Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ishkoman, I’m Coming – Day 4: Dude Party

We picked up the net and took off our Kimeez shirt which we wrapped around our heads to keep it close and block the sun. Wazir, our friend and close relative to the grizzly bear, looked at my chest and pulled a hair; I think he expected to hear a comical “sproing” sound, but I would give him no such satisfaction. He pointed at his chest and said “this is for real man,” then pointed at mine and said “this is for your wife to play with!”

Mullah, Wazir, cousin

The river following alongside us in our old Japanese jeep was the Ishkoman from which the valley gets its name. The perfect fishing spot eluded us temporarily, but we were sure to find it. At points that seemed impassable on the treacherous mountain road, Jamal would send out his younger cousin to pile rocks and construct makeshift bridges on top of streams and tributaries that blocked our way.

Wazir worked as a gemstone salesman in Dubai but always came back to Shonas for Eid Al-Fitr. He said he knew an old shepherd who lived by the river and collected rocks and that we should pay him a visit to see if he had restocked his wares. The old toothless man that appeared was wearing a vest that looked as though he’d been gnawing on it with his toothless chops and he smelled like the expired milk of his prized goat. The smell of mutton inside the barn was dizzying; it had permeated every fiber of every object including the crystalline structures of the quartz and amethyst that he had stockpiled over the years.

After Wazir affirmed the worthlessness of the man’s petty stones, we followed outside only to be met with the prized goat whose musk clung to every inch of the shepherd’s meager possessions and would cling to us for a while after we left. The goat was resting under the shade of a tree, sprawled on his back, bearing all. Maybe he was intimidated by the overly exhibited manliness of the goat, or maybe he was curious, but whatever the reason Wazir thought it would be best if he (warning: graphic images may remain in your mind days after reading) ran up and flicked the goat’s penis. There was a quick grunt of protest from the goat that could care less about the musings of an immature gem peddler. Wazir turned to me and said “it is huge; this is a lucky shepherd, go touch the goat penis.” Now I will do some unappealing things in the name of cultural sensitivity, but for some reason I presumed that the unceremonious flicking of a goat dick (goat-dick-flick) in no way fell under the umbrella of “traditional Pakistani culture.”

There was a something special in the wind and in the clouds that told us to stop the car and start fishing. Wazir whipped out a bottle of mountain dew before our clamber down the mountainside; Pakistan loves mountain dew. Jamal stayed with the jeep on the dusty mountain path while Wazir, Mullah, cousin, Matt and I all stumbled down to the river carrying two big fishing nets. In our makeshift turbans and rolled up shalwar pants, we watched as Wazir and cousin waded into the frigid river with high spirits. They caught 8 or so adult river trout in less than a few hours.

Wazir loves mountain dew

During our trek along the river looking for a spot for me and Matt to try fishing, Wazir snuck behind a bush to take a leak. I went too and figured that Wazir needn’t be alone while he tried to catch up with the rest of the group. He zipped up, ran out from behind the bushes and, with an outstretched arm, suggested that I take his hand. It wasn’t a tight grip as if he were shaking my hand for the first time and yet it wasn’t tender enough to be an interdigitation shared by lovers. It was an odd but comforting feeling; I hadn’t really held another man’s hand since I was a child holding on to my father’s. It seems that in a society where women are often kept out of the public eye, men have adapted to feel comfortable holding hands just to get that human touch and know that someone is there beside you. I doubt that Wazir felt a revelation similar to my own, but I think he knew that I appreciated the gesture. Matt and I tried our hand at net fishing only to catch a few baby trout that we had to throw back.

Driving back on the opposite side of the valley, we ran into an old friend of theirs who was having car trouble. He hooked a tow cable to the back of our jeep and we drove back together.

Murad was waiting for us back at his house. So was Jageer, Murad’s brother-in-law Hassan, Moussa and others. Murad’s wife and kids would be deep-frying the fish we caught and we would all partake in the biggest dude party this side of the Indus river.

