Flying into cities in the Gulf states at night is an interesting experience. Unlike many countries, there are virtually no small towns between the massive cities. So, you will fly along in complete darkness and then all of a sudden find yourself on top of a brilliant, swirling metropolis. They remind me of elaborate crop circles (remember those?) of lights.
Flying into Qatar… I haven’t altered this photo in any way – those colors are genuine.
Arriving in Islamabad was a bit different. I arrived at about two in the morning (Pakistan time) and just as the jet was landing, half of the city went dark. It was interesting to see.
I sailed through Immigration, but still had hours to wait until the rest of my crew showed up. So, I went to the front of the airport and started hanging out with all of the taxi drivers that congregate there. They all offered to take me anywhere I needed to go and several offered me tours of the city. After some reflection, I decided this wouldn’t be a bad idea given the amount of time I had to wait still. So, I accepted a tour with the driver pictured below on the far right.
We drove around for about 45 minutes or so through urban areas, past the recently bombed Marriott Hotel, through residential areas – all over the city and I don’t remember any of the names he mentioned.
With no prompting, the driver suddenly asked me if I liked motorcycles. I perked up and answered in the affirmative at which point the driver became excited and said that he had to introduce me to his nephew.
Now, remember that it is about four in the morning in Pakistan… We rolled up to the nephew’s house and, of course, he and his family were sound asleep. No matter, we went crashing inside and soon the entire family was rousted to greet the American guest. Far from being put off by my untimely intrusion, the family was giddy with excitement to have me as a visitor.
With little effort, I was talked into being given a ride on the nephew’s motorcycle. It was a Honda sportbike, but I didn’t understand what he was saying when I asked him what kind it was. All I can really tell you is that it looked sexy and was really fast. Anyway, we were soon on our way…
At first I just wanted to get off. I could feel the rear wheel sliding on the corners and we were absolutely hurtling through traffic. “Jesus Christ,” I remember thinking, “Here I’ve promised my mother I’ll be careful on this trip and I’m not even in Pakistan two hours and I’m tearing through Islamabad’s streets at triple digit speeds with a complete stranger and no protective gear.”
After a few moments, I realized the nephew was a skilled rider and I relaxed a little. He took me to a wooded area that was apparently popular with other riders to run through because there were many of them there on sportbikes. Some of the other riders were giving their all to a route through the woods and as genuinely good riders in their own right, were shocked to see someone blowing by them doubled up. But even though many people tried to race us, no one could keep up with the nephew.
(The nephew is the guy in the red hat in the above picture)
Eventually we made it back to the nephew’s home where I was treated to a remarkable breakfast prepared by his wife. Then the whole family accompanied me back to the airport and waited with me until my guide arrived from Britain several hours later. The taxi driver absolutely refused to let me pay him for the tour and as hard as I tried to extend some token of appreciation to his family (even trying to buy them lunch), all of my efforts toward generosity were resolutely refused.
After being treated like this, I get even more annoyed now when I hear people make comments about how we should just nuke Pakistan. Or comments about how everyone in the Middle East hates us.
Yeah, right. Imagine a family of Americans treating a stranger from the Middle East in the princely manner I was treated.