I'm back!!!

After a brief hiatus, I realize my mind races if I don't write my thoughts down. Its called my "Mind Dump". And you all know that if you don't empty out time to time, things can get really backed up. So I promise a weekly excerpt, even if it doesn't make sense. But does anything in life make sense when push comes to shove?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Blame Game

I know I am supposed to talk about Pakistan for this post but more interesting things happened today that I am itching to talk about!

My team at work took a dear friend out to cheer her up. We went to a restaurant nearby (I won't name the establishment) at lunch time.

I am all for customer service but when its done hastily and YOU feel like the intruder who has upset the flow of things, obtaining a free meal doesn't feel worth it anymore.

My boss had told us that she had a few bad experiences at this restaurant but our friend wanted to eat there - so to oblige her, we decided to stay and order. We were asked about drinks and then proceeded to wait 10 minutes for them to arrive. I personally have a billion special needs whenever I go out to eat - I don't eat meat that is neither halaal or kosher and I am picky about my seafood. After mulling over the menu, 'heeing and hawing' about what little choice I had, I ordered a tuna and avocado salad off the lunch menu. Everyone else placed their order as well but we waited 15 minutes before our server came to take the order. As the clocked ticked, we realized that over a half hour had elapsed. The server came back to announce that my meal was no longer available, despite being on the menu. My boss and I exchanged looks. Before I could respond, she was already challenging our server why the item was STILL on the menu. He suggested I pick something else -- without offering a idea for substitution or handing me back the menu. He blamed the hostess for leaving the lunch menu out and gave me the main menu. I selected a vegetarian stir fry; but my boss still asked to speak to the manager.

Our food arrived 45 minutes late, although mine came at the same time --and to boot, my veggie choice looked like it had chicken on it! Five minutes into the meal, the manager finally showed up. My boss grabbed my plate and demanded to know if that was chicken on my stirfry. He said it was not and that it was tofu. "I know you ordered the turkey and avocado salad..." he began, looking exasperated and bothered. I held up my finger. "Correction. I ordered a TUNA and avocado salad." He paused and agreed with me and then hurriedly proceeded to accuse the hostess for being away for a week and forgetting to remove the lunch menu which had the tuna/avocado item on it.

I opened my mouth to interject when my boss spoke up. "I understand that people make mistakes but our service was very slow and we have been waiting over 45 minutes." She had her GAME face on which meant, you don't mess with her in this state. She pointed to me and asked if my meal was free. The manager pursed his lips and said very quickly, "All lunch is on me," and then walked away and vanished. My boss looked over at all of us, stunned. I looked at my coworkers and our friend was giggling incessantly. "I should go to lunch with Marketing more often!" she exclaimed. My boss was clearly dismayed. The build up was there but for her, no release.

While we tried to confirm whether he meant my lunch was on him or the entire table, the server came back to check on us and my boss told him what his manager said. Without a pause, he revealed that the manager was only happy when he wasn't working. Nice. In that single proclaimation, we then understood the dynamics at the whole restaurant. The top guy just didn't care.

Prior to opening, the manager should have had a meeting to check that the menus with this item were removed and communicated this error to his entire staff. Instead, the server blamed the hostess and the manager blamed the hostess. And in a blink of an eye, he was rid of us by giving what HE THOUGHT was customer service. The manager could have kindly apologized without compromising the reputation of his staff and owning up to the mistake himself. Five free lunches were unnecessary, seriously. Instead, his own loyal staff inadvertently exposed the restaurant for what it really was.

Suddenly, our free lunch didn't taste so good after all...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stubborn Pride

Ever want to broach a subject but your unwillingness got in the way?

Ever wanted to sincerely apologize but you felt the other person needed to say sorry first?

Ever wanted to break the silence and reason it out but you were too opinionated?

Ever want for things to be different but not take the initiative to change it?

We are all too aware of of 'committing' these actions yet we do it anyways.

Its called STUBBORN PRIDE. Squeeze me?

Why do I always back down? Why do I always sacrifice? Why do I always compromise? Why do I always have to take the initiative? Why do I always have to speak first? Why do I always have to take the initial step? Why do I feel I am losing out? Why do I always feel I am taking two steps back?

What is the cure? What is the solution? How do I fix this? How do I fix me?

One word.


Pride is a hard pill to swallow but once you do it, you are no less than the person or situation you are fighting against. You will find that your are more like your enemy than you ever realized.

To know your enemy, is to know thyself..and at the end, the real enemy is only you...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Movie Wars

I really do not know why I continue to go to the theatre to watch movies.

I have amnesia. That is the only way I can explain it. However, miraculously, when I am at the theatre, I suddenly realize why I shouldn't be there and its too late.

Squeeze me? Yes, I am 'reeling' from the experience each time (sorry for the pun).

I took my daughter to see a movie last Friday night. She is a teenager and that's what teenagers do for fun. Am I just subscribing to a expected social norm? Considering the summer we just experienced, I guess latent guilt was resurfacing.

If you want a good seat, you need to go early and wait in line. That's when the war for me begins. First, there are no boundaries. Everyone lines up and stands extremely close, in the event that someone will jump the line to get ahead.

This is the first invasion of my privacy.

Then, when I find a seat, I cannot choose who I sit next to. I try to gage the personalities of people in line and make a beeline away from them even if there is the slightest hint of unusual behaviour. True story: I once got stuck sitting next to a guy with Tourette syndrome. In the first five minutes of the movie, I had to feign illness to move to another spot. I felt watching a Disney movie, with six year old twins, while the F word was flying out every 2 minutes was not conducive to my theatre experience.

Finally, once I am sitting, the person(s) next to me is somehow invading my privacy and personal space by doing either of the following:

-eating loudly
-talking incessantly and loudly
-shifting in their seat repeatedly
-picking their nose
-texting every blow Joe in the world
-using my drink holder
-neighbour behind me is kicking my chair

And every time I go, there is a new douzy to add to the ever-growing list. This time, my neighbour, who seemed to be a thirty-something, well-dressed polished woman, decided to let out a big yawn, not once, not twice but five times during the preview. She did not cover her mouth or attempt to even stifle her yawn. I think I indiscreetly looked over at her once, just to show my dismay, but she didn't get the hint. I turned to my daughter and she stared at the screen with her mouth open, oblivious to my torture. Ah, to be young and naive. I missed those days.

As we watched our movie and the audience laughed at the comedic parts, my elegant neighbour let out a hee haw, donkey of a laugh that I nearly caused me to slide off my seat. I looked around. Does anyone not hear this?! Again, I glanced over at my daughter who was smiling with content at the screen, enjoying her theatre experience with not a worry in her mind.

