Tag Archives: Pakistan
August 22, 2014

Dealing with Desperation at…Home

She held out a dirty and partially crumpled piece of paper at me, and she pleaded, she wailed, she begged.

“What should I do? What will become of my son? My little innocent boy whose only crime was to be born poor!”

Boys running into the Indian Ocean at Clifton Beach

Boys running into the Indian Ocean at Clifton Beach, Karachi

The paper in her hand was not an arrest warrant but it might as well have been, indicting me, charging me with a crime I know I’ve committed, always committed and probably always will commit till the end of my days, and then my crime will live on in my heirs after I’m gone, so I will continue to commit it from the grave.

Her face was swept with ridges of pain like many sand dunes on a desert of suffering. I guessed the faded leathery hide through which her eyes peered and mouth made pitiful noises had been beaten by the sun for perhaps forty years, though she looked a good fifteen years older. Dark and cracked, hers was a face that tells the story of hard living, a life of uncertainty and less. Less food. Less mercy. Less pity. Less love. Less everything. Over time such a life leaves many people less human, which only exacerbates and accelerates the downward spiral that is the signature of poverty the world over.

When I look in the mirror, I know I’m guilty. The plump, coddled, wrinkle-free face looking back is so obviously guilty. Again I glance down at the paper in her hand. One of the crumpled corners points an accusatory finger up at me. “Him!” – “That’s all it needs to say, like the witness testifying in court – “It was him!”.

Naturally this is making me uncomfortable. I wish this woman wasn’t standing in front of me, wasn’t reminding me of my guilt. I’m not an expert criminal yet. Even though I always get away, I feel bad about it. Of course, the crime I speak of is being somewhat wealthy in a world full of crippling poverty, and it always weighs on my conscience. So I look away, side step the beggar woman and walk away. Everyone else ignores the poor and gets away with it, so why should I be the fall guy? I mean if our whole network of criminals was to institute a guilt fee to benefit those born into poverty, like a homeowners’ association has membership dues, I’d be fine with it. I’d even go to the meetings and lobby for a high fee, but I’m not fine with footing the bill by myself. I’m not a fool………although sometimes I have doubts.

Mistake #1 – because of my inexperience dealing with the truly miserable, I had hesitated early in our dance. Before I turned away, her beseeching eyes had caught the look of guilt and discomfort on my face. She knew she was barking up the right tree. This tree will shed some fruit. She cut off my retreat, pleading even harder, trying to shove the paper into my hand – “You have been served” said the paper. I knew I had fucked up. I should have shut her down in the first second as soon as she walked up to me. I’d seen many people have success with “Shut up and get lost! Bother someone else!”. A quick soulless admonishment like that usually got rid of them. No fruit here lady, no humanity either. Bugger off now.

Now I had to pay for my fuckup. It’s only fair. It turns out I am a fool after all, but I’ll do better next time. I learn from my mistakes. I’ll be less of a fool next time.

Fool me once – shame on you. Fool me twice – shame on me.

Actually, I’m kind of relieved. I am probably tens of thousands of times wealthier than this woman. I shall save her sick son, and it will cost me a pittance. To be a hero without any real effort or cost – isn’t that the dream? Committed to this new course of action, I finally face the pitiful, bent-over woman, barefoot and in dirty clothes. “What do you need?”

I already knew the back story from her earlier wailing. She was alone. She had no one except her little boy who was deathly ill. She had used her last rupee to take him to the hospital where the doctor had prescribed medicine, but she had no money to buy it. So she was standing on this street corner at night, close to the pharmacy, prescription in hand, praying to Allah that someone will help save her son.

Her hysterics subsided now that she finally had someone paying her problem attention. She held out the piece of paper, “Here”. The streetlights weren’t very bright and besides I can’t read a doctor’s handwriting to save my life, so I asked more directly “How much does the medicine cost?”

I knew how cheap drugs are in Pakistan, Asia in general really, so I knew it wouldn’t cost much, and I decided immediately that I’d cover the full cost of the medicine. When it’s so cheap, why not cover the whole thing? I wanted the satisfaction of knowing I had single-handedly saved her son. Contributing is for chumps!

