Well, a fake Jamaican took every last dime with that scam; It was worth it just to learn from sleight-of-hand

Day Seven: Isloo
A cold/flu swept through our family and thus delayed our Taxilla plans. We did, however, have enough energy for another shopping outing at the Nomad Art Gallery (prized for its fixed-price arts and crafts) and Supermarket (prized for its bargain-friendly goods). It was instructional, as always, to observe the various negotiating tactics of our family members. TP and KG were clearly outsiders and thus were not permitted to purchase items directly because they would likely be hosed. LB and I have caveman-level speaking skills in Urdu, so we were pretty much lumped into the same category. Therefore, we silently browsed, poked around, and handled everything and once something caught our interest, we walked away. We notified our host shopper of our desires. And then the native host shopper took over. The bargaining strategy commenced in one of three ways:

*Diplomacy - my aunt favored this tact and would use a combination of logic, persuasion, and patriotism to get a good deal.

*Supply-and-demand - my father would approach the first vendor, name his price, and when the vendor didn't immediately concede, he would put the item down and stroll over to the neighboring vendor selling the identical stuff and possibly the next until someone got wise and gave him what he wanted at the price he wanted.

*Bossy boots - my cousin employed all of her decades of shopping experiences to bully the salesperson into complying with her demands. She would gather the items, engage in a brief negotiation, and once the clerk bagged the items, she gathered our stuff and laid the smack down, tossed the money she thought was sufficient to cover the price on the counter, and strutted away from the pleading merchant and out of the shop in a flurry of meaningless agreements, head-shaking, and dismissive hand-waving. Worked like a charm every time.

It always cracks me up at how I wouldn't blink at paying $30 for a beautiful, hand-made embroidered pillow cushion in the U.S., but I balk at paying more than $3 for the same thing in Pakistan.

Alas, brought down by body-aches and sniffles, we cut our shopping trip early and returned home for lunch and rest before attending my cousin's nikkah. Under the tents, we were served halva puri - a mouth-watering melange of sweet halva (cream of wheat), spicy chanay (chick peas), and hot, puffy puris (light-as-air flat bread). We washed this down with the delicious pink Kashmiri Chai which, with its salt, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, almonds, and pistachios, was practically a meal in itself.

Lesson of the Day: It's difficult for a salesperson to resist money out in the open, ready to hand over if only the price was reduced by 50%.


Advertising looks and chops a must, NO BIG HAIR!

Day Six: Isloo
We were all too exhausted and wrung out from our trip to Lahore so our early departure for Murree was replaced with a late departure for antique and faux-antique shopping for the boys and beauty day at my aunt's Depilex Salon for the girls. While one aunt got her "hair did," LB and I got the fastest but still incredibly intricate mehndi on our hands in anticipation of the upcoming wedding. It dried in minutes and the color was nice and dark. With time to spare, LB convinced me to try out threading. The threading itself didn't hurt as much as I thought it would because the trained professional worked quickly and efficiently and left not a splotch or mark on my brow that usually follows a waxing treatment. What did make me squirm and eventually tear up, however, was her assistant's attempt to hold my eyelid closed and stretched out to pull it away from the brow for easier lining. She was pressing down so hard that I half expected to see my eyeball plucked out of its socket and jammed onto her thumb, rather like the plum after Jack Horner had his way with the pie.

After Umber picked us up for a quick but fruitless shopping spree, we returned home. Umber had raided her safety deposit box to find jewelry for us to wear to match our outfits. Gold versus diamonds . . . choices choices, ah me. Upon hearing that my neglected toes had no polish on them, Dania treated me to a home pedicure which beats any pedicure I have ever had. Ever. She sat me down, brought over a tub filled with warm, soapy water, and proceeded to scrub, trim, file, and paint my nails with a gentle but firm touch that was neither ticklish nor rough. I tipped her by foisting ZP on her while I ran downstairs for a lovely lunch of bindhi. Heh.

We stopped over at my Nanaji's house for a brief visit in the afternoon and revisited old photographs and old stories. After some much needed naps, we scrambled to get dressed and attend our own joint Valima-slash-family reunion at the Islamabad Golf Club. To Dad's dismay, the club's strict dress code forbade him from wearing a shalwar kameez without a vest so he had to settle for a boring old suit instead. The rest of the evening was spent greeting family members, soon-to-be family members, and friends while the kids ran around like maniacs on the wide, manicured lawns outside.

Lesson of the day: The secret ingredient to the perfect pedicure is love.


