It has been several weeks since our midway point came and went. I wanted to take time to reflect on what has happened so far, and reassess the meaning of this journey. I thought I would have the perfect opportunity since we were heading to Chitral for several days. Chitral is one of the regions of northern Pakistan which is very mountainous and beautiful. I packed my computer, and imagined relaxing in our hotel room with sweeping views of the Mount Kalash and its valleys, or perhaps on the deck of the alpine style hotel where we would be staying and type away, having the distance and perspective required for that kind of reflection. It was to be our first trip outside of Islamabad in two months, and the words of my hairdresser definitely rang true “you’ll want to leave Islamabad every two months” as if it were somehow related to the color of my roots. Yes, it had been about 2 months since our trip to London, and we were definitely due for another getaway. We were ready.
Unfortunately, our excitement was stilted, twice, as the flight was cancelled two days in a row. The second day we were completely duped, because the flight actually took off, with all passengers on board, and flew for the expected 45 minutes or so, through clouds and turbulence, although when we landed, the realization that we were in fact back in Islamabad, crept in very very slowly, culminating in a very blunt thud in my gut. The plane had turned around mid-flight, and which was not deemed necessary to share with the English speaking passengers. Living in a country so different from the one you consider your home, the one you are familiar with and think you understand, you come across these disappointments which catch you completely off guard.
So here we are. Still in Islamabad. Way past the midway point. To sum up, we’ve lived through several phases:
1) Serena: the many strange days at the hotel, our first set of sicknesses. At least 10 days it took to adjust to the time. 17 days at the hotel all together I think.
2) House: Moving into our house and settling into a routine of life and work in Pakistan.
Adjusting to the culture, language, climate, food, city... finding restaurants and stores we liked. Starting consulting work. Discovering our surroundings: the ZOO, Said-Pur Village, the Markets,
3) London: the first trip out of here, which was so good, so uplifting, and such a great reminder that in our “regular” life, we can walk in public and feel relaxed, hold hands, and wear jeans, and have our hair fly willy nilly free in the wind, and smile completely openly and be unabashedly happy. And see other men and women doing the same!
4) After London: coming back was much easier, as if London gave us a new perspective, a new light. And indeed there was new light in Islamabad. Spring had arrived after some weeks of rain. For the first time we saw clear skies, and crisp outlines of things, especially leaves and ridges. We started to go on the hiking trails in the Margalla hills.
But here I began to get sick sporadically, going through some sort of a diarrhea bout every two weeks or so, which ultimately has culminated in this (I say that with the hope of finality) whatever I have now.
Sickness apart, what has it been like so far? There have been many highlights, unexpected moments of wonder and appreciation. For example the first time we reached Ficus point on our hike into the Margallas and sat on the big boulder underneath the enormous ficus tree and listened to the brook and looked into the sunlit haze over Islamabad. Or when we hiked to the ridge thirsty, sunburned, cranky, and found the old man selling cold bottled water, then laid on the pine needles and looked up at the swaying pines. Or when Z took us to Khanpur for the first time, and later hiking there, and swimming in its cool blue water. Or when Tom and I danced together, for the first time ever, at a jazz club event at Majlis. Or the many mornings we’ve practiced yoga together in our yoga room.
There have been many difficult times too, not marked by such acute remembering, but worth noting as well. Chiefly for me, the frustration of feeling trapped. And the recurring illness.
What has this meant over all? It has given Tom and me a lot of time to spend together. Time without much distraction. Other than work hours, we are together all the time. There is no TV (except for the 2 dozen pirated movies we bought at Illusions), no constant stream of public radio (except for the podcasts we listen to occasionally to remind us of home and bring in the news), no friends and acquaintances to be inviting us to drinks, or dinner (except for the infrequent dinners we’ve had with folks here), nothing to fix or organize around the house, no piles of magazines to keep up with, no concerts or museums to go to... it’s just a very simple life, distilled down to its most basic: work, food, sleep. Although it might sound boring and oppressive, and in some ways maybe it has been that, what this simple life has also done is provide us with the opportunity to get to know each other in a way we did not have a chance to before we were married.
Before we came, Tom used to joke that Pakistan is our second honeymoon. In an unexpected way this has turned out to be true. Not in the way a honeymoon usually signifies: tropical drinks with umbrellas, wearing very little clothing and lots of sunscreen. But in a way where we just get to focus on spending time together, in a regular life, removed from our regular life. Tom still leaves for work, and sometimes I do too. When he comes home we hug and kiss and just spend the evening together. Doing what? I don’t even know, talking mostly. Getting to know each other. Not getting to know the neighborhood, or the latest new restaurant on P Street. But getting to know each other. That is the honeymoon of it. Sweet.