We walked out of the theatre and in the parking lot, my daughter threw her arms around me. "Your the best mom EVER. It was great to watch this movie with you! She scurried to the other side of the car, smiling to herself, as I sat down in the driver seat. Forget amnesia -- its temporary insanity -- crazy what we do for love...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Violent Bees

I'm a swinger.

I will go back and forth between Pakistan and Canada, just to keep things lively.

Remember the post about the event with the three not-your-average lady dancers? I forgot to mention an occurence that happened that night but did not transpire until three days later.

As we waited for everyone to file out after the event, and I got 'the look' from one the dancers, I remember seeing my husband rubbing his neck. You could clearly see his discomfort but he did not say a word. It was a fleeting episode that I didn't recall until I saw the back of his neck afterwards. After taking a shower, he asked me to look at his neck. He said he felt a burning sensation and didn't know why.

I pulled down the collar of his shirt and was mortified. His skin was purplish-blue, with a multitude of bumps and scales. I choked on my own saliva. "What the hell?! How long have you felt this burning sensation?" I asked, trying to mask the quiver in my voice. When he wasn't looking, my eldest daughter and I were trading shocked expressions. "Well, I thought something bit me at the party. And then I looked down and I saw this black bee on the floor...dead." I covered my mouth to smother my gasps. "Are you sure it was a bee? There are multiple bites on your neck." I was still trying to tone down my shock and ask in my most doctor-like voice, as I would the girls when they would come to me with a sliver in their hand. "I saw a dead bee on the ground." He nudged me aside as he tried to view his back through the bedroom mirror. I looked for an entry point but it looked like the damn thing bit him over and over.

I grabbed my medical suitcase (no word of a lie, my medical supplies were in a small suitcase -- a portable Canadian pharmacy) and search for an antiseptic analgestic cream. "We have to call Asad to confirm what meds you need." Asad was a doctor and family friend who was visiting Pakistan with his family during July. He used to live in Pakistan but experienced its violence with three home invasions at gunpoint. He had enough and immigrated to Canada to start a new life and ensure safety for his wife and children. Why he was back visiting was a question I should have asked myself.

Despite the fact that we took preventions against malaria, hepatitis A & B, typhoid and diaherra, I was unconvinced that all this would protect him from whatever took a chunk out of his neck. As he tried to use my makeup mirror to see his condition of his neck, I flew across the room to intervene. "You just let me take care of it. Its not so bad but I need a doctor to look at it -- just as a precaution." He shrugged his shoulders as I applied nearly an entire tube of Polysporin on his neck.

His UK cousin walked in, wondering what all the commotion was about, when he suddenly released a slew of profanities after viewing my husband's neck. Anything you say in a British accent sounds intelligent but I personally struggled with the advice he gave him: "Dude, it looks like an alien got tangled up in your neck hairs and fought for his life! You should consider going for a back wax!"

Terroism, tumult, uproar, struggle, corruption, bloodshed, crime, immorality, natural disasters and ...violent bees. At that point, I just wanted to "wax" Pakistan off the world map.

Just another notch on the frayed belt that continued to whip me on a daily basis...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Power of Nice

Ok, I am taking a break from Pakistan. I am sure that will brings sighs of relief to some, who upon hearing the name "Pakistan" in the future, will make a run for the hills.

Let me bring you back to Canada and share a thought that crossed my mind yesterday.

I am sure at some point, during the week, month or for some, the year, we fall into a cycle. For me its a self-absorbed, bubbled environment when its only me, alone in this world, fighting against everything and everyone. So take Tuesday. I woke up with a migraine and knew I would have a crappy day. Yes, I decided from the get-go that it would be a bad day. And believe you me, it was. I screwed up at work, I angered a friend and even got yelled at by my mother in law for forgetting a task. I also walked around for an hour in public, with my fly wide open. Leave it to me to screw things over.

Personally, when I am in that cycle, I wallow in my own self-pity. Nothing goes right and I am not right. I mentally list my faults, the faults of people around me and even blame Mother Nature for the rain. And worse than that, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Trust me, you will know when I am pissed off. Either I will bite your head off with a snide or sarcastic remark hidden behind the guise of a joke or I will smile that phony smile that really looks like I am constipated.

And when you are in this state, you don't think of others. Right then, its only affecting you --like when you drive your car and you are lost in your thoughts, not conscious of the traffic around you or how you reached your destination. PRNDL. Personal, Reclusive, Neglectful, Delusional, Loser. I did not just make that up. I was looking at my gear shift in the car and these words popped out at me out of nowhere. Squeeze me? Yes, words really do appear like that for me. Its my Harry Potter imagination that takes over.

How hard is it to stop the car, in the middle of the street and do a U -turn? In plain English, how hard is it to break that cycle? It definately differs from one individual to another but for me, its instantaneous.

So Tuesday, I had already made up my mind to be a bitch. But someone emailed me and said something that threw my premeditated state off. It took probably five minutes of their time to acknowledge me and show their appreciation. How hard is it to break someone's cycle? How hard is it, even if you are having a bad day, to be nice to someone else? I have never known someone to be nice and not feel good about it. The giver feels good and the receiver feels even better.

Its the 90/10 rule. 10% is your environment. 90% is how you react to it. Now if everyone could put as much energy they exert sustaining the cycle to breaking it, we become less 'me' and more 'we'.

The power of nice. Give someone a natural high.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Would you like a fortress with your BigMac?

Continuation of our one and only sight-seeing episode in Pakistan.

After praying in the Badshahi mosque, we ended up visiting its neighbour, The Lahore Fortress for the rest of the afternoon.

Once the tour guide heard me speak English to my cousin, he latched onto us like a bee on honey for the rest of our time there. A large crowd gathered around us because, I suspect, they were wondering why we were getting a private tour. That's right. The old man who knew the whole history behind each part of the fort, was only focused on us. Note to self: I warned the girls not to speak English in public, and as a result, I had to eat my own words and prepare to give our toothless guide a nice sized tip.

Below is a picture of him in front of the many entrances where he narrated that Prince Akbar would enter the fort, riding an elephant. I felt like I was in the middle of the book, Passage to India.

The fortress was built by the Mughal emperor, Akbar, to secure the city. I cracked a joke to my husband highlighting the fact that it seemed that all the Princes and Maharajahs in India/Pakistan built beautiful monuments for their wives. "What are you living under right now, a hut?!" he exclaimed. Note to readers: Even mere attempts at romance were relinquished the moment we landed in what used to be a land ruled by the Mughals.

Below is a picture of Prince Akbar and his wife. His face was etched out by vandals

We were truly stunned at the lack of maintenance throughout our tour. It was such a shame that there was no program put in place by the government to preserve these historical monuments. And clearly, the people who lived here did not care as we witnessed desecrated parts of the fort.