There are a couple of key things at any good dude party that are all owed to Pakistan's unique Muslim-influenced heritage:
  1. Women are kept separate from men when many are present; no slimy girls allowed.
  2. The dress of both men and women are meant to be humbling, not flattering, and cover up sensitive body areas. This means that all clothes look (and feel) just like pajamas.
  3. Many people outside of large cities don't have a television which means that dancing is still a primary form of entertainment.
  4. Everyone drinks the aptly-named Doodh Pati Chai (tea); "Doodh Pati" sounds just like "Dude Party" in a Pakistani accent.
To sum it up: you eat a lot, kick the girls out, get in your pjs, dance, and drink dudeparty tea. It's a dude party, dude.

wearing matching pj's prepping for the dudeparty

We had enjoyed a nice gender-segregated meal with 15 other guys when there was a sudden blackout. Murad's wife came in to the pitch black room with a flashlight and a propane tank. The tank was attached to a small lantern bulb and illuminated the room in a dull light that made it feel like camping. Jageer picked up an old gas can to drum on and Wazir found a sitar and the dancing began.

Dancing happens in 2/4 time with the first beat slightly syncopated. Dancers go up one at a time and strut their stuff in the middle, surrounded by friends who are clapping, cheering, and singing. There is no right way to dance, and it seemed as though the more true to yourself you were in your dancing, the better it was. Each person had their own flavor of dance, with hints of Pakistan - shoulder shrugs, wrist flips, staccato leg movements reminiscent of a chicken's mating dance.

The music plays and you do your move, only one move with very slight variation. Then the beat picks up, people shout louder and clap harder and your one move evolves, much like a Pokemon, into a more complex version of your first move. The shrugs get deeper, the flips get quicker, the kicks get stronger. It's quite a sight and a worthy experience to be a part of. If only every day could be a dude party.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ishkoman, I’m Coming – Day 3: Eid Mubarak

Eid-al Fitr is Pakistani Halloween. Everyone dresses up in their new Shalwar Kimeez, the traditional Pakistani duds, and children's shouts of "trick or treat" sounds more like "tea and fruit." It is the day after the last day of the month of Ramadan ("Ramazan" in Urdu) for which all Muslims fast during the day and only eat at night and in the early morning before the sun comes up. When you can eat at natural times again, it's only natural to have a celebration.

We took a walking tour of the entirety of Shonas and stopped at about 8 houses for 18 cups of tea and even more homemade cream, biscuits, egg-noodles in a sweet milk soup, almonds, apples.

At Ayub's family's house, we were greeted by "the Mullah," Ayub's brother and all-around nice guy who had a reputation for the hottest dancing feet on this side of the valley. He had a beard sans-moustache and he wore Chitrali Cap, also known by its Afghan name "Pawkul" popularized by anti-soviet resistance fighter Ahmed Shah Masoud.

He sat down, Murad said something in dialect, probably Khowar, then everyone laughed and had a hearty round of high-fives, except for Mullah who chuckled and wore a smile of embarrassment on his beard-faced face.

"I just said that he looks like a Taliban and that the foreigners must be terrified," Murad expounded in between sounds of stifled laughter. To be honest, he looks more Mennonite than he does Taliban.

Mullah, deep in thought:

As we walked from house to house, we were greeted on the streets by many a stranger who just wanted to tap my heart, shake hands and say "Eid mubarak" - Happy Eid.

It is the feeling of the genuineness of your reception that makes Eid-al Fitr so special. People do really just want to take a friend into their house for 10 minutes and give them a biscuit as they schmooze over a cup of chai. At Mahboob's house, we sat outside on a set of patio furniture that looked like it had been stolen from my grandparents' old duplex in Queens - chipped white paint, rusted iron, wicker-pattern chairs. His 4 year old daughter came up to me and started speaking to me, first in dialect (Khowar, Shina?), then in Urdu. I used my minimal Urdu to ask her name "Apka nam kya heh?" then tell her my name "Mera nam Jono heh." We became fast friends. Murad was talking to Mahboob while his daughter would run off somewhere then bring back something to show me, then speak to me in Urdu, none of which I understood. First she handed me an apple, then she disappeared and brought back a cat. I don't think I was supposed to eat the cat, but I was gracious for the apple.

