Saturday, October 16, 2004

I'm no chicken but...

The taxi rides here are frying my nerves. I'm not a newbie either, so when I complain about a bad taxi ride, you'd better believe it.

Today's taxi driver ranked as the rudest, second most risky driver we've ever had. Abez and I are on our way to her MRI in 'Pindi. We don't know 'Pindi very well so we have opted to take a taxi. Right away we knew we had a particularlly bad driver. He had stuck his taxi into "hit me if you dare" situations within just a few blocks from home. I advised Abez to roll down her window so we won't get hit by shattered glass if we get side-swiped or broadsided. Her window had no handle. We contented ourselves to huddle together as far from the doors as possible. Not only is he a risky, dangerous driver, but he's rude too.

He pulls into the gas station without asking if we have the time. He ignores Abez twice as she tells him that she has a medical appointment in 20 minutes. The line for CNG (compressed natural gas) is 12 cars deep, clearly a 15-20 minute wait. He finally listens to her and pulls out of the line, back into traffic. A few minutes later, after such glaringly bad driving that other Pakistani drivers are cursing him and asking if he's crazy he proves that he is.... He overtakes a taxi over taking another car, going uphill in his old hunk of junk car with NO power or pickup. A bus is kareening madly downhill at us. We're playing chicken with a bus. Other drivers squeeze over to let us in at the last minute.

Abez kindly tells him we're not late, you're scaring us, please drive slower. His response was, "This is my car and I'm not your servant." Again we're passing and playing chicken, but after playing chicken with a bus, I not so scarred this time, it's only a Suzuki coming at us head on. Again, other drivers have to let us in with horns honking and brakes squalling. I'm thinking to jump out at his next stop (Provided he doesn't run through the red light like he did the last one.) I realize that my hubby has prepaid the driver. (Note to self: NEVER pre-pay the driver.) I'm mentally wishing I had some kind of time-delay device like in the James Bond movies that would catch the back seat of his cab on fire about 5 minutes after I got out. That would teach him, I think. We survived a few more near misses till we arrived safe and sound (but definately shaken AND stired) at the clinic.

Abez gets her MRI and two hours later, we catch another taxi to head home. Just 50 yards from the clinic the taxi is gently rear-ended. NO problem- no injuries, no damage. I was surprised the driver got out to even look at his car. Fortunatly, no yelling or fighting ensued and we were soon on our way. Twenty feet later, we almost crash into two men on a motorcycle who jerk into our path to avoid the car that was backing out that they should have stopped for but didn't. I jump and gasp as the men nearly fall into my opened window. The cabbie is unconcerned. I think these men have no nerve endings left; they must be totally fired for constant firing off.

20 minutes later, Abez and I arrive home with a heartfelt "Thank you, God, that we are alive and safe." If you were never a praying person before, a ride with a Pakistani taxi driver will turn you into one.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Now Playing: The Silver Bullet #2

Exactly one week after the car theft: Our missing '02 silver-grey Suzuki Mehran has been replaced with..... a nearly identical '02 silver-grey Suzuki Mehran! Pretty cool huh? I told you guys we drive the most common car on the road here. We really didn't go out looking for a matching car. A friend knew this car was for sale and since he can't afford it now, he suggested we buy it and sell it to him when we move to UAE in few months.

Should we name this car Silver Bullet #2. It's like a sequel.

Hubby's trying to decide on getting car insurance or an alarm system. (We can't afford both, so it's a tough decision.) He was opting for a system, but my rational was, "Look, theft and accidents are very common in Pakistan. We've just had a theft so with our luck that means a car-totaling accident is next, right. (*shudders* God forbid) You had better get insurance 'cause it protects against both events."

Bodacious Ramadan to all my Muslim readers. This morning, to commemorate our last family breakfast till after Eid, I made muffins and awoke the girls with calls of "Happy Mardi Gras!" They scowled at my enthusiastic declaration that today should be a day of dietary debotchery. I think we're supposed to eat all the eggs and butter or someting like that. I'm not Catholic, so I don't really know, but I'm willing to adapt and learn.