As I pondered these thoughts, I could hear the girls complaining. I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, It's hot, My feet hurt, That man is staring at me, Why are we looking at old things, There is no way an elephant could fit through there...it reminded me of the time when we went to England and we were touring London on a double-decker bus and as I took in the sights, the architecture and learned about the city's history, my video camera captured London in all its glory while the girls, on the top level and at the back of the bus, fought over who's BigMac had more sauce.

Fly like an eagle

Since my Pakistan trip was presented as a daily rendition of my experiences, one blog post per day is an unfair representation of the events that occured. Consequently, many of my posts were too long but necessary for the sake of narration. However, there are many anecdotal things that happened which are worth mentioning.

I know I have over-saturated my blog with Pakistani drama but its a result of an unfinished, cathartic overspill -- much like the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe: sometimes you cannot put a lid on it!

One interesting thing happened when we visited the famous Badshahi Mosque or the 'Emperor's Mosque' in Lahore. It is the second largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia and the fifth largest mosque in the world. Epitomising the beauty, passion and grandeur of the Mughal era, it is Lahore's most famous landmark and a major tourist attraction in Lahore. This monument is surrounding by the old Lahore fort and a Sikh temple (Sikhs from India need a visitor's visa to be able to come and worship there). I had been to this mosque back in 1991 but my girls had never seen it in all its glory.

The decision to sightsee was an impulsive decision made by my brother in law's father. We went to visit their family one Sunday afternoon and upon hearing that I had not taken the girls to see any sights in Pakistan, he immediately ordered the car to be brought around to take us to the mosque and fort. I told him we would drive there but not get out of the car. He only smiled and smoothed his moustache.

When we arrived at the gated entrance, there were hoards of people surrounding the front. I told him to turn the car around because we had seen enough, but my cousin insisted that he knew the chief of security and that he would get permissions to enter. My stomach flipflopped and I felt the beads of sweat form on my temple. Great. He wanted us to get out and walk around. I could hear the girls whispering about not wanting to leave the car. When I looked over at them, their eyes pleaded with me in silence. I curled my upper lip under my nose -- yes, a very unattractive habit but one I performed when under duress. The girls knew I was not impressed.

My cousin and his brother sweet-talked the chief of security who after finding out that my cousin was the deputy chief of engineering in all of Lahore, allowed our car to enter the grounds where no cars were permitted! If you had power, money and connections, Pakistan was in the palm of your hands.

The crowd opened up as we drove in, with people trying to peek in the car to see who we were. I covered my face with my shawl. Great. They must have thought we were: A) some government officials B) some famous cricket player, or C) some rich family who bribed our way onto the grounds. Instead of diverting attention away from us, my family succeeded once again with putting us in the spotlight.

We drove in and parked the car next to a garden. I felt guilty as we awkwardly got out only to be watched by a hundred pair of eyes. We shouldn't be here, I thought as we walked up the stairs leading to the mosque. We removed our shoes and hopscotched across the tiles to the water-soaked straw runners that protected our feet from being burned. The girls laughed as they criss-crossed across the tiled floors to more shaded areas to avoid the heat. Good. They seemed happy, I thought as my shoulders relaxed. The mosque was more beautiful than I remembered it. The girls were snap happy, taking pictures at every angle. But it was my husband who noticed something unusual.

Squeeze me? What could be unusual after hearing about my entire trip? Well, he asked us to look up into the sky. Whenever we stepped out in Lahore, we saw black crows everywhere. In many cultures, the folklore of the crow is associated to the representation of evil, darkness, superstition and death. Besides the pesky pigeon, crows were in abundance wherever we went. But over the Badshahi Mosque, we did not see one single crow. Instead, the sky was full of eagles flying directly above us. Beautiful, large eagles with incredible wingspans.

My husband looked over at me and shook his head in amazement. As we prayed our afternoon prayer in one of the oldest mosques in the country, this was one of the rare moments I felt peace, and for an instant, my heart soared like the birds above us.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Beyond Pakistan...

It amazes me how a bad situation can change your perception of life. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

The below quote encapsulates my experience abroad and what I took back with me.

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others...for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”

-Albert Einstein

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What you see is what you get

Since my return, I have been flooded with phone calls. How was your trip? What did you think about the corruption? Were you caught in the floods? Did you faint in the heat? Was the food good? One friend in Canada had emailed me while I was away thinking I was on the plane that crashed from Karachi to Islamabad because she heard a family of five from Toronto was on the flight.

The news I watched on CNN, CBC, BBC about the state of affairs in Pakistan was similar to what we saw on Pakistani TV but more censored. Women beating their chests in agony after losing their entire families, wishing they had died in the floods because the aid was taking too long to reach, still rung in my head weeks after my return.

I continue to be haunted by the various images in the country and I unintentionally compare them to what is being shown to the masses in North America. Its not like I don't want to remember...but my perception of the world is now a kaleidoscope filled with emotions, sensations and memories.

Let's lighten things up! What you see is what you get and a picture tells a story is so many ways.

Here are some pictures that made me say, Squeeze Me?

Sign at Abu Dhabi airport: In case you forgot, guns are not allowed on the flight!

At our cousin's house with their german shepherd: Please feed him before I lose a foot!

Contrary to popular belief, loadshedding doesn't affect all ages

All in favour of returning home? Put your right foot in!

Minaret Pakistan: As seen behind a screen in our crammed Corolla

The last picture was a culmination of varying emotions: fear, because we did not want to get of the car, laziness, because we did not want to get out of the car and exasperation, because what's worse than getting out of the car is getting back in and deciding who sits on who!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Oh Canada

I did not care that going from Abu Dhabi to Canada was over 13 hours. Just to know that we were heading home was enough for me. I popped an anti-nausea drug and was out like a light for half the trip. With all that happened in Pakistan, I should have been popping drugs while I was there!

When we were close to Pearson airport, I looked out the window and actually watched as the plane lowered its altitude. The familiar sites north of the city were in plain view: the farms, the highways, the greenery and landsites. I kept watching for half an hour as we approached the airport and realized how low to the ground we were flying. And as I felt the landing gear open and the vibrations rumble in my stomach, it did not feel surreal. These sites and sounds were familiar to me and a sense of calm enveloped me. Peace. It was definately a state of mind. And it was good to be home.

When the plane landed, the girls peeked over my shoulder and smiled huge smiles.
We fetched our things and headed out towards Canadian customs. The first words the girls spoke when they got into the terminal were, "Mmmmm, Tim Hortons!" Some things never changed ;) The walk in the new terminal was long and my ears were blocked. As my family rushed in front of me, I slowered my pace and took it all in. I didn't feel like rushing as I lagged behind and they powerwalked to customs.

