Last night before going to sleep, I spoke with my friends in London and Liverpool, and I cannot tell you how much it boosts morale only to share my experiences with them for a small while. I can tell that they are still concerned for my safety in Pakistan; but I have to say I do feel that everything is under control here and I have my wits about me. For every extremist wanting to attack foreigners, it feels there are a dozen Pakistanis who totally adore having us around and, certainly in my case, will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable, show you off to their family and friends, feed you, and keep you safe.
I am sitting in the covered porch way at the front of the house in Bani Galla and watching the servants’ children playing cricket and badminton on the driveway. When I watch, I realise that Pakistan will always be a great cricketing nation; ten-year old boys catapult full-sized cricket balls at dangerous speeds towards a friend who effortlessly taps it away with a full-sized bat. No pads, no fear, these children make it look easy and I am not joking, they would get into the Carlton Club Cricket 1st XI without a problem.
Over breakfast Waheed teaches me some Urdu and I have agreed to teach him some advanced English to reciprocate. Today I tell him about the Philosophy of Mind and the differences between Epiphenomenalism, Dualism, and Materialism. I also teach him a bit about “Paradise Lost” by John Milton.
Waheed invites me to meet his bother-in-law’s family in Islamabad and I agree; he says he is going to get his hair cut too, I ask if I can get mine done at the same place and he resists. He thinks the barbershop will be too dirty for me and that I should go to one of the hotels. I scoff at this and insist that I have my hair cut at the same place he always goes; I will have no refusal. Forty minutes later I am sitting in an antiquated barber’s chair, in a room only about 10ft x 8ft. The shop is in the middle of a dusty and impoverished suburb. The standard of the neighbourhood is one up from a shantytown; the roads are mud tracks, the houses are flat-roofed clay boxes, countless telephone wires swoop from overhead and at the side of the road green algae creeps its way out of the open sewers. The barber’s tools are basic, the shop is filthy, they have never had a white customer and, with a cigarette in his mouth, he begins to cut my hair without even consulting what style I want. I start to have my regrets. Forty minutes after that, I am convinced I have never had such a skilful and excellent haircut in my life! The barber, who scrutinised every hair on my head and face through his spectacles, moved at great pace snipping away and turning his arm, elbow and wrist at different angles to give me a short back and sides, plus beard trim which easily outdid the so-called traditional barbershops in St.James’s. A British haircut of that standard would cost ?30, this Pakistani barber resolutely refused to take any money and said if I left any it would be an insult; I was a guest in his neighbourhood. In many ways the common Pakistani is far poorer than we, but he never has to shave himself, clean his own shoes, or tailor his own bespoke clothing; those are all provided for him at cheap, affordable cost.
I visit Waheed’s house, I meet several of his wife’s family and one of his sons, a polite and lively ten year old. The house is very tidy and clean, the various members of his family are quiet and respectful towards me. I am made to feel very welcome and we have tea whilst discussing education; it seems that many send their children to Madrassas (religious schools, some quite hard-line) because they are free or very heavily subsidised. The state education is an aberration and private, secular education is for the elite – so this is how the Mullahs are able to sustain their congregations, by providing free education in exchange for indoctrination.
In the evening, I have my first independently arranged engagement. Dr Donya Aziz (the Member of the National Assembly I met at the Marriott) has invited me to a British Council talk on corruption in politics and its affects on the Pakistani youth. I am dressed in white embroidered sharwal kamis and sit near the front. True to form with all things here, it starts well over an hour late. The British High Commissioner sits on the front row and so do several of his assistants, two sit next to me. I decide not to let them know I am British and just to listen into their conversations for the time being. There is nothing of interest to overhear, Donya Aziz comes up and asks me how I am, shakes my hand and I strike up a conversation with her. Then Faisal Kundi, the Deputy Speaker, arrives and calls me over, slaps me on the shoulder and shakes my hand vigorously. I return to my seat and notice the very intrigued looks from the British delegation, I’ve not been on their radar and they are clearly interested to know why I am so familiar with the main speakers. One asks what I’m doing in Islamabad, I tell her about the AHS Foundation’s charitable mission. The only bit of gossip I overhear is a man from the High Commission in Kabul and the woman from the High Commission in Islamabad are dating. All the British are in Western attire, they clearly think I have gone native.
When I get home I have dinner and talk more with Waheed. One of our dishes has red carrots, I ask how they have become this colour and apparently its natural. Carrots in Pakistan are a bright red colour, I’ve never heard of red carrots before now. I ask what other unusual dishes there are and there is one called Kapoora, which is lamb’s testicles, and there is also lamb’s brain. I decide it would be a shame not to try these at some point.