I gotta go drag the hubby out for a chaat or ice cream or someting in a Mardi-Gras-ish attempt to celebrate our last daylight eating. Oh, and steal a few daylight smooches. Whooo-hooo

I am the Queen of Cultural Confusion, dontyaknow.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Motorcycle Madame

No, I'm not a Hell's Angel hooker. Since the car was stolen last Friday, I've been driven to my ESL classes by my 20 year old son. Here in Pakistan my job title is "English Madame" (teacher). They are pretty surprised to see an English Madame arriving via motorcycle.

While driving to this evening's class the cool air rememinded me of my really big, heavy, warm sweater I will wear as my "winter coat" here. As the miles sped past me and the sun set, my mind traveled to the time I bought the sweater. Chicago, early 1990's: It was a rummage sale find. I mended the raveled spots and wore it to my job at an elementry school. One of the teachers complimented the sweater. I bragged that it was used and only cost me $3. She looked approvingly, and said, "I'll give you $20 for it." She was totally serious, but I turned her down. I'm glad I did.

More miles and more remisiscing about another time someone tried to buy the clothes off my body. 1975: I was young and newly arrived in NYC. I had made myself a wardrobe for the trip. It was a cool and rainly day. I was getting a hair cut and the beautician complimented me on my rain jacket. It was bright, shinny red with checkered patch pockets and epaulets. She asked me where I got it and when I told her I had made it myself, she gushed, "Oh, you must make one for me too. I'll pay well." I told her I had no sewing machine but, unwilling to back off, she named a price I couldn't refuse and bought it off my back.

The sun is setting the wind is chilling. The grey is spreading. It's getting harder to see the road. Zaman hits a small bump that puts air between my butt and the seat. I ride sidesaddle in true Pakistani fashion for women, so it's a bit of a jolt. I ride watching the traffic till my mind starts blogging again.

I'm teaching Headstart in Chicago in the 1980's. One of our Nigerian moms is a large lady, like me. I ask her where she gets the fabric for her clothes. "It's all from my country." She replies. "I realize that," I reply. "I can recognize African cotton. It's so wonderful. Isn't there someplace here in Chicago where I can buy some?" "Sorry." The next day as she drops her son at school, she puts a large box in my hands and leaves quickly. I open it to find the very same suit I had complimented; washed, starched, perfumed, and wrapped in tissue paper. She had literally given me the clothes off her back. It's still humbling to recall many years later. That suit was a perfect fit and ranks as one of my alltime favorite clothing articles of my life.

The darkness is compete. It's dangerous to be on unfamiluar roads on a motorcycle at night here. Even though we live in the capital with the best roads in the country they are full of bumps, dips, uncovered man-holes, huge potholes, etc. In a car these are tire damaging inconvienances, but on a motorcycle, they are potentially life threatening. He hits a bump that sends us flying and almost unseats me! I tell him to stop immediately so I can regain my balance.

I realize the first two stories show my greedy and commercial nature, the third one shows unconditional giving and how other cultures value teachers. It makes me feel guilty that I have never given anything so spontaneously and without hope of a gift in return.

We are nearing the student's house. I have to start helping read street and house numbers. We finally find the house. I ring the bell and intoduce myself to the Urdu speaking guard as "the English madame" He calls the man of the house. We make introductions and walk up the stairs to his apartment. Nerviously I volunteer, "You know, I don't usually travel by motorcycle but this Friday my car was stolen."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


The other day I met a new ex-pat American in Pakistan. After lunch we were making lady small talk.

Me: (Pointing to her youngest child ) So, was she born in Pakistan?

She: Yes.

ME: Oh, what hospital?

She: Oh she was born at home.

ME: Oh, I didn't know they did that here. My 4 kids were home births back in the States. Did you have a nurse-midwife or a doctor attend the birth?

She: Oh, it was an unassisted birth.

ME: (with visible shock on my face, 'cause my story of having 4 home births is usually the shocker.) Oh, my! Was that by choice or emergency? How did you do that?

She: My choice. I just went to and read up on it. It was easy.

I can tell you I'm not used to being the conservative one when it comes to birth discussions, but I spent the next few minutes pleading with her to hire a doctor to attend her next birth this Spring, "Just in case something went wrong."

My next thought was, good grief; when I do a Google search on the most mundane subjects, I come up with nothing but dead links and here this woman types in something as bizarre as unassisted births and voila, a resource page for the ultimate do-it-yourselfer. I was both chagrined and impressed.

But then my weird little mind got to thinking, what other kinds of off the wall do-it-yourself site are out there? Could we find out how to murder your (spouse, boss, in-laws, ex)? Call me a cowdard, but I'm afraid to even check.