When we stood in front of the customs officer, I could not stop smiling. "How was your trip?" he asked me. I mentally rewinded my entire trip. "If I told you, you would not believe me." My husband shot me a look. "It was very hot!" he told the officer. I kept smiling. The officer looked from me to my husband. "What did you buy there?" Before my husband could answer, I interjected. "Whatever I could in two days. It was not safe". I smiled and then hugged myself. The officer smiled too and then proceeded to stamp our custom cards.

As we walked towards our luggage carousel, my eldest daughter nudged me. "What were you trying to say at customs?" I pushed the trolley and pondered her question. The officer really didn't care what I thought about my trip. He just wanted to make sure I wasn't harbouring food, wood products, drugs or any Pakistani illegals, for that matter. But I wanted someone to ask me so I could shout it out - that I was proud to be Canadian and living in the best country in the world. I would have said it if it weren't for the looks my family was giving me. I was always known for being the outspoken, foot-in-the-mouth member of the family so it was almost expected that I would embarress someone other than myself.

We collected our baggage, the cars from Park N Fly and headed home. As I drove my car, I compared it to the havoc of the Pakistani streets. I laughed out loud as I remember us cramming in cars, into rickshaws, watching families of 8 travelling on motorbikes and traffic disobeying the laws of the road. And here I was travelling the highway with police enforcement, where most law-abiding citizens buckled up and refrained from using their cellphones. I wondered if Pakistan would ever reach of state comparable to what we had here. I remembered the conversations with my cousin's children, who were a well-educated lot, concluding that they would need a revolution.

When we reached home, we immediately called our family in Gulberg. The UK cousins were still there and were planning to stay another three weeks but they found out from a family member in Oxford that their water tank had exploded in the attic and that the house was now flooded. They were making plans to catch an early flight out to survey the damage.

As a side note, our aunt informed me that shortly after we had left for the airport Friday night, a bomb threat had been issued in the very same market I visited the day before. Apparently, the police were tipped off that suicide bombers were at Liberty market and the city had evacuated and closed down all the shops in the market and surrounding areas. Squeeze me?? I was stunned and passed the phone to my motherinlaw. The family were going to NFC and out of Gulberg. I walked outside into my backyard and looked up at the sky. The clouds had dissipated and I could see the stars very clearly. At that moment, a warm breeze caressed my face.

Thank you, I said and walked back into my house.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Abu Dhabi: My Oxygen Mask

As we waited at the gate, a gentlemen came around with sandwiches and soft drinks. My husband bought it all and we sat upright in our chairs, ready to eat. I spied a corner store with trinkets, carpets and other souvenirs. I remembered my aunt warning me not to buy items in the airport because they were triple the cost. But I had over fifteen thousand rupees which I would not be able to convert back in Canada.

After buying almost $100 CDN worth of stuff, I returned back to my seat. I thought to myself, this was the safest I had ever felt shopping in Pakistan. At the airport! I crammed everything into my overloaded carry on. The girls brought trinkets for all their school friends back home and I bought a Peshawari carpet to hang on my living room wall. Without having much experience bargaining due to the fact that I rarely went out to shop in Lahore, I was able to haggle down the prices for everything I bought. The art was to walk away, disinterested and they would call you back after a minute. The shopkeeper came out of this shop three times to intice me back in to work out the pricing.

"Have you run out of money yet?" my husband asked after watching the back and forth action from the gate to the shop. I rolled my eyes and sipped my Sprite. My appetite was coming back. And so were my latent emotions.

We boarded Air Etihad. One of the best things about our trip was this airline. If I had the money, I would travel the world with this air carrier. Excellent service, superb seating, tasty food and a general feeling of safety. And the air hostesses are smoking hot. No really. Their side veils, surgically enhanced chests and faces even got me looking at them longer than I should have ;) I was equally entranced with the 85 movies, 150 radio channels and wide variety of television they had to offer in flight.

Three hours later we reached Abu Dhabi. I was the ONLY one on the plane clapping out loud. My girls covered their heads with their blankets. I didn't care. We had made it out of Pakistan. Out of the floods, the plane crashes, the rioting, the gunpoint robberies, the corruption, the congestion...I even took a picture of the Abu Dhabi sign made out of white flowers on green grass, from the airplane window. On our way out, I hugged the stewardesses and told them to give my regards to the pilots on an excellent flight. As the vet twin waited for her guitar, I was rambling about how the pilots flew at the right amount of altitude and how the flight plan allowed us to arrive half hour early when my daughter pushed me out of the plane and into the tunnel. Again, we hit the customs department but it was smooth sailing from there to security to our next gate flying back to Toronto. We all sat down and I felt a wave of exhaustion suddenly hit me. I told them I was going to the washroom and then to check out some of the stores in the new terminal.

I walked for five minutes, passing by free internet stations and encountered all the high-end stores at the Abu Dhabi airport: Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vutton, Burberry, etc. It was then I had my outer body experience.

I walked into a Jimmy Choo store and TOTALLY BROKE DOWN! I was a mess. I started bawling as I picked up a pair of shoes. The concerned sales woman thought I was crying over the price. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could not speak. "This pair will go on sale for $1500 by the end of the week," she explained. I think I broke out laughing and crying at the same time. She put her hand on my shoulder and I told her I would be ok. She walked away but looked over at me periodically as I sauntered throughout the store, blowing my nose and trying to catch my breath.

I finally exhaled. Squeeze me? I had been holding my breath the entire time in Pakistan, putting on a brave face for the family, the master storyteller, convincing them that everything would be ok while not even believing my own story. It was an emotional roller coaster, a judiciary proceeding, with me substantiating my mere existence in a third world country, damaged by tragic events, an immoral government and an ever-exploding population of which their system could not sustain. We were stuck there, in the thick of things, with the risk of anything happening to us. My sixth sense seemed to assure me that nothing would happen and it was a miracle that we made it out unscathed. I truly believed a higher power watched over me the entire time because everything that was happening could have worked against me. As I heard everyone's stories, I realized the odds were against me, the statistics were against me but someone kept me in a protective bubble the entire time.

Abu Dhabi was my oxygen mask and I was resusitated in Jimmy Choos. Not that I could afford any of the items in there, but for some reason, the exorbitant prices seemed to calm me down. My mind and body knew I was safe and the release was incredible. I floated back to the gate where my husband noted my puffy eyes but he did not comment. It was the unspoken truth. And as he put his arm around me, I closed my eyes, mind and body. I finally surrendered.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Goodbye Pakistan - Hello Breathing

The Dubai cousin announced that it was time to go. I was ready to say goodbye to everyone but they looked at me funny and said they were all coming to the airport to bid us farewell. I took a gander at all the people in the house and did an immediate mental calculation. Twenty-one people. Two Corollas. Hmmm. And then I heard the most ridiculous car horn. It sounded as if we were going to some carnival.

