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February 13, 2013

Sitting exhausted at the Islamabad airport, a place I didn’t believe I’d be on this particular morning. No bone or muscle in me has an ounce of energy. The adrenaline I’d been unaware I’ve been living off drained out when my PK visa finally arrived at 8:30 last night.

The touch and go visa story began months ago. Back on December 3 it was to be in “next week.” Then “good news, it was cleared” after I’d become an illegal alien in Pakistan. Finally, I bought my ticket to India on blind faith and the ability to cancel it up to seven days in advance. A message came through from C that we could go ahead with our travel plans the Friday before cancellation Tuesday. All assurances were that we’d have them by that Tuesday. It, of course, came and went with no hint of visa in the air. This past Friday we were once again told not to worry that the visas would be in Monday or Tuesday morning latest. Tuesday morning passed. Tuesday afternoon passed.

As I began in a desultory way to pile clothes to pack, I heard C’s voice. My visa had arrived. C looked beat and not in a mood to chat, for which I don’t blame him.

Flight left more or less on time and the desk for hotel and transfers was right where J said it would be. Piece of paper in hand, a guy walked me out to the hotel bus. A short drive later, I saw the Ramada just as J said. Our bus did not pull in there. It pulled across the street to the PIA hotel. The lobby was, charitably, spare. The grounds were tidy but there was nowhere to sit out not already occupied by Pakistani men. And then there was the room…

Not even the cheapest room I’d ever been in in the States, and I’m including college days dives, was this bad. The door knob had nothing to latch into. There were twin beds with no more than a wooden frame and thin mattress, stained sheets and an attempt at a pillow. The bathroom had a toilet, cracked and broken sink and no shower other than a hose. Being neither 20 nor broke, I checked out and went to the Ramada across the street. Sometimes free is too expensive.

J and I texted and figured out that the difference was that he had a business class ticket. If I’d known, I’d gladly have charged Washington for business class. Live and learn. On the return, I’ll find out what an upgrade costs; if it’s cheaper than the hotel, I’ll book it.

Much, much better here. Spent the remainder of the afternoon sitting poolside alternately reading and doing research for the next training of trainers class. Now I’m sitting at the poolside cafe, miracles of miracles, drinking beer. As I emailed B–“almost  normal.” The goat testicles on the menu account for the “almost.” Given the lovely weather and the beer, I almost ordered them. Again, that “almost” word. The complimentary garlic nan is fabulous and the live music blessedly neutral.


February 14, 2013

I’m in the air heading for India. My horoscope in The Nation said that I should travel and speak to people from other nations. Too funny. My tray table is broken, so I’ll need to hold my drink whenever it arrives. Being above the cloud cover, there is nothing to be seen of the geography below.

And back in Karachi…. For some undetermined reason the flight returned to Karachi and is now going to make a second attempt at 5 pm. Given that the round trip, Karachi to Karachi took exactly what it should have taken to get to India, I fail to see why we bothered turning around. It’s much like swimming half way across the river, deciding you’re too tired to make it all the way across and swimming back to the same shore. In other words, TIP.

Truly wish I’d remembered my needle work; it would feel good to be producing something. I’m bored with reading and have already taken care of the work issues on my plate. At least I found a place to recharge my iPad. It would be really bad to lose that as well.


February 15, 2013

Arrival in Mumbai was around 8 pm. As we stood in the plane waiting for the stairs, my innards started to rumble. Dragged my bag down the stairs and parked it on the bus. Suddenly exhausted, I sat on my bag and promptly broke into a sweat. My first thought was, “I can’t look sick. If I do, they may not let me in the country.” As I wended my way in, the greeters were waiving me to the immigration officers. “Washroom” I croaked. From that point on, I became thoroughly acquainted with four restrooms in the Mumbai airport.

After a long acquaintance with the first restroom and grateful that it was well stocked with toilet paper, I fashioned a tp diaper of sorts to get myself through the immigration line without embarrassment. After immigration, I immediately ducked into restroom 2. Then I headed toward the baggage claim where I acquainted myself with the Staff Only restroom. Then, on the way out to meet my driver, I decided not to pass up the fourth one as it would be a forty-minute drive.

The difference between India and Pakistan is El Al planes, restaurant and bar signs everywhere and spiffier tuk tuks. At least at night, the small shops seemed to have a bit more spit and polish. Daylight might be a different story.

The room at the Taj was a welcome respite. It is nicely designed and I was mesmerized by the shower stall that didn’t leak and produced hot water on demand. Tonight, the tub with its own TV is on the agenda. Nirvana was the heated toilet seat. My ass has never been happier.

This morning I ached and felt run over by a truck. To put it bluntly, I drank green tea not coffee. There was bacon on the buffet and the sight of it curdled me. Fortunately, I brought the proper meds and even though I don’t feel great, I got through my presentation. Still feel crummy but an hour out at the pool and a nap were most welcome. Could be I’m feverish but it’s hard to tell.


February 16, 2013

Today is better; bacon and coffee were on the breakfast menu again. My back no longer aches. None of the presentations I’ve heard are anything new or different. I wonder whether it’s worthwhile for the rest of the group. If it were a larger group, I’d sneak out and hear something else but I’m not sure there’s a better choice.

