It was a sunny yet cool December day when the consul of the Pakistan Embassy gave me back my passport with the visa stamped on it after a brief course orientation and an overview about Pakistan. The said official travel authorization was for a 3-month course on Central Banking sponsored by the country’s central bank, known as the State Bank of Pakistan.
Despite the aggressive campaign from my close office peers for me not to go and wait for a much better opportunity, perhaps an Ivy League graduate school program in a developed country like the U.S., I still decided to push it through. I thought the course was meant for me as documentations were processed easily, like it was served to me on a silver platter even with just a year of government service!
The 8-hour travel to Karachi excluding the stopover in Bangkok was filled with excitement and drive but it was scary at the same time. The said trip was the first of its kind – it covered many “first times” in my life! As such, I thought it is incumbent on my part to put this down on paper while still extremely vivid in my mind. The many “first times” and amazing memories of what happened there were simply irresistible!
I was in my early tween when I disembarked from a Pakistan International Airline at the Karachi Airport in the wee hours (3:00 am local time) of the morning. A cool crisp winter air welcomed me which somehow brought a sense of comfort and made me feel better. Perhaps it was my conviction which pushed me to go on even if the thought of traveling solo seemed daunting and a bit frightening. As part of my preparations, I took the initiative of learning few Urdu words to boost my confidence in dealing and communicating with the locals, despite Pakistan being one of the largest English speaking population in the world.
While approaching the immigration line, I thought I was like a character in one of the tales of the Arabian Nights. Pakistani men and women in their shalwar kameezes and duppatas ( a huge 2.5 meter shawl) and powerful deep set eyes heavy with kajal (a dark eyebrow pencil) perhaps, some of them were curiously staring at my “out of this world” attire and looks being a foreigner in their place! I have seen Indian and Pakistani people before but being in their homeland for the first time —the ambience was entirely different from home.
A smiling Grey-haired man in his 50’s wearing an all white shalwar accompanied by an aide holding a white card with my name on it was very sure I was the person he’s waiting for. At first I was skeptical to go near them because I was expecting a lady staff would pick me up. The man greeted me with a warm handshake, made some confirmations and thereafter directed me to where the white van was waiting for us.
The trip to one of the hostels where participants were billeted was a 45-minute long and a nerve-wracking one. I recall I was so still and silent inside the car trying to compose myself and praying hard that nothing bad will happen to me. It was only when the car entered a gated 2-storey sturdy and concrete building with the hostel’s name inscribed on the front porch, that I felt so relieved. The man who met me at the airport turned out to be the State Bank’s Hostel Administrator, whom I eventually called “Chacha” which means “Uncle” in Urdu.
Chacha guided me to my room, a shared one, which I actually loved because I dread sleeping alone. My lady roommate was a co-participant from Seychelles who arrived a day ahead of me. It was good she was in deep sleep that she didn’t even notice when I walked in and when my luggage was brought in.
The centralized heater made the room temperature more comfy and cozy, battling the winter chills outside the room. The bed with clean white sheets helped my back rest on it, and while contemplating on what had happened thinking about my parents and siblings back home, I didn’t realize my eyes began to close, making me fall into a deep slumber accompanied by a “sweet dream” assuring me that the forthcoming days and months would be bright and worth remembering!
Indeed, this journey marked some “first times” in my life ! Till next issue….See ya’ll!