2007
12.25

7-Truck Yard - Car Mechanic Resting  Short Blog today:  Christmas Day was no different than any other day for the majority of Pakistanis and life went on as usual. After church, Shabir took me to a truck yard where I was fascinated to observe work on the different vehicles.  From complete rebuilding of the body, often using wood, to painstakingly disassembling the engine to putting on the final decorating touches – everything was taken care of here.  Young boys were instructed by their fathers in the art of truck repair and I have no doubt that Pakistani car mechanics rank among the finest in the world.

Since I had so many pictures, I pulled out this section of day 7 to stand alone.  Enjoy.

2007
12.25

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT CHRISTMAS MORNING AT A HEAVILY GUARDED CHRISTIAN CHURCH. ABOUT WORK AT THE TRUCK QUARTERS, A MOST UNUSUAL WEDDING PHOTO, AND A WHISKEY-CHRISTMAS PARTY AT ALBERT AND CLARE’S HOUSE WITH A SHORT HISTORY LESSON ON THE   PARTITION OF PAKISTAN.

Attending church, particularly around Christmas in a predominantly Muslim country, is something special.  I had this experience in Jordan at the brink of the war with Iraq in 2003 and now again in Pakistan.  Shabir picked up Nicola and myself and then Albert and Clare for the English service.  Several services were going to be held throughout the day, but this one seemed the most meaningful for us.  Albert and Clare, just like anyone else we have been dealing with, of course, speak fluently English.

The church was guarded by a group of armed soldiers and everyone going in was searched.  Anti-Christian violence is known but at the time we went, in 2007, was not something very common.  As I am writing this blog in 2012, I cannot say this anymore.  The ever stricter enforcement of the so-called blasphemy laws and the Arab Spring have made things much worse for Christians living in the Muslim world and Pakistan is at the forefront of persecution of Christians and violence.

I can’t say that I remember anything about the sermon itself.  But I remember a few things which add up to the overall picture:  The priest was black; if I remember right he was from Africa.  The congregation was a mix of Europeans and Asians, mainly people who worked in Islamabad.  A manger was set up at the front of the church and rather kitschy posters of Saints, Jesus and Mary were stung around the courtyard on clotheslines, for sale.  The most memorable part of the sermon was the pitiful choir, lead by a man on a guitar.  But the guitar was not able to mask the fact that most of the choir members were off pitch.  I would have liked to join them, but was too shy to ask.

After the service Nicola and I split up.  She had business to take care of with Saeed and I headed to the truck yard with Shabir – pictures of that are posted separately.  On the way to the truck yard, we stopped at a shop of one of Shabir’s uncles.  Of course, we were immediately invited for tea and within a few minutes I was offered to look at the uncle’s treasured wedding picture which he carried around in his wallet.  It showed the signs of 25 years of wear and tear.  I kept looking at it and looking and could not make out how this could be a wedding picture:  About 25 men were lined up in three rows, some in the front row holding guns.  But where was the bride?!  Nowhere, of course.  The women were separated from the men and the memory Shabir’s uncle carried on was that of his male friends attending, not that of him and his wife…

And speaking of women, an important purchase had to be made and we took the remaining time of the afternoon to search for it:  An authentic Pakistani Burqa.  I had to have one if for nothing else but to allow my students the experience of looking through one of them at least once in their lives.  We were directed to a young shop owner who by hand tailored all of the burqas; a real burqa fashion-designer as Shabir called him.  He embellished the burqas with intricate designs – one of the ways small children will recognize their moms, other than by their voices…   A burqa-fashion designer, who would have thought…

In the early evening hours we reconnected at Albert and Clare’s house for dinner.  There was a Christmas tree.  A real one and decorated like it would be anywhere in the Western world.  Albert was most important, I think, as the legal supplier of alcoholic beverages for Saeed and other Muslim friends who showed up for the event.  But perhaps, I am not doing their friendship full justice.

Albert and Clare are most interesting people with a most tragic past.  They are survivors and victims of the so-called Partition – the founding of Pakistan in 1948.  During that event, millions of people migrated.  Hindus left Pakistan to join their brothers in religion in India.  About 5 million of them.  Muslims left India to unite with their brothers in religion in the newly-founded Pakistan.  Murder and mayhem raged for years and the atrocities are too horrible for many to be faced.  Over one million of innocent migrants lost their lives.  Albert was from a family in Delhi, India.  Much of his property and wealth was there.  But at the time of partition he found himself tending to his music shop (selling pianos and other classical instruments) in Peshawar.  He stayed in the Pakistani part of the divide and I wonder how often he has regretted that decision.  Under Muslim rule in Pakistan, there was no more need for classical instruments.  His shop closed.  Under Hindu rule in India, his property was ceased.  He lost everything.  He and his wife now live in a modest, small apartment.  Both are of retirement age.  Their children have emigrated to Canada and both Albert and Clare are glad to know them to be safe and prosperous.  I wish I had asked them a lot more questions, but it seemed inappropriate to tie them up too much on this Christmas day and to pry them for all this personal history.

The evening passed with lively conversations, lubricated by lots of whiskey, and loads of good food.  Shabir our driver is the only who did not drink. Not because he is the driver, but because he takes his religious prohibition against alcohol seriously.  I admire that, particularly as he is surrounded by easy access to it.  And so went another day in Pakistan.  Good night.