The Dubai cousin, while buying my cookies, had borrowed a wagon/van/bus from his rich cousins to transport the mother load! I walked outside and became giddy with laughter. Two Corollas and the bus. We had enough room after all! One uncle brought his work pick up truck to carry all our luggage. We piled into the bus. It felt like a school trip. The girls laughed at the curtains on the windows. "Now when we hit the military checkpoints, you will need to open the curtains so the soldiers see who is in the bus," the Dubai cousin explained. Everyone quieted down. I forgot about that. The route to the airport would be at 12 midnight. Not the most safest time to travel.

As our journey to the airport began and the pick up truck came in full view in front of our bus, we saw Ruby in the back, sitting on a small ledge, in front of the suitcases. The back of the truck was completely open. Everyone in the bus had a fit! My girls cried out loud, "What is Ruby doing in the truck!?" It was then I realized she was planted there to ensure that none of the luggage fell out. I clenched my fist but kept quiet. Our policeman uncle and Dubai cousin were in the front seat of our bus and told us that there was no more room for her to sit in any of the vehicles and that our aunt did not want to leave her home alone. I looked up and saw Ruby lift her shawl and dab her eyes. Everyone in the bus knew she was crying and all the girls, the cousins from the UK and my three children, began arguing. That is when the bus veered to the right and then the left. Damn his driving. Even at midnight, there was an immense amount of traffic. There was a hush and then no one spoke.

I looked out through the curtains for anything suspicious. I wanted them to drive through each redlights so that we were not stopped at any given moment. I just wanted to drive straight through to the airport without interruption. But there were three checkpoints and each time the soldier looked in on us in the bus. I could hear my heart thumping in my ears. The soldiers would gaze over at me and I felt like they could read my mind. That they knew I was nervous about leaving and feared I would not make it to the airport. They shone their flashlights from one person to another and then let us through. When I saw the airport, my legs stopped shaking. My police uncle asked me at one point why I was so quiet and I hesitated before answering. "I am sad we are leaving," I lied. Could you blame me? I couldn't tell him the truth. I am scared we will be stopped, robbed at gunpoint, left in the streets, brutally beaten beyond recognition... He looked at me through the rearview mirror and I knew my expression gave me away.

We arrived at Departures and two porters were summoned to take out the luggage. Ruby stood next to the pick up truck and one of my daughters grabbed her by the elbow and led her to the platform where we were all standing. She smiled from ear to ear and waited alongside us. The Dubai cousin whistled and the porters took our luggage to the customs desk. We hugged everyone goodbye. Aunts, uncles, children, cousins, Ruby and ... as I looked out through the haze of heat, and past the large lamplights shining in the distance, I said a silent goodbye to Lahore.

The Dubai cousin now spoke in rapid Urdu and another cousin came over. "Hassan will lead you in now. I am going." I stopped and looked at him. "Don't worry. He get you to gate. I know people." He shook my husband's hand, saluted me and put on his sunglasses. And off he went into the heat of the night. Hassan spoke to the customs officer and told him about our police uncle. The officer looked at us, the three children, our 12 pieces of luggage and paused. Again, I heard only my heart thumping. He finally relented and let us pass.

Next was the ticket counter. Luggage was put through. No wait, our carry-ons were too heavy. I cursed out loud (forgetting that the girls were next to me) as I removed several Onyx handicrafts that my husband insisted we buy for his boss. I transported them into my motherinlaws baggage. Teek hay Teek hay, repeated the porters. They helped us apply the ID tags to our purses and carry ons. After hearing all my English swear words, they knew we would tip them well.

Next was the passport counter. The officer was a young gentleman, about 25 years of age. He looked at all our passports and then at us. The girls giggled when he studied their faces. I didn't blame them. The process was so nerve-wracking but somehow humourous at the same time. He gave back everyone's passport EXCEPT mine. He stared at my passport and then at me. He did this twice and then squinted his eyes. I was only two feet away. I shifted my feet and told him the humidity had done a number on my hair -- that's why I looked different from my picture. He raised one eyebrow and said nothing. I flashed a toothy grin and then he shrugged his shoulders and let me through. The whole while I did not realize that my legs were shaking again. These guys made me feel like a criminal - I was innocent and had nothing to fear but I heard stories of these types of individuals concocting stories just because you looked at them the wrong way. I knew full well that he was checking me out but feigned ignorance and decided not to make a scene.

Next stop, security. Women checked women, men groped the men. I watched as I was separated from my purse and led into a room to be checked. The security woman was nice. How was I? Did I enjoy my trip? Get this over with and let me out, my inner voice yelled. I ran out of the room and motioned to the girls to grab my purse. I could see our gate from the security post. The last of the security personnel checked our boarding passes, passports and stickers we received on our ID tags. She took forever to check everyone. I tapped my foot and sucked in my breath. "You are free to go," she bellowed. I never thought I would hear those words soon enough. I practically ran to the gate, threw down my belongings and pressed my nose against the glass pane that allowed me to see our Etihad airplane. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw other passengers eyeballing me, but I didn't care. I was almost free...

Last night in Pakistan - Its all in the Cookie

Our flight was to leave Saturday August 7 at 4:15am. We conducted last minute checks throughout the house in case we left anything behind. Ruby dutifully followed me in the bedroom, handing over items as I packed our carry-on luggage. She kept her head down and did not utter a single word. I saw a glimmer in her eye as she bent down to hand me a towel. I could not imagine her sadness - she had worked laboriously for three straight weeks looking after our family. If I were in her place, I would be jumping for joy. Yeehaw, those foreigners are leaving and I can relax now, I imagined her telling her family while kicking her heels. Instead, she looked at our 12 pieces of luggage lined up in a row downstairs, sorrowfully.

As one of my many treats, I ordered in McDonalds for everyone. Ruby was baffled why I ordered her a BigMac but I demanded her to eat it as a goodbye gift from me. Every time she did our laundry during our three week stay, she would come to me to announce her findings. She had retrieved an accumulated amount of 100 rupees from the pockets of my husband's pants and tried to hand it over to me. I told her, FINDERS KEEPERS. Serves him right for not checking his pockets, I would explain. She told me that she was going to miss my sarcastic humour. I told her I had learned more from her than I could ever imagine. She bit her bottom lip and scurried off into another room in embarressment.

