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February    March Continues  More Ramblings

March 2, 2000:

Hello and welcome to March. I'd like to start off by apologizing for my previous statement about food here in Pakistan. I had a cup of the world's best ice cream (orange pistachio) the other day and have decided it was good enough to make up for every other dish, bad or otherwise, that I've had here. Lahore is, after all, Pakistan's culinary center.

The past few days have been busy. I returned from a short trip to Multan last Monday and have been running around since. During this time I've met with several different directors and leaders in this community who are working for improvement, i should say, development. Many Pakistanis believe that the only real way to help Pakistan is through Pakistan. I have visited model schools in the rural parts of Lahore and a center for mentally and physically disabled children in the inner city to see what these "activists" have been working on. "There are no bad people, just poor and helpless people," says Rukhsana Qayyum, a woman who supports charity programs throughout Pakistan.

I have met with handfuls of people all working towards one thing -- the betterment of people's lives. In a country under much scrutiny at the moment we have to remember that life here does go on, and people are looking ahead to the future.

March 5, 2000:

Okay, what's the first thing that jumps to mind when you hear the word "Pakistan"? Is is gun toting Muslims and opium? Little mud hut villages and sheep? Pakistan is these things but also, logically, much more. Envision a well run government school for mentally and physically disabled kids and a newly built hospital for cancer treatment and you'll be a big step closer to the overall picture of Pakistan.

Yesterday I visited a school for special education. It was Saturday and they were having a their kite festival. Kids and parents were running around, the newspapers were taking photos and teachers-in-training were bombarding me with questions about the United States. "How are disabled children treated in America?" and "They all live at institutions in America, right? They aren't allowed to go home?" I looked around, I had toured the school a few days before, meeting the kids and watching their classes. This particular school centers around personal, hands-on care. There are only a handful of kids in each class so the teachers can work more directly, and also, keep an eye on them. I'd seen lots of schools like this in the States, and Govt. SHADAB Training Institute of Special Education ranked right up there with the best of them.

I told the teachers that the disabled kids in America can go home and do go home, many even attending regular schools with the rest of the kids. None of them believed me. They were taught that special education meant institutionalization. "If I asked just about anyone in America if they thought places like this, " waving my arm at the school, "existed in Pakistan they wouldn't believe me either." The teachers shook their heads. A kite from one of the students came careening out of the sky and hit me in the head; everyone laughed.

March, 8, 2000:

Oh, you had to assume it would happen sooner or later. If you're traveling through developing countries for a year you're bound to get sick, right? Nope, at least that's what I thought for the first 2 and a half clear months. I even drank out of the tap at the New Delhi train station and survived, nothing more than a metallic taste left in my mouth. Of course, if sometime soon all my hair decides to drop out I'll know what to blame it on. And here I am now, slightly out of my mind from a high fever and stomach cramps. At least I'll have another story to tell, I thought as I was throwing up all through the night.

I can't complain too much though. If I was going to get sick there's no better place than in Lahore, Pakistan. Okay, I'll rephrase that. There's no better place to get sick than Mrs Rukhsana Qayyum's house in Lahore, Pakistan. I have my own room with a conveniently attached bathroom and a large family who intermittently pops in to see how I'm doing. "You miss your family." says Rukhsana, not believing in my flu-like symptoms. "You have a long time to go, you can't miss them already." Her voice is pained and I know she's worried because she asks me about solo travel as a woman often enough. She swings in, clothed in a beautiful silk shalwar kameez, the Pakistani dress, and gives me a hug. "You can stay here as long as you like. We are your family." And I have to admit that the Pakistanis are a very welcoming people. There's a common saying about Americans that, like a fish, guests get old and start smelling after three days. Not here in Pakistan. Or, not as far as I can tell. I've been in Lahore for close to two weeks now, over a week in the Qayyum's home, and have never felt unwanted.

Rukhsana told me I could stay till my flight to Teheran on the18th. That is a very tempting offer. And now that President Clinton isn't visiting till the 25th (I was hoping to maybe high-five him in the airport before I catch my plane) I may just take her up on that offer.

March 14, 2000:

A friend of mine asked me how they treat the sick here in Pakistan, "if it's any different than at home or what you're used to?" And sitting on my bed in a room equipped with a stereo and a treadmill, a glass of juice after taking a hot shower, I could almost be at home. I spent days in this bed, drinking lots of boiled water and downing extra strength Tylenol. I slept almost 20 hours a day for three days, moving around only to talk with people who'd come to grill me on Western vs Eastern ideas and conceptions. (You can imagine how good those conversations were.) Nothing too very different in the routine of a sick person, I'd say.

Then I remember the kitchuri, oh the kitchuri. I sat in bed that first day thinking about saltine crackers, jello and the way my mother would--with the most love in the world--plunk down a large plastic bucket next to my bedside, when lunch was rolled in. The thought of food at all made the underside of my chin wobble and my stomach tighten, but not eating for a day and throwing up all night had worried my host to the point of calling the hospital so I thought I should give it a try. I pulled off the cover and what lay inside looked like oatmeal that had been cooked in beef bullion for a week. I wasn't far off. It was kitchuri, a pulverized boiled-all-day rice and lentil dish with various assortments of salt.

I ate kitchuri, or should I say I mouthed kitchuri for four days. On the fifth day I hit my stomach. "You think you can handle something else?" I asked it. Do you think you can't, I thought. And walked into the dining room to lunch with the family. We had curries and vegetables and yoghurt, and fruit; and while we were finishing up, munching away on guavas, I asked them about the kitchuri. A long groan came from the two kids on the other side of the table. "You're lucky. At least you could tell what I was. Usually it's mashed up so much it resembles bird food. Regurgitated." I though about regurgitated bird food and picked out another guava, my third one. "Oh, you're stomach must really be feeling better," said Ahad, the third of four kids. "A little," I answered, having eaten a total a five grains of white rice, some potatoes, and two and a half guavas. Then, as if the image of thrown up bugs wasn't enough for the day, Ahad continued, "Because those will really wreck you. Your stomach can't digest the seeds."

So, with a small guava-induced relapse my stomach is slowly returning to normal. Slowly. I leave for Islamabad tomorrow, to the Too-Quiet City Next to the Mountains as the kids call it, to pick up my Iran visa. I have arranged home stays for my month in Iran but Insha'allah, I won't get a first hand look into sick treatments there.

Lahore is everything you'd expect from a developing country and much of what you wouldn't. Everything from one-room schools (at left and at top) to schools for special education (above), hard manual labor of sugar cane (me munching on cane, second, left-side) to grinding red chilies (first, left-side), and lavish weddings to servants make up the city of Lahore.

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