We made it to Wazir's house by sundown. He had offered to host us the night before but was beat to the punch by the comic king Jageer. Wazir looks like Pakistani Elvis, an occasionally wore aviator sunglasses - he was the coolest kid in Shonas, especially while wearing sexy eyewear.

The façade of his cool came crashing down as he met us at the door of his house. With a pout, he said "I've been waiting all day for you guys! I had all these eggs hardboiled for you!" 2 things: 1) In hearing that we would spend the night at his place, he had assumed that we would be with him all day as well. 2) He prepared about 10 hardboiled eggs to "egg fight" with.

There were 3 local boys, Wazir, Wazir's son, Wazir's brother Abdul, Matt, Murad, Jageer, and Myself. An egg fight, as explained by Wazir is: "I don't even like it, I think it is stupid. But I will fight you with my egg." You find an egg you like, and you tap your opponent's egg until one of them cracks, the one whose egg does not crack is the winner. He shrugged off eggfights like it was a child's game, but he put on his game face and smashed eggs at a near-olympic level.

It was a boy's night out: we ate dinner with our hands, had eggfights, played cards, played with guns, sang and danced and played sitar into the night. The card game "Big 2" was a big hit.

Intoxicated on competition (eggs and cards), Wazir began to talk. He told us how Abdul used to fight and drink alcohol until a priest convinced him to be a better Muslim. Before, Abdul looked like Daniel Day-Lewis from "Gangs of New York," now he looks Amish. He made us promise that we'd go fishing with him the next day. He told us that I looked like the old Chitrali man who used to come to his village to fix broken cups.

Wazir with an old picture of Abdul:
Abdul now, in the background:

Wazir showing his guns:

Eid Mubarak everyone, peace on earth.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ishkoman, I’m Coming – Day 2: Let’s Get Sitarted

Jageer is the funniest man in the world. Not just in Shonas or Ishkoman, or Gilgit, or Pakistan, or Asia, but the whole world. Now if I could only understand Kowari I’d tell you what he was saying.Every time he spoke, somebody around him would laugh, and somebody would get a high five. In Pakistan, the hilarity of any joke can be gauged by the number and intensity of high fives given after the delivery of a joke, and Jageer always got the most.

He asked us the night before if we would stay in his house and treat us to food and music. Matt and I both agreed. Jageer lived in Shonas as well, but further up the mountainside near a waterfall that we could reach via hikeable path.

At an unreasonably early 7am, all the lights in the tranquilly dim common-room turned on and Indian bollywood music began to play. Moussa had sabotaged our slumber and in a firm, English-as-a-second-language voice said “I think… it is time… to… stand up.” We didn’t start the hike for at least 2 hours; from that moment on I found Moussa annoying.

Wazir pulled up to Murad’s house in an old Japanese jeep to pick us up and drive us to Jageer’s place. Wazir was sad that we wouldn't be staying with him at his house that night, but we promised that we would be his for the night after, and the day after that we would go fishing. Homemade chapatti, cream, and butter awaited us, the foreigners who couldn’t follow Ramazan. The hike was on a dirt path to a waterfall. The sun was hot and our Shalwar Kimeez kept our skin from burning and kept the sweat close to our bodies. Murad picked some wild red and orange berries (sea buckthorn berries) for us, since he was following Ramazan. The berries were extremely tart and citrusy with a pleasantly sweet aftertaste. We hiked down from the waterfall, back to Jageer’s house where Murad dumped us and said he’d pick us up the next day.

