media opinion-makers, I was rather unimpressed with the quality of the Pakistani television media. The news channels were taking the same page out of CNN or BBC. It was all mayhem and blood and gore. It was all corrupt politicians. It was all shouting experts shouting at each other on those expert panels dishing out their wisdom on what's exactly going on.

There was this one panel hosted by this buxom lady who talked more than her guests. At the particular time I was watching the programme - trying hard to figure out what was going on - there were 3 other women guest panelists who between them and this lady hostess were just going on and on. The 4th panelist was a shy man who got so fed up said, 'why did you invite me to this panel if you don't even let me talk?' That was funny.

For sure, no one can really say what's going on in the Land of the Pure. Anyone's guess or analysis is as good as yours or mine. But geez, that does not mean objective and a stab-at-intelligent analysis should go out the window. All it seemed to be was highly sensationalised reporting. Like how that CNN does it.

What I was pleased about was that the comedy was as good as ever. And I mean satirical political and social analysis. I watched a bit of that "Four Man Show" and "Hum Sab Umeed Sey Hain." It was hilarious and biting as ever.

Oh and lastly, how can I forget? BB was plastered everywhere. Propaganda clips were on the TV all the friggin' time. Her face was plastered along with Jinnah and Zardari and what's-his-name Prime Minister everywhere. It was ridiculous. She has been made into a cult figure. They EVEN changed the name of Islamabad Airport. That annoyed the hell out of me.

Conclusion: Things aren't bad as they seem. Actually, they are. But please put a better spin on it? The real truth is that things are bad as they seem for the poor and the wretched. They always suffer the most when things get bad. It's true in any part of the world.

Note: The pics up there are of the famous Najam Sethi being hilariously parodied on The Four Man Show.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Fly me to Karachi Let me sing among those Lights

Besides spending time with Aboo, I also spent about a week in Karachi with my khala's and littttle cousins there. Karachi is the antithesis of Islamabad. Karachi is alive. Islamabadis seem to be in a perpetual elitist bureaucratic polite slumber. Karachi has a vibe. Islamabad doesn't even have a pulse. Karachi is easygoing and relaxed. Islamabad is stiff and stuck up.

I'm only gushing because I had such a good time.

And honestly, I could have had a lousy time in Karachi if it weren't for my family. They just made sure I had an awesome time.

I haven't seen them for a long time so it was great to catch up with them and get to know them face to face (besides what I know from Facebook).

I was at first confused because they were all quiet. I wondered whether their invitations were just fake ones and they didn't really want me there. But it turned out they were a little bit shy. Thankfully, the shyness fell away to some great times. We watched movies, played cards, goofed off, talked and talked, went shopping, went driving, made plans and on and on.

On the eating, I A-T-E. My stomach fully remembered that Karachi was the city where one would end up eating three lunches. The reason I say this is that the last time I went to Karachi was from Islamabad when I used to work as UN national staff. I had told both my khala's about the time I was coming there. I got mixed up about which house I was supposed to go first to. Moreover, my boss was with me was hungry and I had to accompany him for lunch. After I deposited him at his hotel, I headed off to my first khala and I ate a very delicious lunch with biryani. After that, I went to see my other khala who was upset I was late and the lunch was already cold. I tried to squirm out of it but whoops, that would have been the height of rudeness. I ended up eating that lunch too. I had three lunches that day.

On this trip too I ate like crazy. Don't get me wrong. It was great fun. I had biryanis, the most awesome kebabs, karahis, more biryanis, parathas, ice-cream, gol gappas, pani puris, kulfi, you name it. But my stomach did feel like it was having a hangover in the end. I just lay down the first day I got back to Islamabad.

I also shopped like crazy. Karachi had some great malls so it was fun to shop there. I got some beautiful kurtas, chappals and bags.

I met my cousin's little kid for the first time. He's so friggin cute. Played a lot of hide and seek with him. We took about 200 goofy photos with him on my Photo Booth on my Mac. We watched loads of movies. Slept late, woke up late.

The most amusing thing to watch was how much planning went into it. My cousins were figuring out places to go to so I could max out on all the fun I could possibly have. It was very sweet.

Apparently there's one cousin who no one hardly sees. I was told that I should be honoured he was giving me so much time because 'bees saalon ke baad us se miltay hain.'

Hey I was told I was so politically correct I used to correct them way back when I was 15 or 16. I used to snap at them. Ha, that was funny when I heard that. Man, we all become our own miniature personalities right when we're young, eh?

We also saw old parts of Karachi. It reminded me of Cowasjee's passionate columns about preserving Karachi's heritage and landmarks.

I had my heart full when I left Karachi. I am really grateful to my cousins and khala's and uncles for their hospitality. I probably can't express in words how much the Karachi trip means to me.

Saturday, 3 July 2010


I remember the first time I came back to Islamabad from my first trip to Afghanistan. Pakistan seemed like such a developed country. The roads were smooth, paved and straight. The hills were green and everything seemed to be in order.

I used to get the same thrill landing in Islamabad each time I came back from Liberia, a place I call the Afghanistan of West Africa, to provide context to those who don't know what Liberia is. Afghanistan freaking de-stabilised the entire region. And little storm-in-a-tea-cup Liberia proved to be no less of a catastrophe for it's neighbours.

So it has been a thrill to be back after two years. There is a sense of home, belonging and familiarity.

I was nervous about seeing my old man after a period of two years. He seemed older and so much more vulnerable at the airport and it made me realise what a long time two years is.

After that initial pang, things fell into a good routine and it was good to be at the house. My father enjoys pottering around, tending after the plants and garden. He's rummaging all the time. Or reading a book. Watching the news. Or making me a cup of tea!

He insisted on making me tea and stuffing me with food all the time. It felt like being a kid. I wake up late, drink tea, watch the sensational Pakistani news channels which have multiplied like mushrooms and just generally take it easy.

It's really nice to do nothing!

I didn't get to enjoy any smokes with the old man but we played a lot of chess and Scrabble. That was totally fun. Just like the old days.

I am not going to do this again - not come back to Pakistan after two years. That's way too long.