So far, out of my three trips to Pakistan, my husband Andrew has only been able to accompany me once. But that was enough for him to have many adventures of his own. I asked him to write down the story of his last day in Pakistan, which was especially action-packed. He has kindly obliged... his writing follows below.
My wife, Emily, is the adventurer in our house. She has spent almost a quarter of the last year traveling in Pakistan, and, while I loved my short visit there and look forward to returning, I am, by nature, much more of a homebody. I generally prefer to be at home and, as a pronounced introvert, I do best interacting with those I have known for a long time. For the last nine-and-a-half years I have taught at the same small college in a small town in Pennsylvania, the same college that Emily and I both attended. I tend to prefer slow, gradual change.
On this last day of 2015, though, it seems appropriate to recall December 31, 2014, a day that was, without question, the most adventurous, varied, and unexpected of my life.
New Year’s Eve was my eighth day in Pakistan with Emily. It was our first trip there (she memorably recounts our journey in her first four blog entries). I had had a wonderful time. Though I was quite sick for about three days at the start of the trip, I was given such extraordinary care by the Sangi family that I look back on the whole trip with an enormous sense of joy and gratitude. Neither of us had met anyone we visited on that trip in person before: our sole interactions had been through Facebook and, with the Sangis, Skype calls. Yet, by the end of the trip, I was known as “Andrew Sangi Hauze,” and I truly felt a member of the family.
Though Emily would stay in Pakistan until the middle of January, I needed to come back to the U.S. to work, and so, on New Year’s Eve, the time had come for my journey home. However, as with every other aspect of our trip, the journey would not be complete without some intensive sight-seeing and hourly surprises along the way!
The day started in the Sangi house in Larkana with several delicious cups of milky tea and sad goodbyes to all of the Sangis. In just a few days they had become my second family I felt amazingly close to each of them, and I was sad to leave them when we’d only just begun to know one another.
I was to fly to Karachi from Sukkur, a city about an hour-and-a-half from Larkana. I was a bit nervous about this, as it would mean taking a very small plane (we had driven from Karachi to Larkana initially), and it didn’t seem that the ticket had actually been purchased yet. (It was difficult to get a clear answer from Papa Saeed on the exact status of the ticket, but his friend and travel agent was calling him quite frequently that day!)
Before flying, though, Papa Saeed wanted me to see some more sights, and so we set off down the road for the shrine of the Sindhi poet Sachal Sarmast. (Papa was very concerned that my visit was so short, and so he kindly made certain that I saw an amazing number of Sindh’s many attractions during my stay.) The shrine, while on a simple, unprepossessing road, is remarkably beautiful. The vivid blues and yellows of the tiles create patterns of great complexity and overwhelming loveliness.
Before we approached the shrine, though, we were tempted by street vendors with their wares spread out on blankets before the entrance to the shrine. We bought some baubles for some of our young friends and family at home, and Papa Saeed bought candies for our journey that day. Next to the vendors was a musician with a fine voice, singing to honor Sachal Sarmast and accompanying himself on a tamboora and, sometimes, with jangles as well. Papa Saeed is never one to let such a musical opportunity go by: he sat down by the musician, gave him an offering, and asked if he might try his tamboora and jangles. The man went on singing, accompanied by Papa’s improvisations, while Emily played the jangles and worked to keep them all in time. Amazingly, in the midst of all of this, several young men approached and sat by us, greeted warmly by Papa. They were some of his many medical students who had also come to visit the shrine on that day, and so they sat with us until their professor was finished trying out the instruments!
After paying our respects at the shrine with the magnificently fragrant rose garlands that seem to be omnipresent in Sindh, we were back in the car, on our way to the second sight of the day, the fort of Kot Diji. Papa tended to know the general direction in which to drive, but when he needed more precise directions, he would simply stop one of the many people walking by the side of the road and ask them the way. They were unfailingly kind and smiling (though often quite surprised to see us in the car!), and always pointed us in the right direction.
