many months since the brief visit to China last Dec..my long road still winds its way through the mountains of Pakistan..
except i got to do something different this year - no hikes, no travel adventure.
Islamabad Aug 26 2009
our flight to Skardu got cancelled ofcourse - no surprise at all, only this time i wasn't on trek schedule so i could wait it out to catch that elusive jumbo. we left on a clear crisp morning Aug 27. in line for the flight, a highly distraught lady simply wouldn't alight. scared to death of flying. no cajoling, no convincing, no promises of arriving safely, we were with her, in it together, sit in first class....nothing. i tried my two bits, shed quiet down for half a second and then loose it. yelling at her by now beyond embarrassed brother to get her off or shed murder him herself. the high brow first class passengers - which is where all this drama was unfolding by this time, wanted none of it. the pilot was loosing patience and time..so off they went brother and sister, to sit on the 22 hour bus journey on the KKH. imagine 'choosing' to do so.
my flight was spectacular, most of it in the cockpit, with views of every mountain top and K2 from here to the heavens. sticking out like a pyramid of such grandeur that all else paled in comparison. what a ride ...what a great way to begin my work. with clarity as crisp as the clear mountain scape in front of me, yet with equal layer upon layer of complex snow covered ridges that would reflect the difficulty of getting so much accomplished in such a short time, in a community i had not known before. all seemed possible that august morning.
at the sleepy little Skardu airport, i was received by AKCSP staff, Ashiq and his driver, who had a card with my name, to receive me. both men recognize me before i do. polite pleasant men. Ashiq is based in Khaplu where they are working on the palace.
the drive to Shigar takes me back to the same wonder and excitement of seeing these mountain scapes every time ive been up north.
Once in town and right after showing me the two house options, introducing 5 of the 6 interns, we headed to the Abruzzi school sight. impressive building with a small 1 acre piece of land for the garden. his chief architect, Mubashir, met us there. Personable, confident, knowledgeable young man. theres plenty of building work still going on, so it wont be till next spring when the school will actually be functional. everyone I've met so far is excited that I'm here and happy that ill be putting together a professional planned garden. it will be the first they tell me, besides the Shigar fort gardens. so many hopes are pinned on me. i too was feeling the same excitment of finally being here, and meeting the people ill be working with.
deciding where i would stay for the next two months...i picked the more picturesque of the two options.. my home of choice was a small two room idyllic guest house with an attached bathroom with a geyser, and small kitchen. surrounded by a wild little fruit and vegetable garden. the trees are laden with apples, pears, peaches, almonds, plums and some apricot. the cherries are done. so are the apricots actually. A low wooden gate to enter the grounds, low stone walls in traditional mountain style wrapped around the property. it belongs to the family of one of my students. i was given new sheets, new pillows, for the only piece of furniture in the cottage, one wooden bed with a mattress and blanket. foolishly i laid them over a very old mattress infested with every imaginable bug ...invisible to this foreign eye. i discovered within a day of living the cute green cottage life, how unequipped i was for creepy crawly creatures that like sucking on fresh city bred blood all night, all day. but then theres running water in the bathroom, filtered, so it can be drunk. theres electricity from 6pm to 2pm. every four days theres load shedding so no bijlee that day. the weather is balmy 23C by day, may be 15C by night. what more could i ask for.
My hosts are kind and gentle people. the father is a school teacher. the wife illiterate. Sajidah the daughter is petite and full of spunk. very sharp and clear features. lovely face. is in 2nd year of college. his two sons are in cadet schools down country and the 10 year old lives with him. he says he has a very small family at home these days, only four people . i was tempted to say mine is even smaller, but figured hell find out sooner or later himself. the husband and wife showed me around the tiny place and then sat in my (bed)room for a while, with no signs of leaving, the typical way of villagers, who think its rude to say hello and scram. they've all asked me if ill be ok sleeping alone, and I've reassured them that ill be fine.
The lady of the house Hamida is plucking fresh cilantro for the pakoras and fresh lettuce for salad, as i sit writing. its the lovely evening light, only the snow covered tips of the mountains have sunlight left, the crock crows, the water channel runs behind me, the sound a constant. I've opened up my few belongings and fed my new telenor sim card into my phone. jazz doesn't work here. Fida Husain my landlord and host, has brought me over to his house for iftar. they're making pakoras, so i brought my garlic chili sauce bottle to share. some shrivelled up dates. home made cake and french toast. quite a feast for a simple home. for dinner they've cooked potato curry to be eaten with wheat roasted noodles. "fur fur" which they consider as 'shahi khana' served to guests on special occasions like ramazan. im sitting on his roof top socializing with the neighbours on the other roof tops. such sweet and simple living. everyones curious, one after another, the ladies peep from windows or the little galli below to smile and ask who i am etc. tomorrow ill bring my camera and recorder. so ill have pictures of these encounters. the neighbours son is Sajid, his sister Abida and the youngest Aquib. so many names to remember.
its 10.15 pm when i crawl into my down comforter, which i would soon regret laying over this ticking bed. Fida Husain will be serving sehri at 4.30am. did i mention that their own home is a two minute walk from my cottage....ive never had to walk to my sehri in pitch darkness from one house to another...nor have i stayed awake half the night scratching my body thinking these shigar mosquitoes are bloody pests.
my students greeted me in the orchard next morning, all fresh and expectant and excited to be meeting 'madam' who was here to teach them something about gardens. who knows what exactly, but it sounded exciting and fun. we were all equally excited i think, me about my new and unimaginably beautiful surroundings, teaching something i loved doing best, they about the fact that i was a woman come from so far just to teach them something basic like gardening. must be a mad woman. or at least somewhat nuts.
we didnt waste too much time......that day or any day thereafter...it was, lets get this going, lets get us this garden imagined, planned, drawn, built and blooming.