Fifteen days to be exact including the 24-hour travel time of revisiting the roots with a clean slate and taking notes of everything I came across. Yes, that includes the unpleasant experience at MEM at the hands of our painfully slow ticket counter person who made us miss our first scheduled flight.
Would you believe she couldn’t read our passports? My husband’s and mine that is as we still proudly hold up the Pakistani green, unlike our kids who were born in the USA. She took TWO HOURS just to flip through the few pages of the small booklet reading God knows what since all it really had were our names and visa stamps – all in English mind you! And when she finally got through her snail paced reading, she chugged out four boarding passes for the six of us and while she was in the midst of printing the fifth one, the flight was closed and we couldn’t board anymore.
At first I thought she must have some twisted reason for doing this since we were on an international itinerary and had to catch a connecting flight for Abu Dhabi from Chicago O’Hare, and now we were to miss that too. Surely she could understand how much her inefficiency had cost us! But when she couldn’t pronounce the word Abu Dhabi or the name of the international carrier that had partnered to fly the passengers of the airline that she worked for out of the States – I felt sorry for her incompetence and then that of her airline. It was a sad day to realize that American Airways was this short on trained personnel. Tsk, tsk!
We went back home with all six pieces of luggage and four disappointed kids, bought new tickets for the entire itinerary after a constant thirty hour chit chat with Etihad Airways (our international carrier); our travel agent out and dead for the weekend (Word of advice: never book tickets through an agent. Do it yourself because then if your trip is messed up like mine, the airline pays more attention!). Once set, and taking the advice of a loader at the airport I’d met the first time, we reached the airport four hours in advance. This time a different counter clerk could not only spell Abu Dhabi, she handed us our boarding passes in less than ten minutes!
Two days late, we were finally on our way.
From Memphis to Chicago to Abu Dhabi to Lahore to Multan. From one continent to another, taking one connecting to another, from North America to South Asia, a distance of approximately 10,000 miles covered in some 22 hours; flight changes, security checks and airport waiting time inclusive. This journey was more tiring than the one I’d had in 2003 or in 2011. Perhaps I’m getting too old to travel or more comfortable with my road trips that end after 7 hours, 14 at most if we’re headed to VA or FL, and are under our control.
It’s true the aircrafts have got way better than they were and so have the airports. I love O’Hare simply because it’s so roomy and Abu Dhabi International looks like a freakin' mall! But that hardly makes up for the stiff plane seats that I dared push back to my heart’s desire lest the person behind me bumped their head against their tiny TV screen or meal table. The flight crew was nice and pretty – few exceptions here and there of course but it all looks good when the lights are dimmed and they hand you mango juice in a foreign accent every time you ask for it. Plus I watched Argo, Dangerous Liaisons, Anna Karenina, Chasing Mavericks and Life of Pi on flight. Ben Affleck won. Hands down!
The first thing that hit me upon landing at Allama Iqbal International, Pakistan was nothing unusual to report. The airport was crowded, people not standing in clean files, too many officials hurdling over one desk looking at one piece of paper, littered floors and lazy sweepers strolling to and fro pushing trash around, outdoors the Spring was warmer than what I’d left off in Memphis, men staring, women chatting, porters asking us to pay them in dollars instead of rupees and the sudden fear of turbulent political scenario of the country creeping up my spine as I prayed for a safe trip ahead – it was all very routine. So I asked my kids if they found anything uncommon and unlike me, they were quick with their responses:
There’s Urdu everywhere!
Too hot! (I told them they should hold that for the summers here)
The dress is different!
I see ox carts on the road! And goats and cows and donkeys!
Where are the traffic lights? (There are none in Multan, their father’s hometown)
They drive on the wrong side of the road! (Right-hand drive there)
Look at the buses! And the rainbow trucks! What's a rickshaw?
The countryside is like Arkansas – only smaller and not as green and more mango trees and buffaloes!
What's a canal?
So many mosques!
Is this shrine seriously three hundred years old?
Uhm – Mommy – what kinda restroom is that?!! (Squat toilets. Google it!)
Gasp! I think I just saw a lizard on that wall!
I just smiled and took notes to keep handy for my next novel – the one that I plan on setting in Pakistan. For now all I’ll say is it’s so good to be back home from home. Jet lag and fatigue aside, it was good to revisit what I’d once been and share it with my kids :)