Thursday, May 28, 2009

Life in Lahore goes on :)

All international news channels are full of articles about recent attack happened in Lahore.

There is no need to be silent about what happened. We would like the guests of this blog to know the point of view of international visitors of Lahore who've lived and worked in this city for 2 months.

AIESEC interns, Laura and Matthias, working for SNGPL, have witnessed the blast from their office and shared their perspectives with BBC News.

The blast completely shook our office building. There is another building in front of us and the force was so great we thought that building had been blown up.

We went outside and saw a massive white ring of smoke in the sky. Within minutes there were police, all the streets were blocked and emergency vehicles were coming in.

People close by just ran away, others were heading towards the scene. No-one knew exactly where it happened because there was so much dust and smoke in the air that it covered the whole region.

Office building where Laura and Matthias are working is located 700m away from yesterday attack's site. Right after the explosion they were kept inside the building, later on were evacuated.

They reached home safely in the afternoon. AIESEC interns' house in Lahore is located in a calm and posh area on the other side of the city, and constantly guarded by security.

I met Matthias in the evening the same day near Lahore University where AIESEC office is located. He is feeling absolutely fine. "I even wanted to stay and complete my work, but colleagues insisted that we go home".

- Are you going to the office tomorrow?
- Of course, as usual, it will be a normal working day.

- Oh by the way, would you like to go to Shalimar Gardens with us tomorrow evening?
- Sure why not. If I am not playing squash, then I will definitely go.

On the way back home we bought mangoes and yogurt to make an evening dessert.

Life in Lahore goes on :-)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trip to the North of Pakistan

By Jana Bielikova

This story took place half a year ago, but I believe will be still interesting for the guests of this blog.


Shortly before Christmas, we have decided to go on a trip to the north of Pakistan. Our destination was Islamabad, Murree and Lahore.

Our trip has begun in a very interesting way. We were supposed to leave at 9am from the railway station in Karachi, but since no one expects the trains to be on time, out train was also 2,5 hrs late.

Before the departure, I was warned that it will be pretty bad, so I imagined my experience with travelling in the train in Russia. In the end, it was not so bad. It was a vagon full of foldable bunks, snorring people everywhere, open windows letting in a cold breeze, shouting salesmen and small kids, people throwing trash everywhere on the floor and everything in a nice 22,5hr package. :)

... A nice morning wake-up in a green coach train has its charm. All your body hurts, you smell like a hobo and the only prospect of a refreshment is the train toilet, where all of your fellow-travelers have been before. With a strong will and pants pulled up, I put the toothpaste and toothbrush in my pocket and went with a bottle of water to do my morning hygiene. But as soon as with the first tremor my toothpaste fell right into the toilet hole, I knew that the hygiene was over for that moment. :)

Read more about 8 days of Jana's entire trip at:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hot... extremely hot!

By Bogdan Radu

The title unfortunately refers to the Karachi weather in these last days, days of torture and pain, of sweat and sleep deprivation. When I arrived in Pakistan the transition was from 0′-10′ Celsius back in Romania to 25′-30′ Celsius and still I thought it was hot… I was wrong, way wrong. 30′ C is a reasonable temperature, even cozy compared to the genocide that is happening right now.

The temperature reaches 40′-45′ C on a daily basis, but still this is not all. Combine that temperature with an humidity index of 80% here in Karachi and it will result in a heat parameter of 50′-55′ Celsius – meaning that this is the actual temperature your body is feeling (Heat index). As you can see, since I started to experience such an extreme weather I started to become more updated with Meteorology as a science, otherwise a mystery to me.

I have AC at work so the office is quite pleasant, it’s like heaven compared with the outside hell; at home my room is “equipped” with a ceiling fan which makes the living there somehow bearable but thanks to the KESC – Karachi Electrical Supply Corporation the power goes off 4 to 5 times a day (1 hour each time). This kind of unhealthy jokes coming from KESC transforms my room into a huge oven, wakes me up in the middle of the night and even gets people out of their houses into the streets, on the roofs so they can have a good sleep at night (the picture is pretty revealing for this issue) transforming the sidewalks into huge open-air dorms.