The 3 of us sat down in the common room among cylindrical pillows and sitars.

Five strings, only the center string tuned differently than the other four. The sound is layered, not redundant, and celestial. He sat down and looked at us as his clowning demeanor melted away in a foreign tune that seemed improvised until he began to sing.
He claimed to be able to recreate any song that he heard and play it on the sitar. So I have him my iPod® playing “Blackbird” by The Beatles. There was a silence, followed by a Ravi Shankar rāga that might have been the sound that Paul McCartney heard when he thought that he could recreate any song that he heard on his guitar.

The next morning would be Eid-al Fitr and a good rest was needed in preparation. Jageer rolled out some sheets and we fell asleep to the overlapping sounds of an old wooden sitar.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ishkoman, I’m Coming – Day 1: Tick Tock

Touch his heart, lightly grasp forearm, shake hands, touch own heart “as-salaam aleykum, Eid Mubarak! Kya hal heh? Teek tahk.”
The handshake is strange at first, but it becomes quite natural after a few tries. Not all people are completely comfortable with the heart-shake and will just go to give you a standard, western-style shake. Although, even that shake is not as firm and doesn’t have the same stronger-than-thou male machismo intention.
“Teek tahk,” in Urdu means “good” or “I’m good.” When it’s said quickly, it sounds like “tick tock.” My hand pulled away from Murad’s father’s aged heart and wrapped his grizzled hand as he looked me in the eyes and, in a raspy, toothless voice, said “tick tock.” I couldn’t help but smile an unusually wide grin as I thought of this man in some retirement home in America where he, when asked how he was, would only respond with muted clock noises.

I did the handshake an innumerable amount of times over the course of four days. Northwest of Gilgit, in Ghizar county, in Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly known as “Northern Areas,” or “NA”), off of a bumpy tributary road of the KKH, lost in time, sandwiched in the crevasse of the Ishkoman Valley, lie the facing villages of Shonas and Da’in. It is the home of our Pakistani guides and good friends, Murad Khan and Muhammed Raja Ayub Khan (no relation), and their motley band of misfits, friends, cousins, and complete strangers.

We first left to Murad’s house on a four hour bus ride from Gilgit. The bus stopped at the police checkpoint on the Ishkoman border and asked for our identification. In a ratty, old ledger, Matt and I wrote down our names, nationalities and passport numbers. I was pleased to find that these checkpoints were very common along the KKH and were used to keep suspect characters out of legitimately peace-loving towns. At the next stop, we picked up some children and their mother. At another stop, we picked up a large-bearded shepherd with a staff and Chitrali hat who looked like Pakistani Gandalf when he was still called “Gandalf the Decrepit.”
He put his staff in the back while Murad looked at us and beckoned a warning, “He could blow at any second.” This, I would find out, was only the first of many terrorist/Taliban jokes.

Off the dirt road behind the stone wall was Murad’s home. Tired from a day’s travel, we collapsed on the furnitureless floors of his living room. Most residential Pakistani rooms are unfurnished aside from a full carpet and cylindrical pillows to lean on. We were brought tea, chapatti(bread), and homemade cream to snack on before the grand tour. I had had one cup of tea in Sost, and one cup in Alliyabad, but this would be my first of oh-so-many homemade cups of doot-patti milk tea.
Murad had lambs and cows and farmland where he grew wheat, corn, potatoes and other vegetables. Most dairy food we had in his house was homemade and delicious. His property overlooked the Ishkoman river and was situated in a basin of mountains. He pointed out the homes of his childhood friends; some had stayed, had arranged marriages and had 4 to 8 children, while others had moved to Gilgit, Lahore, Karachi, or as far as Dubai to find a life of markets and business, leaving behind the serenity and near-complete isolation of the valley.