“1,430 rupees”

“1,430 rupees! That’s very expensive! What kind of medicine is this?”

“I don’t know son. I’m poor and uneducated. I only know the doctor said this will save his life. His fever is very bad. I don’t think he will survive the night if he doesn’t get it.”

Realizing the size of the hole this lady was in was considerably larger than I had imagined, I quickly decided I couldn’t be her knight in shining armor, and resigned myself to contributing hero (a.k.a. chump) status. “Alright fine, here’s one hundred rupees.” I dug in my pocket and held out a crisp red bill. A red Quaid looked up at me from the note. He said nothing but his expression said “What are you doing?”, which struck me as odd. I had hoped he would be proud of both our roles in my good deed. But I’m a rational man, although sometimes I have doubts about this too, so I resolved not to overthink the meaning behind the facial expression of the dead founder of Pakistan on his tiny red portrait with 100’s on the corners.

Pakistan hundred rupee note

Red Quaid

She didn’t take the money. Acting like this generous offer was an affront, she exclaimed “What will I do with a hundred rupees? My son is dying! He needs the medicine! I’m not a beggar! I wouldn’t beg in a million years but I have no choice. You’re a rich man! PLEASE! Save my boy’s life! I’m begging you! I will pray to Allah for your long and prosperous life! Just please save my son! He’s all I’ve got in this world!”

Swayed by her appeal, ashamed of my own stinginess, and furthermore feeling inadequate because I didn’t have much money on me, I took out all the cash I had, some three hundred rupees, and tried to hand that to her. But she again declined. Holding the prescription paper out to me again, she pointed to the pharmacy only forty feet away and pleaded me to buy her the medicine. “If you leave I will never get the money I need tonight and my son will die! You’re rich. You’re a good, noble man. I know you can help me.”

Again she had swayed me and shamed me. I was getting agitated. This night was turning out very differently than I had envisioned. The plan had been to pick up some nehari and kabab rolls from Khadda Market, near my house in Defense Phase 5, and now I had been sucked into some strange woman’s desperate race to save her son’s live. Fuck me! (and yes, I realize that makes me sound like an asshole)

I had woken up late that day – Karachi seems to bring out the sloth in me. I spent the entire day browsing the newspaper, or watching torrent-ed movies on my laptop, or lying on my living room sofa staring up at the whirling ceiling fan, at least while the electricity stayed on. A fan that doesn’t whirl is rather dull. My brain was half dead when my mother asked me what I wanted for dinner. “Nihari and kabab rolls” I replied. My father volunteered to pick both up from the market and volunteered me to join him, which was a capital idea as I hadn’t stepped outdoors that entire day. We placed the carry-out order at the restaurant next to the pharmacy after which my father and the cashier, who was probably also the owner, exchanged light hearted conversation and joked around like old pals while waiting for the food.

My father has always gotten along with the common Pakistani better than our own class, “good families” and “old money”, which are really one and the same thing (because in Pakistan, families that have old money are automatically “good”). I think this is because as someone who managed textile mills, cast iron foundries and injection molded pipe factories much of his professional life, he spent a lot of time with the blue collar man (and mind you, blue collar means something very different in Pakistan than it does in America). Since I wasn’t able to follow the conversation between my father and the cashier, something about local politics and how some new politician was small minded and making a mess of things whereas his predecessor had been a man of vision and action, I stepped out into the street for fresh air but instead got ambushed by the hysterical lady.

Now I looked through the restaurant window at my father and the cashier/owner. I took a deep breath. What was about to come next would be tricky and unpleasant. I was going to ask my father for the money and he wasn’t going to be happy about it, not because it’s much money, we’re only talking about fourteen US dollars here, but because he’s felt for some time that I’m a big softy and a bit of a fool in that I trust people too much (a fool and his money are soon parted, especially in Pakistan), an impression that I would be reinforcing.