Hot… extremely hot. I don’t even want to get into the mosquitoes discussion.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book review

By Rahab Njuguna, intern at JS Group, Karachi

At one point a really long time ago I read this book and watched the movie too. Both were awesome but the book was way better.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pakistan: first months, first thoughts

By Laura Jungmann

With the cusp of my first month behind me, I think it is about time to tell you all of my recent experiences in Pakistan. Upon my tardy arrival in Lahore, a cheerful crowd of AIESEC’ers, who welcomed me with posters declaring my arrival, open arms and cheerful faces, thankfully greeted me. The fact that I was almost 4 hours late, had me experiencing moments of panic during my flight- thoughts of arriving in Pakistan alone without any idea of where to turn, kept me occupied during the 2.5 hour flight from Dubai to Lahore.

As AIESEC Lahore, is based in the elite Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), I spent my first days within the LUMS bubble of a well kept campus, continuous electricity, air conditioning, and highly educated people. This time gave me ample opportunity to slowly acclimatize to the idea that I was now living in Pakistan (something which probably, even now, hasn’t quite sunk in yet).
Lahore is a city of atleast 10 million inhabitants, divided thoroughly into areas based very much upon socio-economic factors. LUMS, and our current apartment, are located in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), possibly the most prestigious place to live in all of Pakistan. With armed guards on each corner, wide streets, green grass, large homes, and neighbourhoods named after letters of the alphabet (ie A-block, B-block, C-block, etc…) it is easy to forget that poverty, lack of education, and gender inequality make up the majority of Pakistan’s some 172 million inhabitants. The reason I mention this, is because it is surprisingly easy to forget that one is in Pakistan at all, if one keeps well within the limits of the DHA…

Although it may sound rather ridiculous, my first important order of business upon arrival in Pakistan was a trip to the ‘H-block’ textile market. With clusters of stores filled with a heart racing overabundance of colourful fabrics, these stores cater solely to the female shopper, on her quest to find the perfect material for the newest addition to her collection of shalwar kameez. Once in these stores, it is difficult to subdue the feeling of complete sensory overload, as store attendants shove fabrics covered in multi-coloured stripes, flowers and patterns into one’s face, all the while attempting to outbid each other with prices and names. Thankfully, I had a trusted female companion, who knew the process of shopping for the perfect fabrics all too well. After 45 minutes, filled with picking, choosing, looking, locating and finally bargaining, we headed to the nearest tailor. He then turns these swaths of fabric (3 pieces for each shalwar kameez) into proper shalwar, kameez, and dopatta. Within a week, a great sense of pride filled me, as I sauntered down the lane, in my very own, outrageously multicoloured and patterned shalwar kameez.

As a women living in this Muslim country, it is not compulsory to cover my hair. It is however, highly recommended, or even completely necessary in some instances. When visiting a mosque it is expected that women cover their hair, and remove their shoes (just as it is completely necessary that men uncover their hair). I also find it a form of protection from the stares of some, to cover my hair in certain situations- especially when leaving the protection of the DHA or in rural areas. And I always carry my dopatta, or long rectangular piece of fabric, for the instances when I do feel it necessary to cover hair, or skin.

I suppose I should address the principal reason for my trip to Pakistan; work.
As a ‘media affairs and public relations’ intern for the nationalized Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd (SNGPL), I am solely responsible for the creation of the monthly newsletter, and partially responsible for the creation of this years’ Natural Gas Conservation Campaign. I work in a small team of about 7 people, all are open, friendly, helpful and extremely curious about my culture, upbringing and whether I am the ‘biased, xenophobic, violent, heretical and taboo- filled, archetypical American’ as the Pakistani’s see it. They have quickly come to identify me, simply as, ‘the German’.

Even with an apartment in ‘T-Block’, DHA, we are not protected from the electrical load shedding, heat, mosquitoes and smells of Pakistan. With an average of 16 hours of electricity per day (give or take), I find that the electricity continuously goes out at precisely those moments when one would need it most. This, I suppose, is nothing more, than the common ‘Murphy’s law’.
In Pakistan, in the summer months (which means March to November), it is HOT. Hot, as in, 45 Degrees C in the SHADE. Maybe you can imagine how hot it is inside our (as of yet) non-air-conditioned home. The only adjectives I could use to define this ever-increasing heat are ‘stifling’, ‘suffocating’ and ‘seething’- the alliteration was unintentional, I swear. Although everyone here tells me, that the long sleeves and pants covering one’s body ‘help’ with the heat, I am inclined to disagree completely, vehemently even, and often have the feeling of actually melting while walking down the street. I have become prejudiced against any sort of outdoor physical activity between the hours of 9:00 and 22:00, unless, of course, it is for a trip to the ice cream store. I even find myself dreading weekends, as we have air-conditioning at work.

