The wider Pakistan is very unpredictable, and Karachi is worse. You are never sure something will happen until it’s happening.
Take this Christmas for example – right this minute, I was meant to be on an 8hr long trip into Larkana. It’s in interior Sindh (Sindh being the province that holds Karachi) I was meant to have MY OWN shotgun, 48 bullets, and a raft. We were going duck-hunting, planned it 2 weeks ago then it got cancelled yesterday. (btw if I go missing, please Google missing persons in Larkana ‘cause a lot of people get kidnapped over there 😀 don’t tell my folks, hehe, but seriously, Allah Malik)
About Larkana, my point is not much here is ever set in stone. Public holidays have been declared at 11pm for the next day, some work days have abruptly been cut in half because there’s a political strike going on so it’s HIGHLY advisable to be indoors. (Once this happened and we got an escort home, a twin-cab with 8 armed guards.)
Every day,we get driven to work by Saqib (I must post a photo of him and his beard soon). He picks me and my Moldovan workmate and housemate (Moldova is in Europe, few people know it ;-)) On these rides to and from work, I realized that though Saqib speaks very little English, I had a much easier time understanding him than my housemate did.
In the flat I share with my 2 housemates, we don’t have water running from the main lines. We have to buy water around 2 times a week. It comes from a guy called Atif, a somewhat annoying conman, who comes to our house on his white donkey. (Yes, it’s white). Atif speaks sub-zero English, but my housemates used to ask me to translate what he is saying…and no he doesn’t speak Kikuyu.
My housemates have had a hard time getting used to the unpredictability we experience. They have had a hard time trusting people because they always cancel plans at the last minute, or don’t do what they promised to do, or don’t reply emails, or like Atif- the water guy- rip you off the first chance they get.
I thought about it for long. I wondered why I found it easier to adjust to life here and especially why I was the one who always ended up being the translator.
No doubt China and possibly most of Europe are very organized compared to Kenya and Pakistan. Their systems work allowing you to be more independent. I remember the culture shock I experienced in London (omera); I had never been in a place where EVERYTHING worked. Everything had systems and rules that everyone followed… even the damned escalators had rules- if you are standing on the escalator, keep left, if you are running up the escalator use the right. And because all systems worked, I saw NUMEROUS disabled people out and about by themselves, and am talking quadriplegics. They could take the bus alone, because the bus will come at 11.17am every day, and will have a ramp for them to get on. Have you ever watched a person on a wheelchair trying to enter a matatu in Kenya? #THAT AWKWARD MOMENT WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO HELP
If you live in an efficient-system society, then suddenly you are thrown into a situation where you NEED people to survive because the systems do not work, i.e. my housemates coming to Pakistan, I can see why everything is so hard to understand. I can see why you do not understand how people do not keep time, how plans get cancelled at the last minute and how am sitting in the office and not shooting ducks.
Definitely, to some extent, unpredictability is all about planning and commitment, and for us, street-smarts in dealing with people. But often, shit happens and I of inefficient-system society is used to it, so I accommodate, making it easier for me to adjust to life here.
My conclusion about the translations- In inefficient-system societies, relationships with people matter more than they do in efficient-system societies (Modern China and Moldova here). BECAUSE systems do not work, we sometimes need to go through people, so interpersonal communication is KEY and that includes BODY LANGUAGE. I have been brought-up more dependent on body language and therefore in this case, I can reach across the language barrier a little more…
And that’s how I know Atif is a conman, who else keeps a suspicious white donkey.