Everyone polished off their food but I could not eat. My mind was already at the airport. Our Dubai cousin had announced that we would have protocol service when we reached Lahore International. I rolled my eyes. The protocol service was not what I expected on our arrival and I made a point of mentioning this. He reassured me that our cousin would help us bypass custom officers who were notorious of demanding the opening of all luggage and asking for bribes to have it go through. He promised that he would go in until we reached the gate for our flight. My stomach had butterflies and I told him that this had better be the case when we got there. "Don't worry. I know people," he replied as he adjusted his Gucci belt on his Louis Vutton jeans. And I believed him because everywhere we went, the craziest looking people seemed to react to him. Call them hot-shots, informers, the Dubai clique - whatever we wanted, he got it. "I feel like cookies. Chocolate chip," I demanded. He looked at me with confusion. I don't know what came over me but I craved cookies despite my lack of appetite. Everyone stopped talking, waiting for his answer. I don't think he realized my intent. I had to test him. He looked at me quietly for what seemed like an eternity but then got up suddenly and announced that he was going to get my cookies. It was 11pm. I had no clue where the hell he was going to find cookies at this time of night but something told me I was not going to be disappointed.

An hour later, he brought my cookies and rice pudding for everyone else. He walked in as if he had just won gold at the Olympics. I nodded in acknowledgement but inside I was doing the Happy Dance. If anyone was going to get my family out here alive, it was the Dubai cousin...

Pakistan - Day 22, But who is counting?!

I awoke the next morning knowing that this would be our last day in Pakistan. I was able to visit almost everyone, except my mother's two brothers and their families. They lived just on the outskirts of Lahore and my cousin told me that the roads there were not fully developed. I didn't want to risk travelling more than an hour outside the city so I told them if they wanted to visit me, they knew where to find me. They never came. So much for that.

By the third week of our trip, we were exhausted by the visits, the travelling, the people, the food and honestly, by the hustle and bustle of Pakistan itself. I knew personally coming here would not be a vacation. But what I did know was that we would never forget this experience.

I saw a hop, skip and a jump in the girls that day as they busied themselves with packing and last minute preparations for our departure. There were no complaints about loadshedding that day and they ate their meals as if they were famished. Good, their appetite was coming back. I tried to subdue my excitement so not to upset the relatives who were clearly sad we were leaving. I was sad for the same reason but on a different level - I knew I wasn't coming back. This was the last time I would see my blood relatives, most of whom were old and talking about their pending demise.

My father's sister and brother and my mother's sister and daughter were slated to come by that evening to say farewell. They wanted us to visit them but I told them we were exhausted. The younger twin, who hated being in Pakistan, was under the weather. Throughout the trip, she complained incessantly about everything without holding back. Her homesickness was real but turned into many ailments. "My head hurts but in my nose, this mosquito bite looks like a spider bit me, I am going to faint in this heat, please release the monkey from the streets, the butter tastes funny here, why does my room smell of mothballs, why did we eat Buckaa and Buckoo, why does Pakistani TV only show depressing news clips....'and so on and so forth. It was a constant droning of complaints and near the end of our trip, I think she exhausted herself by her own ramblings.

I quickly jumped in the shower before the 2pm loadshedding. Our particular bathroom had no tub and a shower stall surrounded only on one side by a curtain. There was a drain in the middle of the floor to allow the excess water to flow down into. After I dressed and was brushing my teeth, I felt something land on top of my foot. I thought it was the edge of the towel but I didn't remember it being so long. When I looked down, a cockroach, about three inches long, was resting comfortably. I screamed and flung my foot, torpedoing the insect into the door. It landed on the floor, making its way back to me. I jumped on the counter (don't remember how), leaned over, opened the door and yelled for my husband. He was in the bedroom, lying on the bed, completely oblivious to my screams. Instead, his ten year old cousin came bounding up the stairs, hearing the commotion from downstairs, ready for action. I was already on the stairs shoving him towards the washroom, describing the alien that had taken over. At first, his eyes popped out when I told him the size and he refused to enter. I looked in the bedroom and my husband continued to lay still, on the bed, not attempting to get up and assist. "Cockroaches don't bite," he calmly explained as I told him that my life was in jeopardy and the only man in the room lay with disregard. The cousin stood in the doorway and demanded a shoe. I grabbed my husband's large sandle. "Here, use this. If he won't kill it then at least use something of his that will!" My husband began to protest but when he saw me holding the sandle, he figured he would get it before the cockroach. His cousin took the sandle and nearly jumped ten feet in the air when he saw the cockroach approaching the border of the bathroom and bedroom. The execution commenced with a caveman-like yell and followed by an exaggerated swoop of the arm that slapped the sandle down on top of the illegal alien. I heard a crunch and there it lay, flattened like a pancake. A wave of nausea suddenly hit me and remembered Buckaa and Buckoo. These weekly sacrifices were not for me.

I had packing to do but I refused to enter the bedroom until someone took out the dead cockroach. It took two hours deciding who was going to remove it. Everything in Pakistan was a big deal -- from what to eat for lunch to deciding who sat on who in the five seater Corolla. The cockroach extermination was no exception.

Our relatives came that evening, bearing many gifts. I sat next to my mother's sister with my head on her shoulder. She looked so much like my mother who I had lost at age 18. My strongest connection to my mother was her older sister. My mother was the youngest of six children - the baby in the family. When she got married and left Pakistan for Canada in 1969, it was a big deal. No one wanted her to leave and back then, you went where your husband took you. Her death sent the family reeling and sympathizing for their baby sister, who lived a sad, remote life in Canada. But that's another story. I wanted my kids to meet their maternal grandmother's family. She was the piece that had been missing since their birth, and I wanted them to see the full puzzle. They called my aunt "Nani" in place of my mother and they received so much love from her. It was that night she told me her brush with the violence in Pakistan.

This incident had occured a month before we arrived. She was walking just outside her home and was stopped, at gunpoint, by a lone thief. "Give me all your jewellery," he demanded while pointing the gun in her face. It was then he realized she was wearing no gold. "You have no jewellery? You are useless!" And with that, he took off down the street. This was in broad daylight, with people passing by on foot and in cars, and no one attempted to stop him. She laughed when she recounted the story to me. As long as I knew her, she was always smiling and laughing. I shook my head in dismay but she held my hand and said, "This is life here in Pakistan. When you return home, pray for your family and our country." And with that one statement, she had released me from the binds of Pakistan. When you return HOME, pray for OUR country. My identity crisis was over.

As we hugged everyone goodbye, there were many tears but I said goodbye with dry eyes. I knew I was seeing them for the last time but my emotions were suspended. I felt zombie-ish. I didn't know what I was feeling - exhaustion or impending doom. My only concern now was making it to the airport and out of the country.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pakistan - Latest Fashion: Bullet-proof vests

Three weeks had not gone by fast enough but our return date was soon approaching. The days were filled with family, last minute shopping, food and minimal sightseeing.