As we approached the fort of Kot Diji, we were awed by its imposing presence high on a hilltop. The fort in the 1780’s-1790’s by the rulers of the Talpur Dynasty. (It’s astonishing to think that the fort was being built as the American constitution was being written.) With three “elephant proof” doors (enormous wooden doors reinforced with metal and with gigantic spikes protruding toward oncoming traffic), the fort appears to be utterly impregnable. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that it was never actually attacked!
Crouching to make our way through the smaller, human-sized openings within the spiked doors, I was struck that there was no one selling tickets or keeping watch over the fort or the safety of the visitors. We had quite a climb ahead of us, up mud brick steps and sandy paths, and yet there were no railings or safety precautions in sight. It was wonderful to visit such a site on our own, without the feeling that we were constrained by barriers, yet, at the same time, it is sad that the fort is generally not cared for by the government. (This regret that would be echoed later in the day by one of the descendants of the Talpur rulers.) There is litter everywhere, and one alcove we passed was filled with what sounded like thousands of bats! (We only know that they were bats because Papa Saeed stuck his camera in the doorway with the flash on and bravely snapped a picture.)
On the climb up to the fort, we met a couple with their baby girl who were also visiting the site (there were very few people there, in general). As so often, Papa Saeed boldly introduced them to his “American children.” While I would often be nervous at the mention of our nationality (as the United States has not exactly been kind to Pakistan in recent years), without fail the people of Sindh would smile and welcome us, usually with a look of gentle astonishment on their faces that we had made the journey. Often, too, they would reply, as this couple did, with “Thank you.” We tried to express that we were the ones who should be thankful, but there is no winning an argument with Sindhi hospitality. On our way back down, Emily posed for pictures with them and with their daughter.
To walk through Kot Diji is to exercise the imagination. In my lack of experience with historic forts, it felt like I had stepped onto an elaborate film set rather than an actual fort. With each step I could picture sword fights, military drills, commands shouted from one tower to the next, the enemy army approaching from the distance. While these were fanciful visions, it was uncanny to be utterly free in such a place. We stepped into the barracks used the soldiers. We walked past the enormous pool in which they would store months of drinking water in case of siege. We climbed to the highest ramparts and took pictures of Emily dancing on what seemed to be a stage (though it was probably a lookout tower).
Our next stop was to be the Faiz Mahal. I knew little about it then, other than that it was some sort of palace. Once again, Papa Saeed would stop people on our way into the city of Khairpur to ask them the way to the Faiz Mahal. We soon found the walls surrounding the palace and could see the gentle pink color of its highest towers, and yet we could not find an entrance anywhere! Papa drove all around the block occupied by the palace several times until, finally, we found what seemed to be a back entrance gate. We drove through, parked, and were met by several guards (armed, as usual, with AK-47’s). Papa began to speak with them in rapid Sindhi, while Emily and I stood and smiled at them, hoping that this might help. They seemed quite skeptical of us at first, though Papa seemed to insist that one of them take his identity card inside. The man disappeared with Papa’s card while Papa explained to us that, as the royal family was at home, the palace was closed to visitors. (The royal family, I learned later, are the modern descendants of the Talpur dynasty who ruled the Khairpur region for centuries.)
The guard soon returned and gestured that we should follow him. We did so, and were ushered onto a long lawn of beautiful green grass in front of a magnificent, if slightly worn, palace. There were some people gathered in chairs on the grass in the center of the lawn, and the guard led us to them. It then became clear that we were being introduced to Prince Mir Mehdi Raza Talpur, his brother-in-law, and his children. Emily and I were in a state of some shock (there had been no mention until now that we were to meet a prince). The prince was very kind and, after we were introduced, he looked at us with sad eyes and said: “And what has brought you to this God-forsaken land?” We explained a little bit of how we had come to Pakistan, and he was, like everyone else we had met, wonderfully welcoming. He and his children posed for some pictures with us. One of the boys had a toy, and I asked him if it was a lightsaber from the Star Wars films. His eyes lit up, and his father told him to “bring that lightsaber” so that it would be in the photos with us, too. It was a truly bizarre meeting of the culture of my childhood with the living cultural history of Pakistan.
Slideshow: A young princeling brings his lightsaber.