Oh thunder road, sit tight take hold

Day Five: Ladian and Bhurch
With monsoon season over and mosquito season beginning, ZP and I were treated to a few unwelcome bites through the night which resulted in a tired, cranky, and itchy couple. After breakfast, we quietly boarded the coaster and joined the morning rush hour traffic to get through Lahore. The farther away we got from Lahore, the clearer our stuffed up noses became. Everyone was subdued on the smooth stretch of the Motorway but once we hit the Grand Trunk Road, which was jacked up beyond belief, our calm serenity gave way to head-clutching, teeth-rattling, and body-aching. The morning chai caught up to us and I can guarantee you that tremendously bumpy roads plus uncomfortably full bladder equals torture. Desperate for a bathroom break, we pulled into a shabby gas station along the side of the road, rolled up our pants, wrapped up our loose ends of clothing, and hit the alaturkas.

Of course, bathroom breaks deserve bathroom-themed stories and so my mother regaled us with a tale of the first time LB came to Pakistan. The night before the flight back to the States, baby LB was not feeling well and ran through the available stash of diapers. Upon boarding the PIA airplane, my father asked the flight attendant for some diapers which they kept on board for the passengers. She replied that once the flight took off, she would come back with some. So he waited and she never showed up. He tracked her down and asked for them again. This time, she said, "oh, we are out." Apparently, the stewardesses used to steal the snacks and drinks and supplies and Dad knew this so he gave her this choice: "either you bring me the diapers or else I will use the cloth headrests on the backs of these chairs as diapers." Two minutes later, she showed up with the diapers. Heh.

That story is a nice segue to the introduction of the villages we were entering where neat rows of hand-pressed manure lined the outside of some of the buildings, don't you think? Some how, our Lahori driver managed to navigate the huge twelve-seater coaster down the winding, narrow alleys of the Bhurch and Ladian without a single scrape. We were greeted by various family members at the entrance of the residential section and while Mom, Aunty Farhat, and I were driven to the house in style in an air-conditioned car, the rest of the group hoofed it, followed closely by curious children in various states of dress and undress. I took advantage of my delicate condition and immediately usurped someone's bed and took a nap while everyone else paid their visits, ate their elevenses, and pretty much followed the same route that we followed during our last visit.

ZP was introduced to motorcycles, goats, parakeets, and cows, cows, cows. With his exponentially expanding vocabulary, he was getting quite chatty and was proud to point out all of the things he could identify ("beep beep, car" in particular was a constant refrain). When we finally wrestled him down to release the birdcage and take a nap, we enjoyed a spicy lunch at Gul Nawaz's house before loading back into the coaster for the remainder of the journey back to Islamabad. GT Road got a bit better the closer we got to the city but the traffic, construction, and poor road conditions still took its toll. Some amazing and much needed hot sweet-and-sour chicken soup, delicious and hearty haleem (I had about three servings of it), and soothing mint tea greeted us upon our much delayed arrival home. Complete collapse followed.

Lesson of the day: Creative threats to airline personnel can go a long way.


She's alone in the new pollution She's got a paradise camouflage

Day Three: Isloo
Delirious from lack of sleep, TP and I stayed behind while LB and KG took a tour of Islamabad highlights: the Rose and Jasmine Gardens, the museum, an informal cricket match, the flower monument, Said Pur Village. You'll have to entreat them to get the details on the excursions. I don't have much to report either because I spent the morning trying to catch up on sleep but the constant but well-meaning interruptions thwarted my efforts. Really, the only noteworthy events of this day include Aunty Nusrat's famous Burmese Oo No Kauk Sway, watching ZP's "uncle" Rafay (age 4) take him under his wing and teach him how to play mini-golf, having some gup shup with Aunty Tukki and Uncle Zak about the finer points of cricket while sipping tea in the upstairs lounge, and going to Daman-e-Koh for a view of Islamabad at night. TP counted the trip up Margalla Hills a success because along the way we caught sight of a family of wild boar, jackals, and monkeys. [note: family did not consist of all of these animals; only the wild boars were family while the jackals and monkeys were neighbors and drifters]

Since Day Three was pretty uneventful, I'll go ahead and throw in Day Four.

Day Four: Lahore
Pile one grandfather, one uncle, one aunt, one of each parent, one sister, one brother-in-law, one husband, one son, a driver, a valet, and me into a coaster and you've got the makings of some fine comedy (hopefully not as dysfunctional as the crew of "Little Miss Sunshine"). We jumped onto the smooth-as-silk, three-lane M2 Motorway and headed west to Lahore. Crossing the river Jhelum, we were given brief history and geography lessons along the way. Vast salt ranges drew stories of Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha. ZP was fantastic the whole way; perhaps relishing the fact that he was not strapped into a car seat and was free to lap-jump at his pleasure and leisure.