The sun was setting as Murad, his friend Jageer, Matt and I sat in the living room playing a life-or-death game of Parcheesi. The images of Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pikachu, and Cinderella adorned the battleground of the most intense match of a children’s board game in history. A horde of children gathered to stare in through the windows waiting for the Angrezi (foreigner, literally “Englishman”) to do something amazing. They would be disappointed on that front, but truly happy to catch a glimpse of us rare creatures.

I think I was more intrigued by the children than they were of me. Most residents of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in no way resemble the Punjabis and Sindhis that make up the majority of the Pakistani population; Murad looks Italian, Skandar looks like a Ukrainian-American immigrant, and Ayub looks like a Polish train conductor. Some of the children have the most stunning golden-brown eyes with locks of dirty-blonde hair. Their facial features are somewhat Aryan. Years of isolation among the valleys has produced a beautifully unique people who derive their appearances from Tajik, Afghan, Turkic, and Persian peoples with some influence of Alexander the Great’s armies as they marched through the territory some 1700 years ago. They are mostly Ismaili Muslims who have the Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. They are forward thinking and uncommonly loving people.
Dinner was served after sundown for Me, Matt, Murad, his cousin Moussa, Jageer, his brother-in-law Hassan, and his elderly parents. Although the Ismailis are very progressive, the absence of women at dinner, aside from Murad’s mother, clearly displays a still mostly male-dominated society. Women receive education, but they are still required to wear non-revealing clothing, headscarves at some times, and typically do not assume occupations other than housewife. However, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is trying to change this with Female Empowerment programs that set them up with jobs like handicraft production and gem-polishing. Murad’s wife is an English teacher, and she is very well educated.

It was the last night before the last day of Ramadan (“Ramazan” in Urdu) and the beginning of the four-day festival holiday Eid-al Fitr. Exhausted from dinner, we retired to the common room where makeshift beds made from sheets and blankets were already waiting for us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On an extremely serious note: Bride Snatching

We met Jackie in a guest house in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. She is a photojournalist currently working on a piece about the Kyrgyz phenomenon/tradition of bride kidnapping. The way she described it:

The parents of a son expect him to take a bride soon after they build a new house for him and his family to live in. If he is not dating anyone or a marriage hasn't been arranged, he might kidnap a bride. Sometimes the kidnapped woman is someone he may know, either from school or a friend etc., or she may be a stranger on the street. He rounds up a few of his friends and prowls the streets by car. When he finds the appropriate women, they grab her and throw her into the car and forcefully take her back to his home. Once there, he will most likely force himself upon her regardless of concent, ie rape her. The village matriarchs will be there to comfort her telling the new bride that "this is our culture" and "this is how it's been done for hundreds of years." They put a white scarf on her head, which is the cultural form of the contractual binding of their marriage.
They keep the bride behind a curtain in a separate room in the house and have people from around the village come and pay to get a glimpse of the new bride. A delegation is sent by the husband's family to the bride's to negotiate the actual marriage. The delegation usually brings gifts as a sort of dowry.

I have recently witnessed a kidnapping in its terrible entirety. I thought of Jackie and wrote her an email:


This is Jono - we met at the guesthouse in Karakol; I was the American with a moustache.
My eyes are watering with tears now as I begin to think about the terrified girl I just saw being throw into a car by 7 men on the streets of Osh. Let me tell you what happened:

Matt and I had just sat down at an Uzbek restaurant after commenting to each other how we heard that the streets of Osh could be dangerous at night, and after dinner we should go straight back to the guest house.
After being served two bowls of black tea, I noticed two girls walking quickly whilst being followed by a horde (no pun intended) of men. Suddenly the girls grabbed each others hands and began to run. The men chased them maybe 10 meters until the moment they passed by our table and both of them were grabbed from behind in a sort of bear-hug. One of the struggling women punched one of the men in the face, but, by that point, any attempt to escape would have been more than futile. The other girl was dragged by one of the men into a small, white car that had seemingly appeared from nowhere. 4 of the men got into the car with the woman (1 in front and 3 in back), the last man slamming the right-side door a couple of times before actually getting it shut. I didn't see where the other 2 men went, but when I scanned the area for them, they were nowhere in sight. The girl who was left took out her cell phone - probably simply as a panic response, but realizing soonafter that there was nobody she could call to help the situation.