The Prince’s brother-in-law then kindly gave us a tour of the public areas of the castle, explaining to us the history of the family, and the agreement between the ruling family and Jinnah at Partition that was then breached after Jinnah’s death. Learning more of this history on my return to the U.S., I can understand even better the sadness in the Prince’s eyes. In his view, his family had exercised good governance over the region, making it one of the wealthiest, healthiest, and best educated in all of (what was then) India. Most of these advantages have now been lost. His father, who made the agreement with Jinnah, is still alive, though in ill health. It is amazing to think that he was somewhere in the palace while we visited, a living link to the royal past of Khairpur.
On our way out, Emily asked: “Papa, what was the Prince’s name, again?” Papa, with his impish grin on his face, said softly: “I … don’t … know?”, making it clear that he, just like us, had no idea that we would meet the royal family on that day! I learned that one must never underestimate Papa’s ability to charm his way into anything.
I was getting a bit more nervous as the day wore on, as we only received confirmation that I did in fact have a plane ticket after we left the Faiz Mahal, though we still had to make the journey to the Sukkur airport. On our way to Sukkur, Papa was making arrangements with his friend Sajid Mangi to bring us dinner, and, as we drove down a road adjacent to the Indus, there was Sajid Mangi, waving to us from a motorcycle. He had brought us bags of fast food, which we took down to the beach to eat. Before we could reach the beach, though, we had to pass through metal detectors! At first I thought this might just be normal security, but, no, it was in fact due to the imminent arrival of a Hindu holy man whose arrival would be celebrated by many pilgrims visiting the Hindu temple just across the river. Many boats, loaded with pilgrims, were launching from the beach where we had arrived. We sat and at our chicken fingers as we watched the glimmering water and the brilliant colors of the shrine and the pilgrims’ clothes. Just as we finished eating, the holy man arrived, surrounded by a throng of people packed tightly around him. They all got into a launch and headed for the temple as we walked the other way, back towards our car. Unfortunately the extra activity had made the normally congested roads almost impassable, and I was getting more and more nervous that we might be stuck in a traffic jam and miss my flight. Fortunately my flight didn't leave Karachi until 3:30 AM (it was now about 5:00 pm), and so I anxiously calculated that, if necessary, someone could drive me to Karachi (though that journey itself would take at least seven hours, and there are bandits on the road at night).
Fortunately we made it to the airport with time to spare. Papa had kindly purchased me a “first-class” ticket, which allowed us to use the VIP lounge at the airport. We were brought refreshing cups of tea, after which Emily and Papa had to leave to drive back to Larkana before it got too late. We said our goodbyes, and, while I didn’t relish the idea of leaving Emily for two more weeks, I was very comforted to know how well the Sangis would take care of her. Sajid Mangi kindly waited with me in the airport lounge until we were ushered onto the tarmac to meet the plane (and it was well over an hour, as the plane was considerably delayed — that it Sindhi hospitality for you!).
I hadn’t been in such a small propeller plane since I took a puddle-jumper from Reading, PA to Philadelphia in 1997, and I didn’t realize that I could not bring even my backpack to my seat, as it was too large. Fortunately, the gentleman sitting next to me noticed that I had nothing to read, and he offered to give me one of the English newspapers he had with him. Over the loud noise of the engine, he asked if it was my first time in Pakistan. I told him a bit of our story, and he told me that he was a Parliamentarian, heading back to Karachi as Parliament had been recalled on New Year’s Day. I had noticed him in the VIP lounge, and he had seemed to be a man preoccupied with much important business to conduct on his cell phone. I was pleased that he was so kind to me, and we wished one another well as we stepped off the plane in Karachi.
While I would have preferred to sit in the Karachi airport, stationary and settled for the seven hours until my flight, I had one more taste of Pakistani hospitality to accept. The day before, Papa Saeed had taken us to visit a farm owned by Sarfraz Jatoi, a prominent lawyer in Sindh. I had spoken with Mr. Jatoi on the phone to thank him, and, when he asked about my travel plans, and I told him that I would be in Karachi the next day, he insisted that I come to dine with him. While very grateful for the hospitality, I had read in the parliamentarian’s newspaper on the airplane that New Year’s Eve would involve many road closings in Karachi, as well as “celebratory gunfire” at midnight. I wasn’t exactly excited about being out on the Karachi streets at this particular time of year.
