A report on my second trip to Pakistan at the beginning of 2010. On our return, my travelling companion and friend, Huma Ahmar, and I had a lot of fun and laughs writing this:
“Breathe and smile!” This philosophy stood us in good stead during our recent trip to Karachi, as some considered us rather brave travelling with four young children (ages 11-4)! We met up in Hong Kong and travelled to Karachi on Pakistan International Airlines. This was Danielle’s second trip to Pakistan (she wrote about her previous trip for Sada-e-Watan in 2008: “Sydney University students in Pakistan,” http://www.sadaewatansydney.com/students-pk.htm).
Exhausted after the long night flight and transit through Islamabad, we ambled out onto the sun-drenched forecourt of Jinnah International, where we were warmly greeted by Huma’s family. There was an instant sense of familiarity as we were swept up in the chaotic Karachi traffic. We had arrived.
On the second day, we ventured out for a spot of afternoon shopping in Bahadurabad with Bhabi, sister-in-law in Urdu. How fashions can change in two years! Yet, the new styles started to grow on us by the end of the afternoon and we did indulge in some new pieces.
Some exciting events figured in our packed schedule. Three birthdays punctuated our time in Karachi and we managed to stretch them out pretty well too! There was a family dinner at Largess and an afternoon tea, lunches at Lasania and Arizona Grill in Zamzama and cakes galore, of course! Plans were in full swing for a reunion with Huma’s English Department pals from her student days at Karachi University and about 13 of us made it to Roasters in Zamzama. The lively atmosphere grew as everyone was taking a trip down memory lane while having a chuckle about the good ol’ KU days. Usually, when you’re the outsider at these types of gatherings, the stories and jokes tend to be a bit lost on you; but we all had a memorable evening filled with fun and laughter.
An inspiring occasion held at the Arts Council was an evening dedicated to the Student Movement of the 1950s. We were kindly invited by Zakia Sarwar, whose late husband was one of its leaders. The theme of the evening was “Looking back to look forward.” The occasion, in part, paid homage to the collective efforts of many students of the day rallying for their rights across Pakistan; this nostalgic journey was made through slide presentations, short documentaries, impassioned speeches, a rich vocal performance by Tina Sani and verbal accounts in person from those who were intrinsic to The Movement. Reminiscent of students’ politics it took Huma back to her days at KU. The electric atmosphere of the evening was heightened by the time the acclaimed band ‘Laal’ hit the stage (see: https://www.facebook.com/laalpak?pnref=lhc). They are doing a fantastic job of raising awareness of both the students and the working class about their rights and the bright future that awaits them should they decide to move forward and claim it. They are indeed friends of democracy and human rights. As the name suggested, “Looking back to look forward” certainly fulfilled its promise. Beena Sarwar, the daughter of the late Dr. Mohammad Sarwar, is making a wonderful effort of continuing his legacy. She and her colleagues are doing an amazing job of providing a platform for the Pakistani youth to express themselves, something that they need in these challenges times. We wish them luck!
The following day it was off to the beach Pakistani style. West of Karachi, French Beach was the perfect soothing tonic. It was great to see Omayr again, who had been so gracious during Danielle’s 2007 visit. Our group spent the afternoon out on the beachfront merrily chatting away and getting acquainted. After a feast of succulent crabmeat prepared by one of the locals, it was time to sink into the lounges and gaze dreamily out over the Arabian Sea, losing ourselves in more conversation.
We managed to take the kids to the National Museum of Pakistan to change their impression that “Karachi is a place with hot bazaars and lots of people”, which is their standard response when quizzed about the city. So, after a spot of lunch at Alpha Restaurant and a quick peak in at Zainab Market – we couldn’t resist – it was off to the museum for a dose of culture and history and to learn about the Indus River Valley Civilisations, the Mughal Dynasty and Quaid-e-Azam. So-called ‘normality’ then returned when we headed to Clifton Beach for a heady mix of camel and horse rides and snake charmers by sunset. Only in Karachi! The four year old took a liking to a very cute “baby snake” that the snake charmer had brought out to show; but a meltdown nearly occurred when informed that she couldn’t take it home with her. Thankfully, it was averted with chocolates.
Huma’s father wanted to take the whole family on a day trip outside Karachi and Thatta was chosen as a place of historical interest. It is a city known for shrines of the various dynasties that once presided over the landmass that is now Pakistan. He was fortunate enough to get a special pass and we indeed felt privileged to have the opportunity to visit this area and learn something about important bygone epochs. The tombs at Makli remind one of the intransience of life and the permanence of death. The fine workmanship and the vibrant colours have withstood the test of time. It was a picture perfect day as the bright, clear sun, cloudless, blue sky and golden, sandy colour of the stone provided a striking landscape to photograph. Our next stop was the beautiful mosque in the town centre built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the Fifteenth Century to thank the townspeople for their hospitality while he was staying there. What a generous gift!
The end of our stay was drawing nigh, so the pressure was on to fit in all our shopping as there were a few gifts to pick up for people at home and we were both in need of adding to our bangle collections. Our friend Farah was obliging and offered to take Danielle to all the right places. We picked up pretty much all we needed at Gulf Market before moving on to Jafferjee’s, the place known for its quality leather goods. After making a pit stop at Butler’s in Zamzama to pick up some delectable chocolates, we joined the family for high tea at The Village at Seaview.
Now, what trip to Pakistan would be complete without getting mehendi done!
Uzma and Danielle caught up one last time for coffee at Butler’s and before we knew it we were being pushed into a rickshaw with a reassuring: “Say no more, I know someone”, and off we flew to the parlour.
Hectic was an understatement! Those 12 days were certainly an unforgettable adventure! So many things to do, so little time. Unfortunately, we still left some disappointed faces in our wake. The front door felt like a revolving door at times and the phone seemed to ring non-stop; no sooner had people waved goodbye than the phone rang and some others were on their way round. We slotted in numerous visits to the homes of family and friends new and old; and well, we did leave some things undone; so we’ll just have to readmit those to the ‘to do’ list for our next visit.
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The version above has some minor modifications.