So, bloggers, what's the weirdest site you've run across, and remember this is a family blog. Keep it decent.

PS: The neighbor come over to console us on the recent theft of our car. It seems his stolen car recovered by the police....7 years later! Such cold comfort. I already didn't like the man.

Whaaaaa I want my car back now!

CALL FOR HELP: Starting tomorrow I have a new ESL student, a Japanese adult. While I've taught Japanese children before, I've never taught an adult. How do you get a Jahpahneezu pahsohn speakingu Ingurishu (and be not offended at the dialectic, it's from a linguistics book) to drop those added vowel sounds and pronounce their 'r' properly?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

What Goes Around:

Well, I've been carless for less than 48 hours and my noble resolve to remain carless is over. Here's a run down on my travel adventures since then.

Friday- Theft +2 hours: I've already blogged about the ride on motorcycle through a buffalo herd.

Theft +6 hours. We have a previous dinner engagment so Zaman and Oleg travel via motorcycle while Hubby, girls and I pile into one of those aforementioned rolling wrecks that pass as taxis here. Usually mirrors, tail lights, headlights, and shock absorbers are considered optional equipment, while beadwork windshield decor, decals of beautiful female eyes peering seductively through shades out the back windshield, and little disco lights dancing around the license plate are all standard equipment. A fast and furious drive later, barely missing a high-speed collision with a minivan. We painfully extract ourselves from the taxi in the restaurant parking lot, glad to be alive.

After dinner our hosts graciously insist on driving us home which means that 6 people will have to fit into a car meant to hold four. While the car had all the proper saftey features funtioning, and was driven by a law-abiding gentleman, it was quite a crush. Poor Aniriz had my left hip in her unprotected stomach the entire trip.

Saturday- Theft + 24 hours: Hubby and I have to go the the police station to get a copy of the First Information Report. High winds force us to favor a taxi over the family 2-wheeler. We enjoy a short but bouncy ride to the station without any near-death experiences.

After waiting 2 hours and watching the continuing drama of a police station in Pakistan, the clerk with our report shows up. We walk 4 blocks through the heavy wind to a nearby plaza to make copies of the offical originals. (The police station hasn't a single computer, copy machine or any other hint of modern 21st century equipment.) The wind thinks my 3 foot long scarf (duputa) so necessary here by Pak standards of fashion and propriety, is a giant kite. I struggle to keep the scarf on my body in order to prevent scandalizing the neighborhood by indecent exposure! We return the originals to the station and take another short and safe taxi ride home!

Sunday- Theft + 40 hours: Saturday night I invited Zaman to accompany me to church in the morning and he accepted my invitation. I awaken to find the day cold and rainy; no hope of going by motorcycle. Hubby leaves for the daily restaurant shopping, promising to send a taxi to the house at 9:30. I make Zaman breakfast, and go to get dressed. He eats breakfast and falls out of the chair, onto the floor dead asleep. (Nocturnalitis strikes again!) I figure, okay, I'll go without him if he just tells the cabbie how to get me to church and back.

I wait, and wait. At 9:50 the taxi shows up. I'm already late and upset. I scream like a banshee to ressurrect the near-dead Zaman. (Ouch! Did all the noise come from me? My throat hurts.) Zaman - barely awake - and I go out to talk to the driver. The conversation is in Urdu, but I have creepy feeling that he's giving out the directions to the previous church address. I say, you had better go with me. Zaman agrees and we head back into the house.

I think he will throw on some clothes and be ready in 3 minutes, but NOOOO. He disappears into the bathroom, then 5 minutes later I hear the shower start! I yell down to Aniraz. (Understandably, she was already awakened by my glass-shattering scream) She comes up and on my request sends the cab driver away. I'm ranting around the house. "Where was this driver at 9:30? Church isn't like a tea-party, where you can pop in any time. I'm so late, I've missed the sacrament (communion) and I'm in such a BAD mood I don't think I am fit to take it anyway!"

I throw myself into my room to fuss and fume and lick my wounds in private. When Hubby returns home at 12:00, I lay down the law. "That's it, I'm sick of being carless. What goes around, comes around. Go out and steal me the first grey Mehran you see." I'm ready to turn to a life of crime, all just to get to church. May the Lord forgive me!