The biggest difference between us is that he was raised in Pakistan, whereas I was raised across three other countries on three different continents, but all gentler places. I admit I’m a pretty trusting person, and it has yet to catastrophically backfire on me as he has always predicted it would. He on the other hand, will tell you that he is wise to the ways of the world, but especially Pakistan, where street smarts count much more than book smarts. Having been raised the second youngest of eight siblings may have also had something to do with it. Four older brothers sounds rough, even before you get to know my uncles. My father’s guiding principle in life is elegantly simple – “Don’t place too much trust in others for they will abuse it, and always look out for yourself”. This is the mantra he tried to inculcate in me, although it never took. Now I had to convince him to give his hard earned money away to a total stranger.

But then the restaurant’s kitchen door swung open and a teenage boy with a pre-pubescent moustache and a generously oiled and combed back head of hair walked two large plastic bags of nehari and naan up to my father by the counter. Big smile farewells were quickly exchanged and bags in hand, my father turned around and walked out towards me.

Khadda Market, Karachi

Khadda Market, Karachi

I knew he had enjoyed his conversation because he was still wearing his big smile when he got to me, but upon seeing the woman standing expectantly by my side, his smile vanished. “What’s going on here?”

I told him. Predictably, he turned to the woman and told her to get lost. I started reasoning with my father, lobbying for the woman. His face was expressionless as he listened, but I felt certain he was a little disappointed inside. But then the woman decided it would be a good idea to chime in so we could double team her sad story at him, and this my father didn’t appreciate. Turning to face her squarely, he said “Stop your bullshit! We’re not owls! Go make a fool of someone else” and he nudged me with his elbow, pointed to the car and said “Let’s go”. I should mention that owl is “ulloo” in Urdu and calling someone an owl means you are calling them stupid, quite the opposite of the West, where the owl is considered wise.

I felt bad about this treatment of the woman and I protested “No! I’m not going anywhere! Why are you so heartless? Even if you’re not going to help her, which you should, do you have to be so mean?”

“Mustafa, you don’t understand. She’s a fraud! This whole thing is a big drama of hers. There is no son, no medicine. She’s a con artist and she’s trying to make a fool of you. Now let’s go home. We don’t want the nihari to get cold or the naan to get dry. This place makes really good naan.”

At this I lost it a little and started shouting at my own father “How can you say she’s a fraud? How can you know? You didn’t even listen to her! She has a doctor’s prescription. She turned down my offer of several hundred rupees which she would have taken if she was a con artist, and she even asked me to buy the medicine directly from the pharmacy, so she wouldn’t have gotten any money from me, only the medicine. You have a problem you know? You only see the bad in people and I’m sick of it!”

At this my father’s face changed. At first there was surprise. He hadn’t expected my emotional outburst. But he’s a quick thinker, I’ll definitely give him that, and he decided the best course of action was a compromise. He moved to the woman and handed her fifty rupees. “What will I do with…?” she began but he cut her off. “This is more than you deserve. If you don’t leave now you won’t even get this.”

“But bhai (brother in Urdu) over there was already giving me more than fifty rupees!” she protested.

“Forget about that. You’re not getting that. You’re only getting this. Here’s fifty more, ok? Now it’s a hundred. Now please forgive us and bother someone else. Go!”

His voice was loud, his tone harsh, incriminatory. She took one last look towards me, then head bowed in defeat, she took the money and slowly walked away. But if my father thought this had resolved our problem, he was mistaken. I was possibly more upset but also a little more composed, resigned. More sad than angry now I asked “Why couldn’t we have just bought her the medicine? It costs nothing. Please just give her the money and I’ll pay you back when we get home.”

“It’s not about the money Mustafa. She’s a fraud. Do you want to reward a fraud? A liar and a cheat?” he was using a soft placating voice, but this bothered me even more. He was talking down to me.

“You keep saying that but you’re wrong! I’m not stupid! She was genuine and her need was real!”

He smiled, “No it was not. She’s a big fraud.”

