|Women in scarves, a sight more common in Konya|
|The weekly Sama ceremony in Konya|
|A model of what a dervish’s room looked like|
|Local delicacy – Iskandar Kebab|
|Women in scarves, a sight more common in Konya|
|The weekly Sama ceremony in Konya|
|A model of what a dervish’s room looked like|
|Local delicacy – Iskandar Kebab|
If the Blue Mosque met my expectations, Ayasofia far exceeded them. So steeped in the history is the place and so different it is from everything I have seen until now that I couldn’t help being mesmerized by it all. Where else would you get to see Quranic inscriptions side by side with mosaic paintings of the Virgin Mary and Archangel?
|Where calligraphy of the word Allah coexist with a mosaic painting of Archangel: the main hall in Aya Sofia|
Bascilla Cistern, a Bosphorus cruise and a day at Topkapi rounded up our weekend. After a long day in Topkapi, we came out and sat on one of the benches in the courtyard between Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque. My friend needed help in looking for a key in her bag so I put my bag under my left leg and the 60 seconds I spent in looking for a key in her backpack, someone came and stole my bag from under my leg! Yes, there I was, in Istanbul… with no money, no credit or debit card, no passport, no cell phone and no proof of identification, it was like I didn’t exist any longer. After the initial panic, I went to the tourism police office where a gentleman who could speak English refused to believe me; he actually had the audacity to treat me as a criminal and asked me repeatedly if I am sure that I have not forgotten my bag somewhere and am now crying that it was stolen. The policeman was rude, misogynist and quite adept at blaming the victim – just like the policemen back home. After a big hassle, I got the address of a nearby police station where I could file an official report. The policemen at the station desk knew rudimentary English and told us to wait. While waiting he asked us where we were from and when we said we were from Pakistan, he sang JeevayPakistan and said he was doing it to cheer me up. I was looking at him in a state of shock. Never in my wildest imagination had I ever thought that one day, every penny I had on me would be stolen in a foreign land and I will have to hear an impromptu rendition of Jeevay Pakistan in a police station. Truth is certainly stranger than fiction.
|Some of them very farigh Turkish policemen.|
The next day was spent at the embassy getting a new passport made. They charged me 168 dollars – which is kind of ironic because I was robbed of every single penny and had to borrow money from friends for everything. I later learned that the embassies are supposed to help such victims and have a special fund with which they pay for your passport and stuff. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I am still grateful to the embassy staff for being courteous and making me a replacement passport the very same day.
|The usual crime scene: the tram that travels from Taksim Square through the length of Istaklal Street|
|Corniche, situated in the heart of the city|
|The appetizers at Sofra|
|Varieties of salmon|
|Discussing food, loving food|
|making cucumber balls|
|Scooping them out of calcium water|
|Sorbet making with liquid nitrogen|
|The simulators where Etihad pilots practice, I so wanted to get in one but they were not free|
|Calum Laming with the group|
|The photographs of Etihad graduates – ranging from flight attendants to chefs to food & beverage managers.|
|The flight attendants during training in an Economy class cabin model|
|The super private First Class seat|
|The Business Class|
|For First Class Passengers|
|For the Business Class|
|For Economy Class|
|Training room for emergency situations|
|And we have a model amongst us!|
For those who want to try their luck with LivEY, they should check out the LivEY facebook page, who knows, you could be part of the next group.
PS: Before anyone goes on to judge me for keeping my distance from messy toddlers, they must read this horror story from hell.
If you happen to be a single Pakistani woman traveling on your own, chances are you will get asked questions by fellow travelers, random strangers and at times by the flight attendants that may vary from harmless chit chat to something that would rival a Spanish inquisition.
Once I sat next to a guy with the biggest cowboy hat I have ever seen. He started his inquisition with a Namaste, assuming I am an Indian. Such cultural sensitivity from a cowboy was endearing so I smiled and said hello. If I had known that it would unleash a torrent of questions, I would have stayed quiet.
He asked me what part of India I am from and when I told him that I am actually a Pakistani, he was shocked. His first question was, “You are not wearing a veil, and won’t you be persecuted for not wearing one?”