Upon arriving in Lahore, our first stop was at the Naval Mess to unpack, have some refreshing cold drinks, and regroup. We began our tour of Lahore, world-renowned for its tradition of fine food and love of cuisine, with, of all things, a quick stop at McDonald's. I have not darkened a door of a McDonald's in ten years. If not for the need for speed, I would not have done so this time. But we needed to fuel ourselves for the day ahead and this was the fastest option. Rest assured, those of you who crave certainty and familiarity, the burgers and fries at the Macca's in Pakistan are just the same as those in the US.

Lahore Fort, a masterpiece of Mughal architecture, allowed us to stretch our legs, admire the mosaics and gilt, and pose for pictures on the canons. Badshahi Mosque, another prime example of the Mughal era grandeur, loomed majestically over us. The last time I was here, LB's friend came with us and the combination of sizzling summer heat, ultra-fizzy soda, and running up the steps of the mosque ended with arms crossed over the belly and "Aunty . . . I don't feel so . . . BLECH!" Shalimar Gardens were in a state of neglect and did not have the same impact as it did years ago when the grass was lush, the flowers clearly tended to, and fountains actually clean and operating rather than in disrepair with the water coated in a thick layer of green moss.

Other stops included the Lahore Railway Station, Kim's Gun, and the Wazir Khan Hammam, but the chaotic traffic and unbelievable pollution took its toll on us and the rest was a blur. I did not recall how bad the air quality was in Lahore but the blanket of haze that covered the city by the late afternoon was insufferable. The breath-taking wonders of the morning's tour of the gorgeous and intricate architecture gave way to the evening's literally breath-taking smog that drove us back to our quarters, exhausted and congested. Our plans to dine at the brothel-turned-restaurant Cuckoo's Nest were exchanged for a quiet dinner at the Naval Mess with various family members dropping by. We gratefully had an early night to rest our weary bones after the hectic day.

Lesson of the day: Consider taking a cue from the Asians and don a face mask to filter some of the pollution entering your nasal passages when trekking through Lahore.


A little spending money, money to burn, money that you did not necessarily earn

Day Two: Isloo
We were compelled to sleep in this morning because SOME little toddler seemed to think that it was the middle of the afternoon instead of midnight and wanted company. Thankfully, we had brought our portable DVD player and some Wiggles DVDs so between that and the miniature plastic golf set my cousin Dania thoughtfully brought out, ZP was occupied. Between the energetic baby, the overeager roosters, and the high-strung neighboring dogs and/or jackals, little sleep was had that night. Luckily, a late breakfast awaited us and we still had time to eat, wash up, and meet my cousin Umber for a shopping trip to the exotically named "Supermarket." My cousin Bilal had very generously given his sisters, LB, and me his first salary's paycheck (I always thought the tradition for when someone gets a new job was that he/she had to treat the family to ice cream, but cold hard cash is good too!) so we had plenty of money to burn.

Our shopping excursion began with the small stuff: postcards, khussas, and bootleg DVDs that upon a later viewing we discovered had crystal clear pictures but no sound. I guess you get what you pay for (in this case: $2.00). After TP bought some paintings (we'll see if those ever make it up on our walls) and KG bought some curly-toed khussas (we'll see if those ever make it onto his feet), we all adjourned to Umber's husband's office conveniently located right above the stores to let our feet rest, admire the view of Margalla Hills, and quench our thirst with ultra-fizzy, glass-bottled soft drinks. Another stop at our favorite store Khaadi and then back home for lunch and naps.

The evening was spent celebrating my cousin Saba’s birthday. Aunty Tukki laid out a buffet of Chinese food. Normally, I don't like Chinese food, but (a) this is only true in the U.S. because time and time again I've found that Chinese food elsewhere is invariably better and (b) nothing beats home-cooking!

Lesson of the day: make the DVD shop test out your DVD before you shell out your hard-earned money for an illegal copy of an artist's work that in your home country you are honor-bound and paid to protect.

*We interrupt your regularly scheduled travelogue to present the following poll with no commercial interruptions*

BLOG POLL 2007: Sonogram Day.
Is Baji going to have a bonnie wee lassie or another scalliwag boy? Vote and find out!