“YOU KEEP SAYING THAT!! HOW CAN YOU KNOW?” I shouted. Now I was angry again, almost shaking and again I saw a little shock and concern on his face. We were on a public street in front of a restaurant he frequented (and that apparently made the best naan in the area) and I was coming close to causing a scene, something he obviously didn’t want. Less than a shout but still aloud I continued “You didn’t care to hear her out. You judged her guilty without any proof, and you did it just because it’s convenient for you to call her a fraud, because then you don’t have to shoulder the responsibility to help!”

“Mustafa, I heard her out and it was based on that that I judged her a fraud. Why are you being this way? Is it proof you want? Do you want me to prove she’s a fraud?”

“Yes, because you can’t”

“Do you remember her prescription?”


“Describe it to me”

“It looked like an ordinary prescription! What are you talking about?” I blurted in frustration.

“Didn’t it look old, like weeks or months old? Discolored, crumpled, maybe because it was salvaged from the trash or the street after being thrown away?”

Mistake #2 – I should have paid attention. He was right. All of that was true. The prescription was ancient, the writing smudged to the point it would have been illegible even to a pharmacist, and she had said they had been to the hospital that very day. “But she asked me to buy the medicine directly…” I argued feebly, even though I already sensed, nay, knew, that I was on the losing side of this argument.

My father sensed it too, that this mini-crisis was coming to a close. Mustafa was getting off his high horse (more like falling off), and his misplaced humanity fueled hissy fit was almost over. He smiled “Son, come on. She could buy from one pharmacist and sell to another or more likely he’s in on it too. It doesn’t matter. Come, the food will get cold. His naan really is very good” and with that he walked off towards the car, knowing that this time I would follow.

I stood there a while in a befuddled daze. I looked towards the pharmacy. The woman was gone. Of course she was gone. She probably ran several different cons. When it comes to small time cons, diversification and frequent relocation are key to success. Con artists who get lazy get caught.

I suddenly realized I had something in my hand and I looked down. I still held the money. I loosened my grip and Red Quaid’s face reappeared in my palm. The orientation of the bill had changed. Quaid was now looking away from me. He looked……..disappointed.

“I’m trying Quaid. I really am. But sometimes it’s hard to be good in this country you created”

October 14, 2013

And then the Piper came to Collect

We take risks all the time, when we drive a car, ride a bike, take a walk, board a flight or go for a swim. Wet tile floors kill hundreds of people in their own bathrooms every year but that doesn’t mean you should stop bathing. A life free of any risk is no life at all. Yes, maybe all the hours watching our favorite TV show may harm our eyes and the fun filled days at the beach with friends may harm our skin, but to encapsulate oneself in a sanitized plastic bubble and avoid anything and everything that MAY harm us is to give up on life.

So instead we enjoy the piper’s tune, even sing along with him and have a great time. Most nights, after we’ve fallen asleep, tired from the fun and excitement, he holsters his flute and sees himself out the door. Most no one considers that nothing is free and one day he’ll ask to be paid. In fact the more you have him over, the more confident you become that there will never be a payment. Sure, he may be a professional musician and sure, he charges other people to play at their parties, but not you. You’re his friend. A different, kinder set of rules applies to you.

The gunmen that ambushed us looked like these guys

The gunmen that ambushed us looked like these guys, but scarier

But of course this isn’t so, a lesson I relearned last night when my car was ambushed by masked gunmen in a particularly lawless and remote sector in the Northern Areas, one that has been the scene of recent sectarian violence. Risks are not risks for nothing. Those who choose to enjoy the sweet melody of the piper are occasionally made to pay for that pleasure.

Our hired car was supposed to leave Gilgit for Islamabad between nine and ten in the morning so we’d pass the troubled regions of Chilas and Kohistan in daylight, but the incompetent morons at the transportation company only got their act together at 1:50pm, so that is when we set off. We approached the Frontier Police checkpoint atop Babusar Pass (13,700ft) at 6:30pm, just as it had gotten dark.