With our first trip outside of Lahore, Matthias (Austrian housemate) and I, had the opportunity to go to Kasur, considered a ‘small town’ despite its 1 million inhabitants, located on the Indo-Pakistani border where Sufism, and Matt’s boss, were born. Before entering Kasur, we went to the outer-laying village where Matt’s boss has some family, we visited their home, made of mud, greeting their children with 'Asalamalaikum', a greeting from God, and drank the hot, sweet, milky chai so common to Pakistan.
Kasur proved to be a swelling city, full of people, motorcycles, rickshaws, bikes, cars, peddlers, beggars, small shops, beautiful mosques, and delicious eateries. After savouring the area’s delicatessen, fried fresh-water fish, I covered my hair, removed my shoes and entered the hot open spaces of the local mosque. I am again, and again, surprised by human kindness, not only having been permitted, but actually invited to enter the ‘male-only’ portion of the Mosque, to view the institution's pride and joy, some 1,000 year-old articles of its founder. Upon leaving, I was gifted a beautiful deep green wall hanging, with Quranic verses, written in beautiful, and colourful calligraphy.

With continuous speak about the Taleban’s threats, the PPP’s inefficiencies, murders, rapes, and inequalities, it may be hard for some to believe that I have only encountered kindness, curiosity, and heart warming welcomes during my time here. I look forward to experiencing more and more of this rich culture, these wonderful people, and Urdu, a language which I hope to learn in the coming months.
Also, a special thank you goes out to Kiki, for making this all possible!

Perceptions about Pakistan

Article published on Business Day Monday 11th May 2009, Arts and Living, Page 10.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

My Favorite Intern

Since June 2008, I’ve been living in Karachi in so called “MC mansion” or “Interns’ house”. It is located at Zamzama commercial lane, and welcomes all AIESEC people who are coming to internships in Karachi.

We are all from different countries: big and small; cold and hot; with the sea and not; located close by and far far away: Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Romania, Kenya, Slovakia, Rwanda, China, USA, Australia, and I myself come from Russia.

As I mentioned before, we all live in the same house, have fun together, and got to know each other quite well.

Now, Pakistan is not an easy place to live. The one can easily freak out from small surprises that we have every day: water starts coming from the floor of the flat; shower suddenly breaks and you can’t do anything, because you do not speak Urdu; power goes off for 1 hour exactly at the time when you’ve ironed your shirt from one side only and you have a very important meeting in the next 20 minutes; you wake up and see no water in the bathroom(and you need to go to the roof and fix the tank); and so on.

And this is just the house. When you go on the street, people are staring at you, taxi drivers rip off, then you suddenly notice that the nice cocktail shake in the street restaurant last night left you with a diarrhea for entire week; and it is so hot outside that you completely loose your mind.

Luckily, most of all internships are interesting, so work takes time and helps in general satisfaction, but again, you will get your portion of cultural shocks at the office as well.

I will let alone all cultural differences that you face living with people from 10 countries in the same house.

So now you can realize what kind of challenge you take when coming to Pakistan.

Working in MC, I am interacting with all interns coming to Karachi. I noticed that they behave very differently when it comes to adjustment to the culture, carrying on their working responsibilities, living with other people.

It started about 2 months back, when my flat mates asked me: “So Katya, who is your favorite intern?” I didn’t think of this question before and really liked it. So I really started to think – what kind of behavior I adore. This is how I came up with my criteria for a favorite intern.