Mr. Jatoi had given me his number and told me to call him when we left Sukkur. When I called from the tarmac, he told me that he was sending a driver to meet me. Unfortunately, I could not see a driver anywhere, and my plane had been quite late. I looked everywhere for him, but soon found myself with my bags outside the Karachi airport, unsure of what to do. Ready to give up, I called Mr. Jatoi again. He told me that his driver had no cell phone, so there was no way of finding him, but he suggested that I take a taxi, and that he could give the driver directions over the phone. I tried several taxi stands, but they all had waits of at least 45 minutes (it was New Year’s Eve, after all). Ready to give up, I called Mr. Jatoi again, but he suggested that I try some more taxi stands (his desire to have me to dinner did not give up so easily!). Fortunately, I was in luck at the next stand. Mr. Jatoi spoke with the dispatcher on my phone, and they ushered me to a beat-up old car driven by a man of about seventy. He had no teeth, but a very kindly smile. The dispatcher gave him the directions that Mr. Jatoi had given them, and we were on our way. I sat in the passenger seat, a bit nervous that the gasoline gauge read “E.” As we reached the highway, and a Karachi New Year’s traffic jam, I tried to clear my mind of visions of our running out of gas by the side of the road. The driver said something to me in Urdu as we sat in traffic. I had to say, “Maaf kijiye, me Urdu nahin boltahun.” He smiled, nodded, and said “Ah.”
Fortunately the traffic soon cleared, and as we arrived in a residential neighborhood, he began asking me which house it was. Of course I didn’t know, so I called Mr. Jatoi yet again and had him speak with the driver. He let me out in front of a tall building with a white tent on the yard in front. The tent was illuminated from the inside, and I could hear lively music. I walked inside, and seemed to be in a hotel lobby. There was no one there, though a large party in the tent adjacent to the lobby. I called Mr. Jatoi again (I must have called him ten or twelve times that night!), and soon he appeared, smiling, and gave me a big hug. The dinner to which I’d been invited was, it turned out, actually a wedding dinner! (I believe it was his niece who had just been married, though I could be wrong.) Immediately a servant put my bags aside and Mr. Jatoi ushered me (not very formally dressed) straight onto the dais, where I met the happy couple and many members of Mr. Jatoi’s family, including his daughter Marvi (a lawyer in Boston) and son-in-law, Awais. They were flying with their baby son back to Boston that very night! I was grateful to have them to speak to, as they were close to my age and understood a little better than most how disoriented I was feeling. They were tremendously kind and helpful to me while I was feeling pretty worn out, as by now I had traveling for twelve hours or so, with a long journey ahead.
Mr. Jatoi sat me at a table with many other wedding guests, many of whom had studied in the U.S., so we chatted amiably about the differences between our countries. They were curious to hear my impressions of Pakistan, and we all enjoyed a delicious wedding banquet. I was getting nervous about the time, though (I did not want to be out during the midnight celebrations), and Mr. Jatoi arranged for his driver to take me back to the airport. I wished everyone goodbye and thanked Mr. Jatoi for his remarkable hospitality (I’ve often wondered if the married couple look back at their wedding photos and wonder who the strange mustachioed American was!).
I was relieved to approach the airport in Karachi, though a little taken aback when I saw the armed guards at sentry posts by the side of the road leading to the airport (a sensible precaution, though, given the terrorist attacks there in June, 2014). Being without Emily made everything more tense for me, as I speak no Urdu, and so would be entirely dependent on the ability of everyone I met to speak English. Fortunately everyone was kind and understanding, and the trip from this point forward was uneventful. I was so happy to arrive back in the departures hall at Jinnah International Airport, though sad to be parted from Emily, and wistful about leaving this remarkable country and the myriad adventures it brings.
Image at top left is a digital
portrait by Pakistani artist
Imran Zaib, based on one of my own photographic self-portraits in Thari dress.