Once you’ve been in one place long enough to settle down, the little things start to emerge from the obvious ones. This reminds me of yoga, where you quiet down, and transfer your attention from the gross to the subtle. In changing our focus, there is grace, wonder and beauty. These little things are what we remember, and what we ultimately appreciate.
Like the way my husband now greets people, pressing the palm of his hand to his heart, bowing his head ever so slightly, as if he’d been greeting men like this all his life. Tom amazes me in many ways, but it is these subtleties that make me love him most.
Or, the small distinctions between our drivers: Alam Gir and Jaan Niaz. They are both about Tom’s age I guess, though it’s difficult to say. Both refer to Tom as “boss” in the third person. They call me Ma’am Sahiib, which means something like Madam Sir, the first word referring to my gender the second to my class, which they presume is higher than theirs, so they essentially call me “Sir.” Both drivers are loving people, with a great sense of humor. Both are similar in stature, a little bigger than the typical Pakistani, or at least they seem like it to me, since they protective of me. Both are from Peshawar, have 5 or 6 kids, whom they leave behind every week along with their wives, their households of 20+ people, several cows, dozens of chickens and take the bus to Islamabad to work as drivers on the PLSP (Tom’s) project. Both drivers speak some English, about as much as I speak Spanish. Both seem very serious at times but are quick to smile and joke when the social situation seems safe to do so. Both like to talk to me as they shuttle me from Serena to town, about a 10 minute drive. They assure me that “Pakistan is a very good country, Ma’am Sahiib. Only this time, Pakistan not very good. Many bomb blast.” Jaan Niaz speaks slowly and annunciates his words, making it easier for me to understand. I think this is indicative of his careful, fatherly nature. He always wears the traditional Shalwaar-Kamiz, with a sweater keeping out the winter chill. On the several trips to market, he walks ahead of me opening doors, or ten feet behind me, giving me privacy, but letting everyone know he’s “got my back.” Alam Gir’s speech is much more rapid, the final syllables of words often disappearing into laughter. He seems more free-spirited and youthful. He wears western style shirt and pants, has the mic of his phone clipped to his pink knitted vest, and waits for me in the car while I shop. They are both fond of Tom and think he is “very intelligent.”
The days could all look the same, with an ever present layer of hazy smoke nestled upon the city. Denser, thicker, lower than So Cal air pollution. The air sat completely still for days. Nothing stirred. From our window everything coated with a “fade out” quality. Two days ago, the slightest drizzle blessed Islamabad. Winds kicked up the flags along the hotel barricade, the branches of trees were enlivened, clouds clumped together. For the first time we saw swaths of blue sky above the clouds. Contours of horizons emerged. For half a day we could see what surrounds us: ridges of hills, crowns of trees, cranes of a construction site... it was marvelous.
It took years of living in Southern California, before I noticed that there really are seasons. That the landscape changes drastically. I wonder what else I will notice here, as I become more still.
It's noon and I am still in my pajamas and writing in bed. I have a cold, and still recovering from jet lag. Tom slept all night last night and looks good. He brought me two fruit plates and two pots of tea to our room and a mini donut & croissant.
It is the last day of a four day holiday. The day when sadness induces some Shi'a Muslim males to self-flagellate in commemoration of the day Muhammad's grandson was martyred. For us, self-flagellation aside, this is very convenient, as it has given us time to rest and to adjust to the time.
On Saturday, Moussa, one of PLSP's drivers took us to town. My impressions of Islamabad were very positive. The climate is dry, but there streets are tree-lined and park-lined, with the greenery reminding me of California in the fall - more yellow than green, but still very pretty. The trees are wispy and warm looking. You see lots of men on the streets, laying on the (yellowish) green space, resting, talking, waiting? Many squat along the sides of roads, in a positioned envied by many a yogi, with tools displayed in front of them to signify their craft: paint brush, pick axe, shovel. We went by Tom's work, the PLSP office, which is essentially a marble mansion behind a gate with two guards, in a residential neighborhood with many comparable houses. We visited Kosar market, a little shopping area with maybe a dozen stores. We sat outside, and I had a chance to enjoy my first afternoon in Islamabad outside the Serena walls. The marketplace had outdoor seating areas anchored by a water and surrounded by trees. The pet store had a large bird cage on display and the wild birds were flaunting their freedom in front of the caged birds. It was also my first sight of local teenagers, three boys and three girls, maybe 17 or so, sitting at a table near us, wearing jeans drinking tea or coffee and some smoked cigarettes. The girls sat cross legged on their chairs, and their shirts were provocatively short, covering only their hips, which seemed to earn them some disapproving looks from adults going into the shopping center. Sitting there in the afternoon sunlight was enjoyable and refreshing. Tom and I browsed through the meat/fish store, the dry goods store, the home appliance store and planned for what we would buy once we get our own place and leave behind the "suite" life of the Serena.
We've been here two and a half days.
On the flight over due to a combination of good fortune and "being too tall" we were seated in the emergency row which meant enough leg room to do a yoga series. Instead we slept. On the second leg of our 15,000 mile journey, the flight from Doha to Islamabad, we were part of a plane full of northern Pakistanis returning home from Hajj. The plane was delayed, the cabin was chaotic, chatty, with the atmosphere of fatigued but excited villagers returning home from arduous and very important business. During the delay, caused by careful organizing of sitting arrangements among the males and females, Tom and I played Scrabble. A man came to the space in front of us, and put down a white blanket. "I think this guy's gonna sit here" I mumbled under my trying not to stare and focus on my Scrabble tiles instead. This idea seemed completely plausible, given the general disorderliness of the cabin, but it turned out that it was prayer time, and he began to bow, kneel, stand, in a continuous display of piousness. Another man soon joined him. If a third one had come, he would have to perform these ablutions in Tom's lap.
Once the plane ascended, men, all of them wearing light colored shalwaar-kamiz and turbans, took off their leather sandals and stretched their bare, swollen feet on the arm rests in front of them; they slept, chatted, rested, contented. As soon as the wheels touched the tarmac in Islamabad, around 3:30 am on Christmas Eve, passengers got up, and began pulling luggage from overhead compartments. Diminutive Chinese flight attendants did not stand a chance pacifying the grizzled Hajists in their seats. After a long wait at the luggage carousel, we emerged from the terminal around 4:30 a.m. to witness hundreds of people waiting patiently around the entrance. They had brought leis with colorful plastic flowers and other flashy ornaments for their family members returning home from having fulfilled the fifth pillar of Islam. The crowd's display of devotion and support for their dear ones seemed particularly sweet in the early morning hours in this unknown land.
In our hotel room we fell asleep right as the call to prayer sounded through the window. We had in effect lost a whole day during the journey. By all accounts adjusting to the trip over here is easier than on the trip back. It is day 3 in fact, and we've had a few nights of midnight awakenness, talking and laughing, strangely enjoying our jet lag. According to Tom, this is our second honeymoon.