Jane’s Swat holiday
Sunday, February 15, 2009
(Jane and Harry, two American tourists, decided to take a holiday in Swat recently. Their reasons were simple. Harry has been a member of the AA and not made much progress. Jane heard that Swat was not another spa but an entire spa state – what state it was in she had some idea but discovered more later. The lure of adventure and Harry’s going dry were too tempting, plus the personal appeal of the bearded Minister for Information, the formidable Maulana Ataur Rehman, who was Pakistan’s new tourism wonder. This is one of the conversations she had with her mom back home.)
Jane: Mom you won’t believe this, but here we are in Swat somewhere in Pakistan’s north. I thought it was the good old SWAT team we have in the US but honestly these guys are really cool. Well, more of that later. Harry is bearing up well. He has had a few hallucinations thinking about Jack Daniels and swore he saw a floating tumbler till it exploded a little distance away and turned out to be a grenade. Ok, mom; don’t go off the deep end. This is a real adventure and we are in the thick of it all.
Mom: Well, the Jack Daniels bit is cheerful news, but what do you mean – in the THICK of it? Do be careful and don’t do anything foolish. You know how I worry about you.
Jane: Mom, I can’t tell you what this place is like. Harry is growing a beard because they took all his shaving gear while they were body-searching him – went on for a long., long time, the body search, till I actually thought the guys were kind of looking funny at Harry – well I should have waited because my body search went on for even longer. I was hoping they would have women doing it but apparently they have all been shot.
Mom: Shot? You mean shot to pieces?
Jane: ‘You could say that, I guess. We were then asked to get rid of our western clothes and I am now swathed in about a 100-yard coarse cloth that has no end or beginning, it seems. It’s kind of cool. Harry is looking funny without his Bermudas and has this long 10-yard bale of cotton with a string. He is learning to do number one, sitting and using stones instead of Kleenex. For a guy who hasn’t had a drop he is depressingly cheerful. Did I tell you I have a shuttlecock?’
Mom: No sweets, you didn’t. What in heaven’s name is that? Is it a new game called Stones?
Jane: You could call it that. Oh, mom, the shuttlecock is another long sort of a drape, so I look like a mummy out of a Cairo museum. This covers me from head to toe and there is, like, a four-inch latticed window through which I can see the world but the world can’t see me. Houdini lives, get it?
Mom: Well to be honest, I can’t. Are you sure you can breathe?
Jane: Well, breathing is hardly my problem. I have never carried so much baggage but seems the boys here are not willing to let me wear anything other than this. Otherwise it’s the chop. By the way, when they were er…body-searching me, I could swear that I saw the local commander who must be 80 years old – straight out of the Old Testament, running off with what looked like my swim suit. But I am not sure. However, later that night I found it missing. Must be in Kabul by now. The swimsuit I mean.
Mom: Well, I must say all this sounds rather bizarre.
Jane: Well, don’t jump to any wild conclusions, because if you do it will simply not measure up to what this place is like. This is real action and it’s live.
Mom: Hold on buttons – I am sitting down with my decaf and cinnamon roll. There’s only so much I can take. What in sweet Jesus’s name is real and live?
Jane: Mom, avoid the name. These guys are a bit edgy about J. OK? You know what I mean. OK? When we got here we found out that there is a war going on. There are the Taliban but no one knows who they are, where they have come from and what are they doing here other than — er, killing whatever moves. Then there is the Army, who have been here forever and keep winning, except they keep losing. Get it?
Mom: No, but go on, I got my mug and I am in Milwaukee and I guess the Tallyhoos or Yahoos are not gonna make it here.
Jane: The other thing is the whole country is looking for an FM station but can’t seem to find it. The President. The PM. Everybody. Isn’t that weird?
Mom: But buttons, we got thousands of them here. What’s so difficult about finding one? Why do they want to find it? Has somebody stolen theirs?
Jane: There’s a firebrand preacher here who is using the FM to play mind games on everyone who gets infected with his message. For months and months he has been preaching violence, civil war, murder, rape, looting – even driving on the right side. You name it.
Mom: Is he the king? If not, why don’t they nab him and put him away?
Jane: He apparently has a following and he is armed to the teeth.
Mom: Well, how many teeth has he got?
Jane: I’d say plenty. Anyway, no one can touch him, so he goes about dynamiting schools and er — bumping off kids, especially girls.
Mom: Well, I think you better haul ass and get out of this place.
Jane: Well, mom, Harry is doing well here. He has made friends with the locals and they are showing him how to dynamite a school. Oh, by the way, did I tell you they drive on the right side here? Just like we do. Isn’t that truly amazing?’
Mom: Well, sure it is, but I don’t like this schools and girls thing you so casually mention.
Jane: It’s like this, mom. These guys think educating women does no good and women should only produce children, cook, clean, provide all services readily without any fuss, have no opinions, should never be seen or heard and remain in the background in a shroud.
Mom: What do they do for fire? Rub stones?
Jane: Possibly, mom. This is a very strange place. I have seen no women so far. Only men, and, by Jove, they look like they mean business.
Mom: What was that loud noise, Jane? Honey you ok?
Jane: That was a big artillery gun that went off fired by the Army, except they fired it in the other direction from where the AK-47s were firing.
Mom: Artillery? AK-47s? Are you fibbing, Jane?
Jane: No mom, I told you this is an action-packed non-stop thriller. Tomorrow we are going on our first excursion…I mean, execution.
Mom: Oh goody. Where are you going? Some ruins?
Jane: Well all of Swat is one huge ruin. Seems they have no shortage of dynamite. We haven’t seen any building standing. The local boys said they don’t want buildings because you never can tell what’s going on inside. Anyway, we are told that it is a public beheading of four men.
Mom: Jane, stop playing the fool with me. Why are you making all this up?
Jane: I swear, mom, I am not. I tell you this is like no other place. This is virtual reality a hundred times over.
Mom: Well, honey I don’t know what to say. I am happy for Harry, but this is hair-raising stuff.
Jane: Look, mom, don’t bring hair into this. These guys are not too tickled by it and — listen, my cell is going weak, so I have to charge it but, mom, there is no electricity. Did I tell you there is no gas, power, water here? And no roads.
Mom: Jane I think you better get back home. Leave Harry if you have to. I am calling our Congressman.
Jane: Mom, chill out…hello…h e l l o…. mom? (The News)
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org