This afternoon were the best two sessions, offered together in one session though unrelated. The first was on mind/body and stress. Again, nothing new but rather a welcome reminder and a few minutes of peace during a meditation session. Linda’s session on trans-global leadership was excellent. The funny thing is that Linda and I had connected earlier as she had remembered the NYT article and wanted to hear about Pakistan. We agreed to tourist together on Sunday. Then, as I listened to her background, I found myself thinking, “And she wants to get to know me?” Linda had been top HR person for several global organizations.


February 18, 2013

The good things that happened need not be washed away by the bad, but the bad are attempting high tide under a full moon during a storm. Flight to Karachi is delayed by two and a half hours. Pardon my lack of surprise over that and that the agent had thoughtfully neglected to record my email so they could notify me. Could have spent more time at the pool. The PIA-provided lunch that was supposed to happen 15 minutes ago is in the “Sit. Just wait. Few minutes.” Stage. They learn English here in doggie obedience school. “Sit. Stay. Come.” Good tourist.

Yesterday was a good day and the awards a good evening. Linda arranged a car and guide for us and with similar costs, we just billed one to her and one to me. Overall my impression of Mumbai is good. The infrastructure works; it’s clean and there is a thriving business district. We did a couple hours with the guide who hustled us along at light speed and spoke her rapid fire schpeel.  In those few hours, we saw in order, the laundry, more on that later. Gandhi’s house, Victoria Station, a local market, and the Gateway to India.

Linda and I gave each other a perplexed look when our guide said we’d stop at the laundry. She then explained that there is a colony of washers, job hereditary, who gathered laundry from all over Mumbai and for a very cheap price, washed, beat on rock, dried, ironed and returned. The laundry was hung, separated by color, just as it is washed. Through their own code, all the blues, greens, whites, get back to their rightful owner. Impressive.

Gandhi’s house as you might expect was more law library than anything else. The modest two stories were three quarters library. His bedroom was spare and yet radiated peace. The brief history lessons refreshed out knowledge and his sayings our minds and hearts. A Jain temple not far from a city garden we visited was the architectural opposite of Gandhi’s house. It was florid with decoration, color, incense laden air and the colorful saris of the women worshipers. Jains are very strictly vegetarian. They cover their mouths to avoid accidentally inhaling an insect, or even a germ. They eat no plant if by eating it, they kill the plant–no carrot, no onion, etc. beyond that I know nothing of what the Jains believe.

Victoria Station is Monumental in every way, it dominates its section of Mumbai. A grand lady she is still and despite her new Indian name, she rules for the British Empire. A short way from there we had the guide let us wander the local food market. It was inside the remnants of what had once been a grander place. If ever returned to its glory days, it would be like the grand market hall in Budapest. This market shows no signs of any such attention but rather it is becoming dust and dead vegetable filled, with water puddles and flies. Beside the vegetables, it is also home to the local pet market. About that, let’s say it was not as bad as I feared nor as good as I’d hoped.

The guide took us to the government craft store, where the downside of global markets became apparent quickly. There was nothing we hadn’t seen before and little we could not have gotten in the states and probably for less. Global markets have stolen away the joy of finding a unique and delightful craft in hidden corner of the world. When an artist does create some unique beauty, it is quickly imitated in the mass market. This is our loss.

After the Gateway to India and photos there, Linda and I opted for a light bite at the Taj Hotel. We are quite comfortable and enjoyed swapping stories of global travels and challenges. The veranda restaurant by the greenery of the pool was relaxing. At the end of it all we decided neither of us had the energy to elbow into a crowd to go to Elephant Island. Next trip to Mumbai perhaps. We wrapped our day in the shopping arcade of the Trident hotel, searching for Legends, a shop owned by Nina Woodard’s friend, Rakesh. Unfortunately, none of the jewelry spoke to me. As I rooted through tops, I found a black one with white flowers embroidered on. There was a silk top in several colors I quite liked. Rakesh mentioned they were “a little bit expensive.” When we finally got “a little bit” quantified, it was $225. Nope not wearing that to work. Even with discounts, the old friends and family type, the 175 was not going to fly with either of us. I got the black top–a very reasonable 8 bucks, and L got the same in coral. We had fun together.

After a shower and getting in business wear, it was time for the awards ceremony–“Glittering Awards Ceremony” to be exact. The highlight was the Labor Minister from Bhutan as he was the most colorfully garbed, just short of actual glitter. I played photographer and will be emailing several ladies whom I’d met. There was Vanja from Slovenia, Metha and her mother, both awards winners and both from India, as well as L who was seated at a different table. It was nice to be served wine and appetizers. The ceremony was nicely done and enjoyable. Afterwards, we gathered in the speakers’ room for dinner. Unlike Pakistani food, one Indian dish dies not taste the same as another, so I took small samples of many things. In celebration, four of us went to the bar. We had a wonderful session and saw Stella off to her Frankfurt flight with a round of applause. Those pictures I will also need to email. There therein is the good, the human bonds created and nurtured. Some day we may meet again. We are the globals.

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