I know we mostly just post pictures of our good times here but this adventure demands some explanation. It’s quite a story! We must admit that we were a bit apprehensive going into what has been called by some, “the most dangerous country on earth.” It is a place made dark both by the lack of light and the lack of freedom. Nervous might describe Rick’s mind set when we arrived from Dubai at 1:40 a.m. without a visa which was absolutely a requirement. This opportunity just popped up about a month before our departure and it takes six weeks to get a visa. After trying everything we could think of to expedite a visa with no luck, our can-do hosts sent us a letter that we copied and printed to be presented to the immigration official when we arrived. When we were in Dubai, they also told us to bring two passport pictures each to be used for entry into the country. They assured us that they would arrange for someone to meet us as we came out of the gate and walk us through the process to get us on the other side.
Sure enough, the first person we saw was a giant man with a good face holding our names on a piece of paper. When we walked into the immigration office, we knew we had come to a third world country. With a bookshelf packed with tattered papers and folders containing records of immigration for who knows how many years, along with fat books by his desk marked with handwritten titles like “Rejections 2012” The desk looked as though it had been there for a hundred years and the rusty chairs we were told to sit in were stained and tattered. No smiles and definitely no computers were to be seen anywhere.
The immigration official with a gray uniform, a big black mustache very officially, opened his big tattered book, took our letters and pictures and without a word, went to work writing copiously on several sheets to get everything just right. He was obviously in charge as peons around him jumped at his command. At one point he had some bottled water brought in. We assured him that we were okay and as he paid the guy for him we realized we should have taken it. He had gotten it just for us. He sort of slammed the bottles in a drawer and went on. We chatted a bit with our cute guide who was a little taller than dad with about the same size feet. Quietly. We didn’t want to upset the apple cart with some small infraction.
After what seemed like a half an hour but was probably only fifiteen minutes, he stapled the passport pictures (which we had gotten in Dubai) and sent us off with a wave of his hand. Hardly an acknowledgement that we were even there after our profuse smiles and thanks. I’m sure he thought, “Cheesy Americans! They always have to smile!” Whew! We were glad to be past that hurdle as we plunged into the third world airport, about as different from the one we had just left in Dubai as you could find in the world! Huge crowds of hundreds crushed into each other, scanning the hoards coming out about 2:40 a.m. to greet their loved ones. It was shades of the airport at Romania and the Philippines when we went into those countries thirty years ago.
We were definitely an anomaly as the only Caucasians in the bunch. Little children stared at us as though we were aliens from Mars. I wondered if we really looked that different and then I looked around at all the men in long white robes and swarthy complexions and women many in long black abayas, some with everything covered except the eyes and decided that we did! The air was thick with fog and/or pollution which made wherever we went feel like a dream.
We thought that we were out of the woods as we got in the car in the dark with our terrific driver who had arranged the event and headed down a dark road for the hotel! But alas, we were stopped randomly by the police. Our driver jumped out and talked to them for about five minutes while we wondered if we were on our way to a weird police station to be questioned. Finally our driver got back in the car. He had obviously, in cases like that, been instructed to say, “I don’t know who these people are or where they are going. I’m just taking them to a hotel.” It worked and we were on our way to the hotel. Our driver merely glanced at the red lights and after going through several of them before they turned green, he informed us that it was only necessary to “look around” and then proceed through the red light if there was no one around. Actually, we were glad that there were red lights, unlike India where it’s each man for himself!
I didn’t dare take pictures until the next morning lest someone would think we were spies as we pulled into the wildest looking “Five Star Hotel” that you’ve ever seen. The trunk and hood were opened and checked for bombs as we drove in and enormous barricades that looked like giant curved snow plow shovels popped up and down as we drove through. Guards were everywhere!
The inside of our hotel was very unusual! It was held together by giant cables.
Note the nice Rolls Royce held in the upper left. Should have gotten a close-up of that baby!
By now it was about 4 a.m and our host helped us to check in and told us that he would be back to pick us up in four hours for the event. Yikes! We were dead, I had charlie horses in my feet and couldn’t settle down. My hair desperately needed to be washed before he returned and I couldn’t find a hair dyer of an iron anywhere.We did have one converter for my curling iron but there was no plug anywhere near a mirror so I could see what I was doing. This is SO typical of Europe as well as the Middle East. There is never a plug in the bathroom except for razors plugs. I did the best I could, washed my hair quickly and dried it with with a really weird hairdryer I finally found, With no iron in the room (ironing has to be sent out) we pulled together presentable outfits if not somewhat rumpled to do our presentation.
Once we got there and started meeting these wonderful parents, we knew we were going to have a lot of fun! Almost all the 20 bright young couples who showed up had arranged marriages. Now that’s another whole story which is totally fascinating but I’ll record that in another post. I could write a book about what I learned from them!
Here is the entry to the lovely restaurant where we spoke.
And the outside with a few extra wires than we would normally see!
This year’s president along with next year’s president. Such good guys!
The event ended about 3 o’clock and we were taken back to the hotel to change for a sight-seeing trip of the historic old fort and mosque at Lahore. Wow, did we learn lot in a short amount of time! We were only there for 24 hours but we covered a lot of ground! What a fascinating city!
In many ways Pakistan is like going back to India! Sights and sounds coming in the next post.