Pakistan: Nice and Courteous

24Jun10

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=commercial+airline&iid=8656706″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8656706/gov-imposes-stricter/gov-imposes-stricter.jpg?size=500&imageId=8656706″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

You would think going off to Europe for a week would be fun, yes? Think again if you’re taking a flight out of Karachi’s Jinnah Terminal.

I’m one of those people who leaves home three and a half hours before my flight is meant to leave. For a 6:15 am departure, that means being in the car at 2:45 in the morning. There is some attempt to sleep — basically a three hour ‘nap’ or a euphemism for tossing and turning. In these less than ideal circumstances we (Yes, that’s right. I just pulled the royal we) are not amused. By anything.

Cut to Shahrah-e-Faisal and the turn into Quaid-e-Azam International Airport, which without that glowing beacon, the golden arches of MacDonald’s is now impossible to spot. The fact that Pakistan’s so-called city of lights is now unable to power streetlights does not help visibility or my crankiness. My car takes a sharp turn on detecting a small green signpost. Ah, here it comes – the drive up to Departures and the security check point(s) along the way.

The forces-in-black have taken over airport security, I notice. They could be the envy of many a fashion blogger in their fitted black T-shirts, tan cargo pants and black commando boots. As my cab comes to a respectful stop, like a dark cloud three or four of them crowd around my cab. One of them carries what resembles a pocket radio with a long antenna protruding in front of him, and circles the cab while peering piercingly inside.

Another approaches the front window even though I am sitting at the back holding to the window my ticket, flipped open for the sake of convenience. But no, the uniform is at the front window. Without any warning, he begins to knock violently on the front window. ‘Open the door or roll down the window,’ he barks to an unfazed taxi driver. ‘How am I supposed to talk to you?’

I quickly wind down my window, and say, ‘Sir, I have my window down. I’m the passenger. Here’s my ticket.’

In all this, I had forgotten that I am a woman, and am therefore, invisible in this country. Oh ho. Me and my leaky brain. My companion, also a woman but clearly with more presence of mind, jumps out of the car, and asks what the problem is. Panic ensues. The forces in black are not prepared for this. One of them starts to apologise. Another looks cocky, and says that he needs to check the bags.

Apparently the pocket radio with the protrusion has indicated that we might be Pakistan’s first pair of female suicide bombers. I’m not sure about our intrepid man-in-uniform, but I am completely aware that the device does not just look absurd, it also does not work, which is why it has been shipped off to our great country. It seems that the third world is now the dumping ground for all useless security tech equipment. The antenna of this specific device picks up on all things liquid so if you’re mildly interested in hygiene and are carrying shampoo, conditioner or God forbid, face wash, it’s all over for you, my friend.

My friend unzips the cabin bag, and points to the laptop. ‘Maybe that’s the problem,’ she says.

‘Turn it on. Turn it on,’ snaps the cocky one while at the same moment the other says, ‘Forget it. Forget it. Please. You may go.’

Wisely, my friend follows the directive of the authoritative officer. Then the unthinkable happened. My poor pristine Mac who had been scrubbed and polished like a newborn baby was mauled. The screen flopped open, it was turned upside down, back and forth with the roughest hands. Mac will never be the same again.

I’m not sure what he was looking for, but apparently my laptop’s ‘backside’ revealed that we were not the terrorists we had seemed to be moments earlier. As my companion returned to the car, and we drove away, I glanced at the apologetic security person. On the left of his T-shirt above his heart was written in white letter, PAKISTAN, and circling it were the words: Nice and Courteous.

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15 Responses to “Pakistan: Nice and Courteous”

  1. There is a ritual in our distant family that whenever someone from abroad, the whole lot goes to receive them :p and whenever we are with them, we make quite good fun of these silly security personnel 😀

  2. 2 Mo

    I have learnt (in not such a hard way as yourself), that it is better to wait for the security officers to ASK you a question rather than volunteer any information. Short, monsyllabic replies are also recommended.

  3. 3 fahad

    Good read:)

  4. 4 Xeb

    🙂

    Happy travelling!

  5. 5 wendeth

    NICE…..I’ve never had such an experience….quite the opposite…..maybe cause I’m a gori, although I always thought I’d get more questions just cause they had the opportunity to give one of us a hard time. I do like the woman jumping out of the car….CLASSIC!

  6. Mac will never be the same again yes! Mine was manhandled too, had to take it out and switch it on while the lady stared at the apple and then said ‘acha bus utha lein’ I did ask her if she thought it would blow off though, she wasn’t very happy but neither was I!

  7. 7 emran

    I think one should , follow the directive of the authoritative officer.

  8. 8 Tariq Aftab Hussain

    Poor fellow just doing his duty. I guess the lack of sleep made you cranky and hence his directions appeared as if he was ” barking “. Also you were assuming that being a woman he would give u a green signal. I guess that is part of female mentality in our country. Happy yap yapping in Europe

  9. 9 Maliha Hasan

    i’ve been living in pakistan for the last 11 years straight and travel frequently. Never had such a hilarious/negative/teeth grinding experience @our airports; neither by security administrators nor airport personnel. And since i started travelling only accompanied by my toddlers, i feel everyone’s especially super-courteous..sometimes more so BECAUSE i’m a woman. They show me respect, listen to me and help me out. I can understand why they must’ve flipped because you’re not supposed to jump out of your car @security checkpoints (like you’re not supposed to leave your car when cops pull you over in the U.S.) ….i feel sorry for these guys; they’re underpaid, severely over-worked, no to minimal benefits, pension sucks, training is inadequate and the awaam they have to deal with … damn

  10. Good narrative – loved it – it happens to me all the time – the crude look at the security check post – im always pulled over by the custom official in the departure lounge – literally throwing my baggage upside down and I then wonder why the F%^& did I fold the shirts in the first place

    i then have to wonder every friggin time – what is there in Pakistan that I feel the urge to smuggle OUT? – yet they take you through this harassment.

    On the way back the customs are equally gruesome. They eye those Dubai Duty Free bags for people carrying in alcohol, they slip them a crisp note and off goes the dude withut so much a bother, while others like me are eyed, stared and probed probably with the hope that “kuch tau laya ho ga” – when disappointed they leave in a huff ….. left in a heap of rubble, or the infamous stench of rotten fish that you catch a whiff off on Sunset Boulevard – as if to say “What a waste of time”

    That, my friends is travelling in Pakistan – as we know it. You are a bonafide smuggler until proven innocent

  11. 11 Nadia Zaffar

    Funny, always fun to read your posts. I guess one can either make a story out of it or just get frustrated. I have had my share of crazy, eyes-averting, selective hearing military men at the Malir Cantt checkposts. And one thing I can say, the moment you start getting frustrated, its all downhill from there, as they have not been trained in the sensitivities and will easily lead you to a point where you implode. And I have, many times, oh yes.
    question: ever encountered those plain clothed, seedy and scary looking, intelligence men at the airport? Those are definitely freaky. You definitely can never hope to get through those skinny steely bland men.

  12. 12 Faraz

    Nicely written the fate of your mac :).. but they do check the laptop these days after the incident took place when a guy carrying a laptop with a disassembled gun inside it.
    Since most of the security guys are unaware of this piece of technology, they normally handle it very roughly lifting up and down or sometimes giving it a shake :D. I normally have the same experience whenever i travel.

    Let your MAC understand that it is in Pakistan 🙂

  13. 13 Hasnain

    This is such a wonderful writeup, I could actually feel myself present at the Departure check-post…love it Naveen. Good job!


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