It's the little things


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.

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