I was told that I needed to visit the uncle who was shot a week before our arrival. My husband and motherinlaw had made the initial trip to the hospital in the first few days but now the UK aunt, uncle and our cousins were now going to make the trip to Defense to see him off before his sons took him to Dubai for the surgery.

Squeeze me? Was I supposed to go by myself? The girls were not obligated to go and since the rest of our immediate family had 'done their duty,' I was the only one left. At first, I flatly refused. When I did, the entire family looked at me like I was some kind of traitor. "He will be deeply offended if he knows you have come here all the way from Canada and you didn't visit him," my aunt explained.

I sat motionless, unable to speak or defend my decision. It was true. The least I could do was show my support and visit the poor man. I turned to my husband's uncle who was a police officer. "Can I borrow a bullet-proof vest?" He laughed and told me his posting had changed and that he was the Chief of all police traffic controllers. He thought I was joking but I was serious. We were returning to the scene of the crime. Someone had targetted our uncle and if they saw a steady stream of visitors, the cuplrits would come to know that they didn't finish him off. My imagination ran wild as I we got into the car around 9pm that evening.

Was this real? What was I doing? I turned my head towards the car window and saw my reflection. I did not recognize myself. I had bags under my eyes, my skin was pale and I had lost seven pounds after two weeks. As we drove to Defense, the scenery looked surreal to me. I closed my eyes and pictured my neighborhood. My house, the 404, my family, the immense greenery, the tall trees, clean air and...and...what was I really missing?

I opened my eyes and realized where I was. Pakistan. Not my country, I angrily decided. But my sole purpose was to come here and show my children their roots. Where they came from. Pssht! We weren't even born here. I left with the goal to obtain our family tree to trace our heritage and come back to Canada and tell everyone who I was. But as we drove through the Pakistani streets, I had never felt more confused about my identity until that moment. My confusion blindsided me and I suddenly felt vulnerable. This was not my home. And I didn't care about anyone or anything. Forget the shopping, forget the parties, forget the family. My heart felt heavy and I frowned at my reflection. I heard laughter and realized it was my cousin, holding her 18 month old son in her lap, laughing and enjoying the car ride. I longed to feel the same.

We arrived to the house and I covered my head with my shawl. I did not want to see nor be seen. But as soon as they opened the gate, I saw two bullet holes. His wife pointed them out to us. I wanted to run back into the car. There was nowhere to run. We entered the living room and there sat our uncle in a wheelchair. I walked over to him and he patted me on my head (this is how the younger generation receives respect and love from their elders). I sat on the other side of the living room next to his wife. She offered us cold drinks and then proceeded to show me his X-ray where the third bullet remained lodged in his pelvis. Out of respect, I took the XRay in my hand and pretended I was looking at it. But through the transparency of the report, I saw the sad face of our uncle. The same face that looked back at me in the car window.

It was then I realized what I was missing. Peace. I did not have this the minute our plane touched down at Lahore airport on July 19. I watched our uncle sit uncomfortably in his wheelchair. He looked up returned my gaze and for a second, I felt a bond. We had the same handicap but his was physical and mine was emotional. Peace. We think that there is no peace when we have chaos, when we have to work hard, or when things just don't go our way. I remembered images of the Gulf, Iraq and Afganistan war. I remembered the smiling faces of Palestinian children playing atop rubble from buildings destroyed by missile attacks. And I was shocked how they could smile in the middle of chaos. This was their day to day life and I thought they had no choice. But at the end of the day, we all have a choice -- to choose the way we look at life despite what happens. We have peace when we learn to still our minds despite what is going on around us.

On the way home, I looked out the window and this time, did not close my eyes. I took in all the sights. The dirty streets, the beggars, the historical monuments, the congested roundabouts. And I accepted it. This was Pakistan and I had to accept the reality. I looked up at the sky which once was unfamiliar to me and realized it was the same sky in Canada. I was leaving in three days. I had to make the most of it and live my life.

I looked back at my reflection in the window --this time, she was smiling back at me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pakistan - Day 20: Painting without numbers

The next morning after the party, I awoke to my vet twin tapping me on my shoulder. I looked up at the clock and squinted. 6am. I closed my eyes and lay my head back down. "Mama, something of mine is missing!" I tried to drown her voice out with a pillow but she grabbed it and threw it at the foot of my bed.

"Mama! My iPod is missing. I haven't been able to find it for a week now. I didn't want to tell you before because I knew you would get mad," she exclaimed.

"Maybe Buckaa ate it," I retorted, angered that she disturbed what little sleep I had in this God-forsaken country. She folded her arms across her chest and proceeded in her rant."Uh, we all know we ate them two nights ago! We found out the next morning!!" Damn, I had a feeling our aunt had spilled the beans. I got up and threw my pillow at her. She laughed and knew I was ready to help her look for her iPod as I swore under my breath looking for my glasses. I figured at this time in the morning, I wouldn't have to tell anyone or disturb them while looking for it.

Two hours elapsed and I was more angered by her neglect and carelessness. It was nowhere to be found. When all the kids woke up, I gathered them into the living room. They looked at me oddly. My hair was a big ball of fur and my eyes were wild with tiredness and anger. My daughter hid behind a door. "Whomever finds her iPod, I will award them with 1000 rupees!"

Great, I was jumping on the same rickshaw with the natives. When things don't go your way, just use a bribe. The children slapped each other on the backs and set off on a wild goose chase. My daughter slowly approached me like I was the plague. "Mama, are you ok?" she asked, knowing full well that this tactic was not in my nature. "Just find the damn iPod!" I stomped upstairs and lay down in the bed. The loadshedding had just begun at 9am.

I thought back. There was always a steady stream of people coming in and out of the house since we arrived but they comprised mostly of family. Only the tailor came from outside. I wondered if he was bopping his head, enjoying The Jonas Brothers and Taylor Swift while sewing our clothes. Again, my imagination got the better of me.

One week later, my motherinlaw stepped into my room at 4am. For the love of God, NO ONE KNEW THE ART OF KNOCKING or ALLOWING ME TO SLEEP AN ENTIRE NIGHT! She announced that the iPod was found the night before, on the side of her bed (no one thought to look there). Ok, I asked, which kid found it? She smiled and said, RUBY.

That morning, as Ruby ironed my clothes, I told her about my reward for the iPod. She flatly refused the money and I sensed that because she was a servant, she did not feel worthy to receive it. I said nothing and walked away.

