Islamabad Journal - Dec. 28th, 2009


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.


Yesterday, Sunday, after another largely sleepless night, we stayed in the hotel. I was very happy to discover that the gym downstairs also has a steam and a dry sauna. The steam room is much like the one I remember from the public indoor pool mom and I went to in the winters in Czech, tiled, dark, and hard to breathe in. But I just love the steam and cold shower. At night we played Scrabble, and I again, lost. But it was the most satisfying game yet, with really great words and interrupted by a delicious Pakistani/Indian room service dinner.

All of this resting feels good and important, in preparation for the days ahead. Our days at the Serena consist of long breakfasts at the Zamana restaurant downstairs, where we try various foods from the buffet which never taste the way one would expect (we like the chickpeas and curried potatoes with an egg on top) and reading the two local papers The News and The Dawn. We've been studying Urdu, practicing the script, listening to DVD and quizzing each other. We watch TV, about 60 channels, about 15 of them English speaking like BBC, Al Jezeera, HBO, Stars, the indispensible Fox News and National Geographic which shows Jailed Abroad - a show one should never watch while abroad.

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