Our Toyota Corolla was pitifully equipped with a 1.3 liter petrol engine that struggled all the way to the top. It had to be kept in 1st gear 90% of the time and even then, twice we had to get out and push the car so the anemic engine could make it up a hill. Having less oxygen owing to the altitude was definitely partly to blame, and the driver suspected the fuel may have had crap mixed in it by an unscrupulous petrol station owner looking to make some extra money in time for Eid. I can vouch for the Oxygen being low because after pushing the car, I was surprised by how hard and for how long I was gasping for breath. A weak storm was lashing black sand across the road and dark clouds were slowly swirling overhead, further reducing visibility. The Karakoram Highway experiences landslides on an almost daily basis so is almost perpetually being worked on. Occasionally we would pass a large earth moving machine with its yellow hazard lights flashing. Given the already unearthly landscape, it felt as if I was on a transport to a new Moon colony that was in the process of being terra-formed.

The Frontier Policemen manning the Babusar Pass checkpoint were heavily draped in overcoats and scarfs to the point that no uniform could be seen, but since they were controlling the checkpoint, we had to assume they were the authorities. Two figures came to the driver’s window, their clothes fluttering so much because of the wind that they had to be clutched in place. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Who are you? Do you have ID? We went through this familiar drill but then when time to produce the IDs came, they abruptly lost interest and waved us on. Someone commented that normally they take their time at this checkpoint and getting through this fast was unusual.

I should say who was in the car with me. The driver from Sargoda had terrible taste in music, liked listening to it way too loud, and smoked in the car without asking (but then it’s Pakistan, not America – I have to remind myself that I must make allowances for that). I had paid extra for the front seat. The passenger behind me was Najibullah, a ~30 year old disaster preparation and relief professional. Behind the driver sat Ali Noor, who was finishing high school and waiting to hear back from medical colleges across Pakistan to see if he got in.

Ali Noor opened up a large packet of chocolate wafers and shared them with everyone. I was hungry and they were delicious. We had driven 2-3 minutes past the checkpoint. Who knows what we were talking about at the time? Maybe how Ali Noor really wanted to work in film or as a photographer but his parents shot those ideas down in favor of the reliable medical doctor option.

The car suddenly slowed and I looked ahead. Initially I saw two and then four figures descending from a rocky ridge right next to the road and towards the car. That they were all armed and pointing their weapons directly at us was immediately evident as the Corolla’s headlights lit up the shiny ends of the barrels. Two had AK-47s, the other two had pistols. The ones with the AK-47s motioned us to stop and blocked our path. The other two circled around so the vehicle was surrounded. I lifted my hands, the wafers dropping out of my palms – a little silly since there was no chance they could see inside the car. Everyone in the car mouthed “oh no!” in their own way. When a panicking Ali Noor exclaimed “Ya Ali!” three times, the already present dread in my heart tripled. I thought “they’re going to kill this boy for being Shia”. My next thought was to have the presence of mind to look away when it happens. I don’t need those nightmares.

But then there was no guarantee who these guys were. They could be looking for payback against the Sunnis in which case my time was up. That was less likely though and oddly enough I didn’t fear for my life at all. My biggest fear for myself was kidnapping. Being a captive for the months or years that is typical for abductions in regions like these would be brutal. If they found out I was an American, they would probably sell me to the Taliban who might request a prisoner swap from the US. The Americans would most likely decline and in doing so condemn me to die by beheading. Wait, what if these guys are Taliban themselves? It was as this question crossed my mind that one of the gunmen reached my door and shouted for me to get out. I obviously didn’t have a choice so I opened the door and arms raised, emerged from the vehicle. The driver and other passengers were doing the same. The four gunmen had closed the dragnet and their catch was about to learn its fate.

I was patted down. The first thing to be pulled out of my kamiz pocket was my camera. The gunman holding me up studied this for a second under the beam from his flashlight and then pocketed it. When I had gotten out of the car, the barrel of his machine gun was a foot from my face, but now it was pointed at the ground and he was gripping the weapon carelessly. Frankly, it was asking to be snatched. But as I was being searched, I spotted two additional gunmen still atop the ridge from where the ambush was sprung. Both their AK-47s were pointed in our direction. That made six gunmen. The driver and Ali Noor, who were both closer to the ridge, saw seven gunmen, the four that came to the car and three that remained on the ridge. In any case, we were well covered and trying anything would be extremely foolish.