After breakfast, when everyone was gathered in the family room, I plucked Ruby off the floor and presented her with the 1000 rupees. At first, the girls were taken by surprise, perhaps disappointed that their efforts were wasted but then they smiled and gave her a congratulatory hug. To my utter disbelief, she refused to take credit for the find - apparently my motherinlaw saw a silver item lodged inbetween two beds and asked Ruby to dig it out.

In the dark cloud that loomed over me since my arrival in Pakistan, I saw a glimmer of sunlight. I had deliberately paint-brushed everyone with the same perception of the corruption, lawlessness and bribery in Pakistan, trying hard to bury the silver lining in the original picture, no matter how many buckets of colours I threw at that canvas. I had jumped, head first, into the same propoganda that I simultanously abhorred. My pangs of guilt were enormous.

I looked over at Ruby whose timidness illustrated her inability to handle all the attention. I contemplated resurrecting the "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" law but I knew the money, instead of the iPod, would go a long way.

And that day, so did my respect for Ruby.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pakistan - Day 18: I picked dessert over diamonds!

Two days after the Akikah, we were ready to throw my motherinlaw her Hajj party. One of the five pillars of Islam is to make pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. She had completed her Hajj in November 2009. We decided that since the majority of her family was here in Pakistan, we should invite the masses to a dinner in her honour.

Her party was held at a upscale restaurant called Salt and Pepper, The Village. Apparently when Princess Diana had visited Lahore, she dined at this very restaurant. I videotaped pictures of her visit in the lobby while we waited for the family to arrive. The restaurant was buffet-styled and many modern families were already feasting on the delicacies. Before we entered, a gunman spot checked the men in our group while I got a picture taken with the doorman. He was dressed in a traditional 'village' outfit. He passed me his dunda (stick) and insisted I hold it in the picture. The gunmen put down his rife and offered to take the picture. I looked over in horror as his gun lay in the open, on the curb of the entrance, allowing anyone, at anytime, to pick it up while he took our picture. People talk about security in Lahore. What security? It's all for show.

As the gunmen struggled with the shutter button on the camera, I imagined him having the same problem finding the trigger on his gun, if confronted with a real-life ambush on our party. A dream sequence suddenly flashed into my head, of me, a supposedly naive girl from Canada, encountering armed bandits in front of the restaurant, instinctively picking up the gun and firing at everything that moved. My husband nudged me violently. I suddenly realized, in my heat-induced trance, that the 'shot' had been taken and our doorman was waiting for his money.

We waited a full two hours for our guests to completely arrive. As the hosts, we refused to eat until all guests arrived. Everytime a family member walked by with a plate of hot food, my tummy grumbled. No one gains weight in Pakistan, I reasoned. It was all organic food. Its that processed crap we eat in Canada that packs on the pounds. Ok, I justified my meals. If I was going to be slaughtered that night, it would be better on a full stomach. Yes, you think I joke about my existence but everyday I mentally prepared myself for the worse - albeit with a positive spin. Whatever came my way, I would handle it. I never told anyone what I was thinking so it was that internal court scene all over again.

The Dubai cousin approached me during dinner and said there was a diamond shop across the street from the restaurant, owned by his friend. The main market boasted many high end shops and the street was an up and coming strip that was like Boardwalk on a Monopoly game. I looked at him incredulously. "You want me to go out at 9pm, cross the street with you where no one obeys traffic laws, leave behind my family, with my purse full of gift money to buy some diamonds?"
He shrugged, not understanding my sarcasm. "He give good deal. What people didn't like diamonds?" he said with his broken English. I looked down at my gulaab jamen (dough balls in syrup) and back at him. "I'd rather eat these balls than be lying at my own funeral with diamonds around my neck." Trust me, the Urdu version of this sentence sounded more classy.

Remember, it was 9pm at night but he laughed, put on his sunglasses and stared at my dessert. I knew he thought I was joking while he stood next to me for a few seconds, wondering if I was ever going to leave the restaurant with him.

Mmmmm, the Gulaab jamen never tasted so good...the jury was definately out for this one!

Pakistan - Day 15 Cont'd: Is that you, Cinderelli?

As I sat trying not to think about the Buckaa and Buckoo kabobs I had just eaten, I was mesmorized by the girl in black, dancing in the middle of the floor. Her cohorts were off to a corner, smiling and giving her moral support. In the past, it was not uncommon to invite dancers to a function to help with the celebrations. My cousin's son, who was the guest of honour, was oblivious to the festivities and was chasing his sister nearby. At 18 months, he would not even remember his Akikah!

I picked up the camera to zoom. That's when I realized why the cousins were laughing and the men's section were not amused. The dancers were in fact...MEN!! My camera lens picked up the clean shaven, foundation lathered face of a man!

Squeeze me? Then I remembered the transvestites in the streets. A common but frowned upon practice was to hire men to dance as women because dancing was deemed as a prohibbited act only practiced by prostitutes. No girl in her right mind would dance in front of men or suffer the probably chance of ruining her reputation. I remember growing up and my father sternly admonishing me if I got up at any gathering to dance before I was married. At the party, we all knew that these girls (men) were solely here to dance for money.

Now the rumour was that our UK cousin's father was livid over their bold appearance. My motherinlaw's sister exercised poor judgement by inviting them. The story goes that when she got ill, they would frequent her house. Word got out in the street that this aunt was left bedridden and the girls would come over to cheer her up. So as a treat to her nephew, she invited them to show off their womanly wiles, so to speak!

I wasn't that shocked by their dance as I had experienced this scene once before back in 1989 but I forgot that my girls were privvy to this sight. I waved over at them and motioned to close their mouths. They giggled and whispered into each other's ear. My NFC cousin walked over to me with a sly smile and asked if I got the whole thing on tape. Yes, I couldn't resist. I think the camera shook often because I couldn't stop laughing. The dancer's girlfriends were clapping and batting their eyes the whole time and I wasn't sure who to focus on. Afterwards, the dancers helped themselves to dinner, FOUR TIMES. My girls counted how many times they went to the buffet and became angered. "They may dance like girls but they eat like men!" said my younger twin. She wanted to eat the ice cream but my doctor had warned to stay away from dairy. I refused but she insisted so I relented and let her indulge. It was only 15 minutes later when she claimed that she felt queasy. Not the right time to expose the kabob story.

The party ended at 10:30pm, past the curfew. The hall owner had allowed us to stay open (I am sure he was bribed) and while everyone was filing out, I stood under a ceiling fan to cool off. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the three dancers stand up, and walk very haughtily past our group. As they came near the fan, the tallest, more manly looking 'girl' gave me a sidelong glance and then ...a wink! Note to self: whenever you carry a camera, someone in Pakistan will give you a show.

It was time for Cinderalla to go home. The spell had worn off way before midnight...