This is a scene I will replay over and over in my mind, and I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to shake it. These women were clearly modern women, wearing western clothes, with cell phones, and purses, about 28 years old I'd say. I think I would be safe to say that neither of these women grew up talking to their girl friends saying "I want to get an education and a university degree, then work for about 6 or 7 years. After that, I hope I get kidnapped by a mob of men and settle down with a stranger." And I seriously doubt her mother would look on as the unshaven Kyrgyz man manhandles her daughter and says with a gold-toothed smile: "I remember my first kidnapping," without thinking, even for the tiniest iota of a moment "there is something
wrong with this."

After witnessing this, there is no way that I can say this isn't a clear and awful violation of human rights. It is a cultural remnant of a patriarchal time that no longer has a place in a modern society. When I first heard your stories of this happening in the countryside, it seemed more plausible, but in Osh?

I continue to see the terrified face of that one girl and I imagine her speeding away, tears streaming down her face. Then they get back to his house, and her life changes forever.

I wish you the best of luck in your photojournalism journeys.

Keep in touch if you have any questions for me.



My impression of Kyrgyzstan has been truly amazing. It is a beautiful country with warm and genuine people. However, human rights abuses and domestic violence cases do happen. The worst part of the whole experience was that I felt completely powerless to do anything. There will always be some lingering guilt in the back of my mind about not acting. After it all went down, I heaved a sigh and drank from my bowl of tea.

I promise I'll have some good stories about Kyrgyzstan soon.


Monday, October 26, 2009

There's a Moustache on my face, what do I do?

Initially I started growing facial hair to blend in while travelling in Pakistan, but it has gotten dangerously out of hand. After about 3 weeks, the beard and sideburn stubble was boyish and unkempt and it had to be removed. This left my face with a moustache that, various people have told me, makes me look like certain other peoples:

  • The old man from Chitral (Pakistan) that used to come to our house and fix broken cups. -Wazir, Shonas Village, Pakistan

  • Qazi Sab, the village elder from Kalasha (Pakistan). -Ayub Khan, Pakistan

  • A Pathan from the Swat Valley. -Islamist Student, Hyderabad Train Station, Pakistan

  • While wearing a hat, one of "The Village People" -Matt Reichel, while travelling in Kashgar

  • A Russian left behind in Kazakhstan after the fall of the U.S.S.R. -Бакыт (Bakyt), Yurt camp owner in Манжылы-Ата (Manzhyly-Ata), Kyrgyzstan

  • Super Mario -Anton, ethnic-Kazakh Russian we met in Manzhyly-Ata, Kyrgyzstan

  • Сыдыков Абдыкерим (Abdykerim Sydykov), statesman of Kyrgyzstan, President Semirechensk Regional Executive Committee (1922) -Bust of Abdykerim Sydykov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

  • Tom Selleck -Kim Gemme

This is it:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Carved in Stone - Reflections from the KKH

"This is pretty scary, right?" I said as the crowded bus swerved to avoid a gaping pothole in the middle of the dirt road, the leftmost tires gripping pebbles and nothing. I contemplated the possibility that this imported Japanese schoolbus could careen off this mountain pass into the river below as I spoke aloud: "our lives are entirely in the hands of our driver."

"First they are in Allah's hands... then our driver's," the young man of 25 to my left assured me.

