Monthly Archives: November 2012

It’s Cold Here


Would it be too much to say that I actually miss Pakistan?

I miss it with all its inefficiency, inefficiency I was used to. I especially miss my Saturday morning ritual, buying parathas downstairs(similar to really soft oily chapati), buying steaming tea in a small paperbag and half-cooking an oily egg to go with the paratha. I even miss getting interrupted by the water guy. I have no idea what he used to say, but it was fun trying to figure it out.

It’s not that I have anything against Kenya, but Pakistan is the only place I have ever been completely independent so there’s a special attachment.

I mostly miss people, the warmth everywhere and the interdependence – ironic since I can be quite solitary especially here. In places where uncertainty reigns because of a variety of reasons like public systems not working, people depend more on each other. I miss that. It’s too efficient here for anyone to need you or for you to need anyone.

I remember flying into Karachi for the first time, I had never seen so many guns. I went through checks and checks, attempted small-time extortion, lots of stares and interrogations. It was tangible, it was exciting, it was uncertain.

Quite a contrast to landing in London. Unlike Jinnah Airport, there are no visible guns at Heathrow, only brutal efficiency.

Efficiency as I went through immigration. Efficiency as I got a taste of the administrative order…though I didn’t have a clue as to where I was going, I simply read the signs. Signs leading to the subway, signs leading to information desks. It’s fool proof, and quite honestly, takes away some of the joy of being an uncertain traveller. There are signs everywhere, just read a few and you will get through the big bad city, no need to ask strangers where to go. The only highlight was when I took the wrong bus, because I was too impatient to wait for the guy at the information desk to get free- he was trying to help some Chinese that had lost their camera.

There are immigrants everywhere and I’m adding to the colour, that’s what London shows me. I honestly wonder how I would feel if Nairobi was suddenly overcome with immigrants, because London was shocking. Optimistically, the definition of a multicultural city perhaps.

It’s a humongous city, but it’s more quiet than the mountains, the people that is. I feel like like I am in a silent movie, grey, quiet yet full-of-activity. I’m in the tube, the only sound is the train rocking back and forth as it rushes through the dark underground tunnels. Once in a while, the automated voice comes on announcing the next station. The people stand/sit and wait for their stops quietly. They stare outside, at the floor, or into space. Many block out life with their headphones and ear plugs, others read newspapers, other prefer to text or check emails on their phones and many iphones.  Everyone’s travelling alone except for a couple I noticed and a family of 4 whose toddler is waving at me; I wave back cautiously, quietly,  testing reactions. Soon the toddler will be socialized into one more quiet inward soulless but ever-so-polite citizen.

The train stops, technical issues the automated voice tells us, and then it asks us to get off and wait for another train. Like robots, we obey the all-knowing voice, and stand quietly on the platform. It’s windy, and grey. Everyone stares in unison towards the right,  the direction where the next train should come from.

As we stand there, the wind is the only thing that dares to be expressive; it chills us, so we clench our own hands together and wrap them around ourselves and our stuff tighter. It flirts with the girls, blowing their hair around their faces but they look down and ignore it. It rustles the leaves on the platform breaking the bizarre silence and trying to inject the necessary chaos needed for  life. It soon gives up on that too, because the cleaners have been much too efficient, so there are barely any leaves to play with. It sends us a whiff of the cigarette the guy is smoking, probably our only interaction with him. It gives up, because though divided we still stand.

It’s cold here.

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