The ambush location was perfect. It was at a sharp turn in the road for which vehicles would have to slow anyway. The ridge behind which they had been hiding was right next to the road and the gunmen on high ground atop the ridge had cover in the form of large boulders, should they have needed it. They were already barely visible as it was but themselves had a great view of the road below. Even an escort vehicle with a half dozen armed guards wouldn’t have stood a chance in this situation. I found myself wishing we were driving in the B6 armored Land Cruiser I had in Afghanistan. Then we could have just sped away instead of being in the situation we were in now, entirely helpless.

After the pat down, I was asked where my money was and what else I had. What a relief! These were not crazy people but rather bandits, only interested in loot, vastly preferable to Taliban types. My money was in a zippered pocket in my jacket which was lying in the front passenger foot well. I was hoping to unzip the pocket quietly and give them all the cash and my cheaper Nokia mobile phone, but the sound alerted them to the jacket and they pulled it out, and feeling weight in it (my iPhone), they took the whole thing. In the end I lost my camera, two mobile phones, cash and the jacket. They saw my credit card but apparently that did not interest them and they threw it back in the car. Also headphones and passport got tossed back, everything else they took.

At this point one of the gunmen had an exchange of words on his walkie talkie and turning to us asked if there was a car behind us and how far back. We told him we saw a 4×4 but it was far behind us. No sooner had we said that than the first beams from approaching headlights could be seen. We were ordered to get back in the car, sit quietly and make sure no lights were on. We did this and saw the bandits go back to their positions, resetting the trap for the approaching vehicle. This time when they sprang, the vehicle, a Land Cruiser Prado, didn’t initially brake fast enough, so a warning shot was fired into the air. Then they encircled the vehicle and we heard them shout at the people inside. We heard both male and female voices respond from the Prado. Whereas they spent seven minutes with us and took us out of the vehicle for pat downs, in the case of the Prado, everything was handled through the windows and in just two minutes. I got the feeling they felt uncomfortable holding up more than one car at a time. After that they noted down license plate numbers, the driver’s ID card number and warned us not to tell anyone about what happened, and with that both cars were dismissed.

Since we left at the same time, our two vehicles formed a convoy with us in the back. We did a quick survey of what had been taken from whom. My losses were the greatest in absolute terms – a camera, two mobile phones, cash and my jacket. After me, the driver’s losses were greatest at Rs 33,000 cash which he was taking home to his family over Eid, plus his mobile phone. Najibullah also had his cash and phone taken and Ali Noor, maybe because he’s a kid, got away with only losing a few thousand Rupees. He saved his phone by jamming it between the seat and backrest before exiting the car. We also talked about what we saw and heard. The bandits addressed their leader “Commander”, and while they spoke in Urdu in front of us, when they thought they were out of earshot they spoke Shina, the local language in Chilas and Kohistan.

We had only driven another 5-10 minutes when we saw what appeared to be a police mobile (personnel pickup truck). Two policemen were standing next to it and one flagged us down. After we stopped, they had a brief conversation with the first car and then came over to us. “It took you guys a while to get here from the top of the pass. Did anything happen in the middle? Did you run into any kind of trouble?” His voice sounded concerned, almost like he already knew something was wrong and was anticipating the pleas to go after the men who had only minutes earlier robbed us.

But the pleas never came, because as he spoke, he cocked the AK-47 he was already holding at the ready and pointed at our feet, and so did his companion. We didn’t need to study his eyes and expression to know what this meant, but did so anyway and this confirmed to everyone in the car what was happening. These guys were collaborating with the bandits and were making it clear to us that we needed to stay quiet or bad things would happen. My guess is they planned to rob for several hours that night and for this to work, they needed to scare the shit out of those they robbed earlier so they wouldn’t tip off authorities or other travelers that there was danger ahead.