Unassured, I looked up to notice a brilliant moon illuminating the night sky in a gradient from white to black, but never touching gray. The other stars, normally radiant, glowed dimly, jealously. The moon set late in the night to reveal the same night sky that compelled Gallileo to wake up and say "I must invent the telescope." I remembered seeing the Milky Way from a similar viewpoint some nights before, during the new moon after Eid-al Fitr. Silhouetted mountains were peperred with the earthly stars of little houses in even smaller hamlets with juniper wood fires for brewing tea. It was then that I noticed that Allah's outstretched hands had guided us safely into Chipurson Valley.

The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is about 40 years old and is currently being renovated. There are 4 to 5 thousand Chinese laborers hard at work connecting China's cheap goods to Pakistan's cheaper markets. It is the major artery that connects western China to Pakistan and far northern Pakistan to Islamabad. The snaking road that hugs the side of the karakoram overlooking the Indus river is only ever as wide as to allow the width of two cars separated by just enough space to keep the paint from scratching off two passing cars. One learns to accept potentially near death experiances as commonplace. In the three weeks I spent in Pakistan, about 40 hours were clocked on the picturesque and oftentimes periloius KKH.

Most human transportation between cities on the KKH is done with old 15-seat toyota vans. These vans will only leave the depot if there are at least 19 passengers in the seats, sometimes with more hanging off the back or sitting on top alongside the luggage. The ride is cramped and hot. Women and children usually sit in the first row behind the driver.

Driving in the daytime, the road is enveloped in a couldren of mountains. As the path winds, the mountains cleave from one another in an ever-widening "V" (or lowercase "y") reavealing new titans, each one more spectacular than the last.

Even though the ride from Shonas to Gilgit may be uncomfortable, sometims you get to meet some fun characters. Afsar and I had a conversation about Pakistani hiphop - his cousin "Bee Jay Hussein" was the most famous "northsyde" rapper in Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly the "Northern Areas" or "NA"). He told me how much people liked Lupe Fiasco here because he was a muslim rapper.

The 25-year old going to Chipurson with us was trying to secure support for his "Walk 4 Peace" from "Khunjerab 2 Karachi." The 100-day walk would try to raise awareness of the Pakistani domestic problems in Swat and Tribal Areas and show that the majority of the Pakistani people are against the Talibanization of their people.

My conversation with Afsar was interrupted by the sight of some viscous orange-brown liquid creeping down the window. It was local apricot jam and I just hoped none of it jammed my bag stored up top. I drifted off to sleep and expected to wake up covered in jam.

I had just begun to doze off when I was abruptly roused from my slumber by a terrible noise. A brilliantly adorned sphinxy painted in the brightest greens and yellows had honked its horn. On the KKH, the sounds and sights of these hulking iron beasts on wheels are quite common. The passing of a truck is always accompanied by the blast of its horn or, when there was no need to honk, by the gentle sound of chimes followed by the roar of a diesel engine. The truck is truly a product of a failed "Pimp My Ride" episode where Xzibit takes some redneck's pickup and comes out at the end of the episode and tells the owner "Aight, your trunk can hold 50000 kilos of potatoes now. We set you up with a horn that is as loud as it is obnoxious and sounds like mo'f'n' Flash Gordon's lizardman-blastin' lasergun killing an elephant." Some of them have decorative Ben Hur-like charriot spours. Dick Dastardly is the driver while Muttley rides shotgun and operates the smoke screen and oil slick.

On the 16 hour busride from Gilgit to Mansehra, in addition to stops to let people off the bus, we stopped four times. The first stop was right outside Gilgit for lunch. We stopped in Chilas for a tea break. At about 6pm, we stopped for evening prayer, which conventiantly gave the bus driver enough time to change a tire. The last stop was my favoirte and always is on these long rides on the KKH: dinner at a cliffside restaurant. Lit by Christmas lights and propane-fueled lanterns, we're presented with a plate of roti(bread), daal(lentils), and gosht(beef) as we sit on a rope-mesh bench as a tributary of the Indus rushes beside us.

The KKH is an unforgiving mistress, but at least I'll have Allah on my side the next time I'm on a shaky 40-year old rope bridge when it snaps.