Friday, September 3, 2010

First Impressions of Islamabad

Our flight landed after 2am and I thought the whole visa on arrival process was going to be pretty easy, what with the Pakistani government putting it in place for aid workers and all. Elaine made mention of it being theatre at one point, and it was an apt description. I felt sorry for the two immigration staff who were responsible for processing us all. There was an informal queue, and the mustachioed staff member seemed to keep track of that pretty well in between handing out additional forms and gluing visas. A couple of big smiles from us helped us secure our place, and so we waited. And waited. And then went and got our luggage and came back to wait some more. But eventually we got our (single entry doh!) visas glued into our passports and we headed out to find our driver.

Steve's driver was there, holding up a sign with his name on it. I was scanning the crowd of hundreds of men, trying to see a similar sign with mine and Elaine's names on it, but no such luck. There was one driver frantically waving a piece of paper around, so I went to investigate. He was working for WFP, but he'd been told by our driver to make contact with us. Turns out our driver had been waiting for quite some time, and had gone home to eat before the sunrise started and his fasting began. The WFP driver was very sweet and told us he'd take us to our guesthouse, once he'd retrieved all of his charges. After waiting for I don't know how long, it turned out that our driver came back and so off we went.

At 4:30ish in the morning the roads were clear and we sped along the very well-maintained highway, slowing down for about four police checkpoints. We arrived at our guesthouse, where they had no idea who we were, and luckily they had two rooms to accommodate us. I fell into bed at about 5am and thought I could sleep for a year. Just as I was drifting off there was a knock at my door. Then another insistent knock. I crawled out of bed and opened the door to find a tiny man holding up what appeared to be some freshly ironed men's clothes. We both shook our heads at each other, and I crawled back to bed. Unfortunately, the elusive sleep I'd been longing for evaded me, and I only grabbed an hour or two before I was up and pottering around my new home.

We were picked up from our guesthouse after lunch and the drive to office didn't take too long. The roads are good, they have the fancy traffic lights that countdown how long the light will take to change, and the medium strips are manicured. The grass is green, there's a view to a beautiful hilly area (where, our driver hastily added, there was a plane crash a few months ago) and the quick glimpse I had of the Faisal mosque was very impressive.

It's now day 2, and I'm a bit more aware of what my job might entail, I've met some wonderful people and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into things. My security briefing today was pretty intense, and had moments reminiscent of that scene in The Life of Brian with the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front...there seems to be a lot of that here. It was made very clear that while the city looks calm and safe, it is a thin veneer. The veneer isn't so thin in other parts of the country that my colleagues are working in.

And now it's time to get stuck into some heavy reading!

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