“My favorite intern” should have the following 5 characteristics:

  1. Stay positive even when facing a difficult situation (e.g. at work), and do not complain all the time. It doesn’t mean that the person should not talk about these things at all – the point is to be solution-oriented and making steps to make situation better.
  2. Be independent enough to organize his/her own time if needed (e.g. during weekend)
  3. Respect house rules (make payments to the house pot, clean dishes, not to break things etc.)
  4. Make time to socialize with other people in the house
  5. Contribute to the well-being of others: e.g. sometimes to cook food for everyone, invite others to interesting places, share washing powder and milk, crack funny jokes etc.

Who do you think is my favorite intern? Feel free to have your say! (Please vote only if you know these people).

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Guest Diary

Article published in Business Day, 7th May, 2009 in Arts & Living, page 10

The greatest pleasure in the world

As in any big city around the world you can find everything starting from poverty and finishing with amazing luxury! Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan is not an exception.
Pakistan, as a country exists only ~60 years. In such short time of period Pakistan managed to gain reputation of suicide bombers, terrorist, Islamic fanatics and etc. I heard that in New York City they have more crime acts per day when anywhere else in the world… However today I’m going to leave aggressive topic aside and introduce you with the greatest pleasure in the world which is valued by all nations and in all historical times. Because of all kind of spices, fruits, seeds and other products we had wars and colonies appeared in different continents.
It is quite difficult to understand while being in your home country, that simple rules, behavior or attitude can not be applied here. For example, there are people who always take care of hygiene. Unless you will be eating all the time in the most expensive restaurants, you won’t get a fork and knife in casual street restaurant (a simple place for eating traditional dishes) – everything is eatable with your own hands and usually from the same plate. It is amazing how people still alive. The places where I’m going for lunch during my office time would not be even allowed to start business because of not existing hygiene. 6 months have past and I’m still alive and actually feel just great.

There are few types of restaurants (here I use word ‘restaurant’ as a word describing place for eating). First type is restaurants, expensive ones where you can feel like at home (or even better). In Lithuania sometimes is quite problematic to call waitress to be served or to give order, differently from Pakistan, where each table gets at least three people serving you. Sometime it gets annoying, but I believe that after one year I’ll be missing that back at home (despite that I’m not going to such restaurants too often). In these restaurants you can get any kind of food: traditional stakes, pastas, Chinese food, spicy and regular dishes, snacks, drinks (non-alcoholic), deserts and etc. Everything is served perfectly fine on white tablecloth, with A/C and etc.

Second type is family restaurants, the place where people can come with their family members, friends (I mean girls and boys), sit, and chat and have good time together. Probably this type of restaurants are the most common and most popular. You get tasty food for a reasonable price, there are always enough place to sit for big group of people and they can arrange order from other restaurant which is on the same street (for example if I want some specific juice which are not available in restaurant I am, they will arrange it for me without any additional charges). As per my knowledge, these types of restaurants are mostly crowded in evening after work or sunset when people have more free time and can relax. That is why these restaurants are located in busiest streets and they can offer table inside or outside. While passing one of these restaurants by car or by walk you will meet from 5 to (unlimited) number of guys and small kids running right after you being ready to jump under the car just to convince you to choose their restaurant. You can call them ‘club promoters’. Believe me or not, but their strategy is working (more or less). As soon as you put your soft ass on the plastic chair to be served – their job is done.

The third type of restaurants I wanted to introduce you with is with the lowest quality in terms of service and hygiene. I’m not proud to say that I’m going everyday to one of these restaurants to have my lunch.
The best they can offer is a traditional dish for really cheep price. Usually there are one or two guys serving tables. What is the most amazing for me is that they don’t need to write down your order – they always remember what and how much you ate.
Imagine a guy with very oily and dirty shalwar kameez, caring one rag with which he cleans all sh*t from the table (most probably all day long). With the same hand bring you a plate with your ordered food, taking with bred with hands and giving to you and etc. People are throwing cigarettes, small papers or any other useless stuff right on the floor or under the table (and its stays there till the end of the day). Homeless cats with broken tale or leg are common view as well. If you have a good mood today, you can throw a piece of chicken for poor animal.

In such places you will never see women. As once my colleague from office said: “they most probably would forget eating and keep staring at me”. I think she is right. In these restaurants are coming people from lower class, workers and etc.
Depending how strongly you want to feel Pakistan culture you can choose your lunch/dinner place.
Bone appetite!