When I tried explaining that Pakistan is a jumble of contrasts and while in some parts of the country, it is but mandatory to cover yourself from top to bottom, I am spared from that in Karachi but that wasn’t enough and he jumped onto the next question. He asked me if I was traveling for the first time, (It was a Manila to Bangkok flight) and when I told him that I have traveled before, he came to the conclusion that I must have an extra ordinarily liberal father. He then asked me what is it that my dad does for a living. When I told him that he works for a bank, he could not believe it. Apparently my fellow Texan traveler thought my father had to be a doctor to allow me to wander off and that bankers cannot be liberal, at least they are not in America.
On a Dubai – London flight, I had the misfortune of sitting next to a sardarni Aunty. Before I could actually buckle up, she fired the first one, “you are traveling alone?”. To my affirmative answer, she asked me why. I stopped trying to find the seat belt (I later found out that she was sitting on my seat belt) and said, “Because I am going back to college.”
The Aunty was more persistent and asked me again, “but why?” and I decided not to answer that one. Barely two minutes had passed and she got restless again. She asked me if I am married or not. I thought this would be a good opportunity to ask her to let go of my seat belt so I replied, “No, I am not married and would you care to get up a little so that I can retrieve my seat belt.” She got up, not because I asked her to, but because she was shocked that I was an unaccompanied girl, studying abroad who is not even married.
She then asked me with expressions bordering on pity, “You are all by yourself, no friends either.” When I told her that there is absolutely no one I know who is traveling with me she said, “But I am sure someone will pick you up at the airport?” Although no one was coming to pick me up, I said yes, there would be someone who is going to pick me up. I thought that was the end of the conversation, but aunty had other ideas. She pushed her elbow in my ribs and asked me with a wink, “so who is coming to pick you up, a boyfriend or a gora boyfriend?”
Once, I got asked the same set of questions by an aunty from Faisalabad, who then lectured me on the perils of traveling alone and why I should always drag a mehram with me to wherever I go. When I pointed out that I was traveling for work and it would be impossible for me to take anyone with me, she gave me a disapproving look and said, “That is why I am against girls who work. It disrupts the whole system.”
And so the cycle of questions goes on; there can be the standard ‘you are traveling alone? Why? Where are you off to and why are you single – are you even allowed to stay single in Pakistan? What is your caste, where do you work, how much do you earn, and are you allowed to vote?
These type of questions or variations of them are often thrown off one after another but they are each time asked with different expressions and in different tones and accompanied by different gestures, depending up on who is asking them. Is it too much to ask to be left alone by the world and hope to travel in peace for sanity’s sake?
Originally published in Dawn.com
I never knew that a bottle of Tylenol had the power to terrify the living daylights out of you but if they are in a hand sheathed in blue rubber glove along with your passport, even the bravest of all would tremble a little.
I have heard stories about racial profiling before but it was the first time I actually encountered it. I flew in Netherlands last week and suffered one indignity after another at Schiphol airport. I was the only desi person in the non EU passport line. When I presented my passport, the immigration officer asked me to step aside and disappeared with my passport. All other people in the lane were Americans who were breezed through the immigration. After about 15 minutes, the immigration officer returned with my passport and asked me one gallactically stupid question after another. I think there is a universal code that every government will hire the dumbest people to work at the immigration counters. After a while I was so pissed that I told him that I will not respond to any of his inane question because his country’s embassy has cleared my visa, if he has issues he should refuse me entry and inform my hosts that he was unable to do so on whatever grounds and I will take the first flight back. I think he has had his fun with me so he decided to stamp my passport and let me go. He obviously was not threatened by my outburst.
After getting my luggage, I was passing through the green channel thinking that my ordeal was over when a policewoman stopped me and asked me if I had anything to declare. I told her that I had nothing and started dragging my suitcase when she put her hand on my arm and asked to come into an area where there were a few other people – all Asians, from Jordanians to Indonesians to Sri Lankans – standing with the contents of their suit cases wide open sporting harassed looks. She asked me to put my suitcase on the counter and open it. In that split second I realize how humiliating it is for an adult to realize that the other person, especially an authority figure, is not willing to believe his or her word. I opened my suitcase and she wore those dreaded blue gloves and looked through my stuff. Even while she was going through the my luggage I had this look about me which said that you are making me go through this tribulation but I am clean and you are just wasting my time when she got hold of a packet and asked me what is inside. Call me a typical desi paindoo, but I do travel with tea bags if I know that I would be away from home for longer than two weeks. In that pack, I had my tea bags and a bottle of Tylenol, an over the counter painkiller. She asked me to give her my passport and disappeared again with the bottle of Tylenol, teabags and my passport to check if these items are allowed to pass through the customs. I wanted to scream – hello, this is Amsterdam, the weed capitol of the world. People would want to take stuff out of the country, not bring it in by putting it in teabags. She was only gone for 5 minutes and she did apologize for putting me through all the trouble and helped me pack everything back, but the experience was extremely traumatic and those 5 minutes that I waited for my passport were perhaps the longest five minutes of my life.
