Islamabad Journal - Dec. 26th, 2009

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.

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