Their plan worked. Realizing the cops were on the side of the robbers scared us even further. There was a good chance the robbers were cops themselves. We were even more helpless than we had thought. The driver told the cop nothing had happened. The cop pressed a little, “but we heard a gunshot” to which the driver responded “We didn’t hear a gunshot”. The cop smiled “OK then” and gestured us to be on our way. As we drove off, the already downbeat mood in the car became downright pitiful. The others talked about how the important thing was we were alive, that god had saved us and that we were powerless people who had no choice but to accept our fate. I kept quiet. I hate that kind of talk. We passed a convoy of two civilian pickups 20 minutes later. They stopped to speak briefly with the Prado and then continued in the direction of the bandits. We wondered what had been said between the two cars but didn’t have to wonder for long.

Within another hour, we had reached the town of Naran and the Prado stopped in front of a roadside restaurant. We parked in front of them and got out of the car. The strangers from the two vehicles greeted each other with hugs and big smiles of relief. Clearly they too felt very fortunate, and in fact they had been more fortunate than us. After we told them our sob stories about losing everything or almost everything, they took out cash and mobile phones to show us how much they had been able to save by not getting out of the car. They did so with big smiles and in fact they were kind of showing off. To do that to people who had suffered large losses and were visibly deflated was distasteful. On the other hand, they offered us money so that we could at least afford to refuel and bought us dinner in the restaurant. We declined on the money but accepted on the dinner. I asked them what they had discussed with the convoy of two pickups we’d passed an hour earlier. They told me they were so freaked out by the message from the cops that when the guys in those vehicles told them they had heard rumors there was trouble up ahead and asked if it was safe to proceed, they said yes, not knowing who they were talking to and not wanting to risk getting shot after making it so far. They had a point, but my guess is they sent another two flies into the bandits’ flypaper by giving them the all clear.

When we finally reached Islamabad at 3:30am the next day, having driven through the night, The driver asked us to accompany him to the depot so we could corroborate his story in front of his boss. We felt bad for the guy, given he was a poor man and had suffered a heavy loss, so we agreed. But after walking around the depot for 15 minutes and knocking on several doors, no one could be found. As the driver drove us to our homes, he told us his boss always spoke disrespectfully to him and he knew this man was not going to do anything to help him. He then asked us if we would help him out because as it was, he didn’t even have money to get home to Sargoda. Najibullah immediately agreed to this and urged me to also help. I didn’t say anything. I was still bitter about my own losses and cranky from nearly 14 hours of being tossed around in a Corolla on bumpy roads. It’s only after Najibullah was dropped and the driver requested me directly that I realized how selfish I was being. I told him to come tomorrow afternoon to my uncle’s house where he was dropping me and I would give him money. Neither of us had phone so there was no other way to coordinate. The next day I went to the ATM to withdraw cash in anticipation of him coming. He never did. I wonder if it was because he felt I would back out. I didn’t sound very enthusiastic when I finally said I would help him but I did mean it.

In the end, stuff is just stuff. Colleen’s already bought an upgraded replacement camera (Sony RX100 II) and a new jacket (Patagonia Nano Puff, exact same as the one that was lost). I’ll try to do without a smartphone for a while and maybe try sharing Colleen’s iPhone 4S. Yes, 90% of my photos of the North are lost forever, but no one can take the memories away. You all know what a glacier is. Now just picture me standing on top of it, surrounded by miles and miles of white ice and sandwiched between towering peaks. Right after the robbery, I told myself I was never coming back to Pakistan because the risks weren’t worth it. This feeling was reinforced after I realized we were probably robbed by police, the guys that are supposed to be protecting us. But 30 minutes later I concluded that the mistake was mine and it would be worth coming back. First of all, with the exception of the robbery, I had an amazing time. Secondly, I knew this was a no go area at night but still I went. After the transport company delayed 4 hours, I should have backed out and travelled the next day. Well, lesson learned. I’ll be wiser next time.

I’ve tried my best to accurately recount the events of the evening we were robbed. I’ll be sending a facts only version to the Inspector General (police) and FIA Director (Federal Investigation Agency) of the Northern Areas.