I have travelled to Netherlands a few times in the past and immigration was always swift and efficient. I don’t know if I should blame the increasing paranoia in Europe against the Muslims for it or crazy people like the good ol’ panty bomber, the Nigerian who attempted to detonate an explosive in his underpants, on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day from Amsterdam for the special treatment that I got, but I do know that I am not the same person any longer. Once you experience that kind of fear, something inside you dies. Suffering indignity is definitely more harmful than facing a bullet, the harm is more long lasting.
I went to Islamabad earlier this month after a gap of over six months and a lot has changed in those six months.
The first shock I got was the landing announcement. When the stewardess announced that we were landing at the ‘Benazeer Bhutto Shaheed International Airport’ instead of good ol’ Islamabad International Airport, I did wonder for a very brief moment if I am disembarking at the desired airport.
The second shock was more visual and mind numbingly brutal. Islamabad airport now looks more like a venue of lucky Irani circus – complete with pictures of a variety of clowns and a tent – rather than an international airport. Instead of images of elephants, lions and midgets, we get plastered with faces of Bhutto dynasty and of course erstwhile senator, current supremo and all time lothario, Mr. Zaradri.
The first time it happened, I took it in stride. After all, if there are 16 twenty something- college going girls in a room and you announce to them that you are going away for a snow covered weekend to the Scottish highlands, it is but natural that they scream, “How Romantic,” but when normal adult people (men and women both) go gaga over holiday destinations and tell you how incredibly romantic that particular place is, you just look at them in wonder (at least I do) and think if they have lost all their marbles (or if they had any marbles to begin with)?
I remember the first time I went to Paris. I went there on a longish bank holiday weekend (those who live in UK or have lived in UK in the past know how very often you have bank holidays) and was looking forward to doing all touristy things like taking a cruise on River Seine, a walk across Avenue des Champs- Élysées and visiting Louvré Museum and Notré Dam Cathedral. Before I went there, I called my sister who was living in a shit hole called Swindon at that point in time and the minute she heard the word Paris she went into a state unadulterated glee and shrieked, “PARIS!” and went on and on about how romantic the place is and how wonderful it will be for me and maybe I will find someone to fall in love with. A friend back home literally broke down in tears and said that I have to do all things romantic on her account in Paris. I was flabbergasted at that request but I decided not to question that statement at that point. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is ok, in fact it is better than ok. It’s just not what everyone has painted it to be. But then what place turns out like its post card version with a promised dash of romance on the side?
Those of us who grew up on the staple diet of Hindi cinema in the 1990s do harbor similar romantic thoughts about the whole country of Switzerland. I mean Switzerland is a fine country if you appreciate good cheese, good chocolate, sheep, cows and United Nations, but romantic is not a word I would ever use in connection with Switzerland. In any case, if you are a student traveling on a shoestring budget, all romance will fly out of the proverbial window while you are trying to manage expenses in a city like Geneva.
Venice, perhaps, was the biggest let down of all the supposedly romantic cities. I mean everyone I know went bonkers the minute I said the word Venice. It was neither magical nor romantic. It turned out to be smelly, over priced and over crowded, in short, totally oversold to the tourists.
How in the heaven’s name can a place be romantic? A place can be beautiful, aesthetically magical and stupendously out of this world but romantic? Are people supposed to go to these romantic destinations with their loved ones only? What if they are eternally single like me? Are people supposed to fall in love with random strangers in these ‘romantic’ destinations? According to the film industries across the globe, strangers do meet and fall in love in such places, but how many people actually get to live their version of ‘Before Sunrise’ where they seek and find self-fulfillment and self-discovery through a significant other? There is nothing wrong with the idea of finding romance at unexpected places and with unexpected people but why limit that idea to a particular city only? In my opinion, it’s not the place but the people and circumstances that are romantic.
In any case, I want all my readers to answer me honestly if they have fallen in love with someone while traveling/vacationing/holidaying. It does not have to be a so called romantic place, but I would love to know if it happens outside celluloid.