My trip to Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, was interesting, however, it was rather short. We drove two hours in a convoy, were picked up by a police escort just outside the city, went straight to the office, had an informal chat with a very interesting journalist and came back to Islamabad the same evening. However, it was good to get out of town and even though I would like to go into more detail about the trip, I have decided to stay away from writing about work-related issues due to the obvious reasons. So, I will keep on concentrating on the fun and outdoor things, which are also rather limited here.
Going out in the evenings does not really happen a lot here. Most people meet in private houses and in case you want to go out and have a glass of wine, you have to go to the ‘Diplomatic Enclave’ – a sealed-off compound, where all the embassies and foreign ‘clubs’ are based. Some people have chosen to live in the enclave, which I simply cannot understand as you live closed away from the real life here but I guess this is what some people like. Last Friday, we went to a French restaurant in the enclave and I was shocked to see a sign on the door, saying “Foreigners only – no Pakistanis”. It made me feel rather uncomfortable, however, I chose not to say anything, as I was new in town and did not want to make a fuss. My initial reaction was that I did not really want to go there. The food was ok but what the restaurant was not very good at was making Mojitos. Upon arrival we immediately ordered a round (about eight) Mojitos, which took them about 45 minutes to make. When we immediately ordered the second round they told us that they had run out of glasses and that we had to finish the ones in front of us first!
Anyway, two days after our drawn out dinner at the racist restaurant, I came across an article in “The News”, a Peshawar-based newspaper, saying that a ‘French restaurant in the diplomatic enclave was to receive a closure notice due to denying Pakistanis entry’. It should be interesting to see whether they will actually go through with it and close it down. But even if it remains open I shall certainly not go back there. If you are interested in the article, click here.
As far as my physical exercise is concerned, it is going really well. I am still running in my Nepali Kurtha and I have now found a running mate. Last weekend, I spotted a foreigner running along the hills and I was cheeky enough to just stop him. I asked him whether he was a regular runner and as it turned out, he was. He is from Belgium and he showed me a great running trail along the Margalla Hills, which made me extend my running portfolio a little bit. I have also become the proud member of the swimming pool in the posh Serena Hotel and I have already been there often enough for the guards to know what to do with my bicycle. It is a 25m pool and it is almost always empty, which is fantastic. So it is good exercise and just getting there already demands quite a bit of exercise as the Serena Hotel is about 10km away from my flat as it is in the south of the city, near the Diplomatic Enclave.
I have also almost finished one-sixth of my time here and even though I really enjoy my work, I miss Nepal, my freedom and my office-less life as life in a window-less office is just not my cup of tea. However, I am very lucky as I have really nice colleagues and I will certainly try to make the most of my time here. On 18 September, the office will be shut for a couple of days due to the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy months of Ramadan. During this festival, those who had been fasting for more than one month, celebrate the end of Ramadan by stuffing their faces for a few days. I might take a plane up to Skardu, which is the base of many classic Karakorum treks and according to my Lonely Planet guidebook, it is also the start for some amazing day hikes.s
Skardu is also the village where Greg Mortenson, an American who founded the Central Asia Institute that built several schools in the area, was headed to after his expedition to K2. The American had attempted to climb the second highest and one of the toughest mountains in the world, but after more than 70 days, he and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. The time and energy devoted to this rescue prevented him from attempting to reach the summit. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. He set out with one local porter to Skardu, but they took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where Mortenson was cared for by the villagers while he recovered. In order to pay them back for their kindness, Mortenson promised the villagers that he would return and build some schools there – and he did but not without problems. Mortenson tells his amazing story in his book ‘Three Cups of Tea’, which is a fascinating read and I can only recommend it.
In the meantime I will keep on exploring Islamabad as much as I can and I guess the Margalla Hills help me keep my sanity in this town. I am just looking up at them while I am writing this!