Saturday, March 13, 2010

that-a-way, lady

pointing the way for prayer - on my hotel desk

My first travel upgrade - from a normal room to a "Lady Avari Suite." In addition to being on a ladies-only wing of the hotel, I received a box of cookies, a cake (yes a cake), fresh flowers, and a platter of fruit. That's not all - I also received bath salts, complimentary face cream (for sagging skin), and a red silk kimono with pink satin slippers. From this "cocooned" suite, I have a window that overlooks the pool, which is always filled with men swimming and sunbathing. Hmph.

lahore's bad week

DAWN headlines on 13 march

I'm in Lahore, the cultural heart of Pakistan. That's the spot of land nestled between China, India, Afghanistan, and Iran.

I'm in Lahore because I took a consultancy with FIRMS Project - a USAID-funded project which is tasked with:
developing a dynamic, internationally competitive, business sector in Pakistan that is increasing exports, employing more people and producing higher value added products and services.

I am working on the Market Readiness Program - providing training and support to women-owned businesses in the garment, jewelry and home decor sectors in Multan and Karachi.

After numerous delays because of visa issues (a dark and dingy Pakistani Consulate office in Hotel Diplomate in Kampala, a leap of faith in Fed-Exing my passport to DC, the freak snow storm that delayed it, and one Officer McTernan who held onto my passport for a long time for no good reason), I finally got the stamp and boarded the plane... Only to land in Lahore during the worst week in recent history. I arrived on Wednesday. Last week, Pakistani intelligence captured the leader of the TTP in Karachi (that's Tehrak-i-Taliban, the Pakistani version). On Monday, in retaliation, a suicide car bomber rammed into a police interrogation building in Lahore.

After a routine security briefing on Thursday in the FIRMS office, I felt fairly doubtful that I'd come to understand what "lockdown" even meant. After all, some friends were silly enough to compare suicide bombs to that old adage about lightening never striking the same place twice. Then, just as I was in a meeting thinking about lunch on Friday, the PA came on and twin suicide bombs in the Cantonment area of Lahore were announced. Lockdown = check.

I didn't hear anything, feel anything or see anything, other than concern on the local staff's faces as they called their families and tried to resume work. One woman brought over menus for lunch - Subway, McDonald's, or KFC. The Subway man still delivered our lunch, we just weren't allowed to leave the building.

I finally made it back to my hotel around 8 pm, and was once again contemplating food when I received a text message from the office reporting another bomb blast in Moon Market. And then two more, and then more. The sound of an SMS started to make me flinch. I ate my room service - red snapper, mashed potatoes, red carrots and French apple pie. I finally fell asleep, fitfully, and spent my Saturday indoors - mostly in my hotel room, locked down once again until further notice. So much for kurta shopping.