Sunday, 26 April 2009

Kacper is stoned - Post 19

After travelling extensively around India, Kacper and his 10 fellow college students, were in Amritsar, eastern part of the country, near the border with Pakistan. All still excited after visiting the magnificent Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs... They were now finishing their last preparations for entering Pakistan - the next country, which they were visiting on their way to Europe. They travelled in THEIR OWN BUS. The vehicle, which, not only became their means of transport, but also their home for next 6 months...

Crossing the border between the two countries was probably the most colourful experience of its kind. The relations between India and Pakistan still under strain; caused the two nations, to compete and rival with each other, sometimes, in most unexpected ways and places. The frontier-crossing on the road from Amritsar to Lahore was a good example of it.

Both sides tried ensuring, it was their border post, and not the other one, which looked more glamorous and spectacular. The guards of both countries were dressed in extremely colourful uniforms; their hats with lavish decorations were the most effective of their overall appearance. The entry/exit gates were richly painted with national colours, and emblems. Huge flags of Pakistan and India informed each visitor, in which country they currently were. When leaving India, the guards saluted their bus in a very pompous way, just to see the Pakistani soldiers repeating a similar show, on arrival to their country.

In Lahore, the group decided to split for a week. The idea was that in couples, they visited different villages around the country. Seven days later, they would meet in the City of Quetta on the border with Afghanistan. They were supposed to reach Beluchistani capital by train, or public buses. In the meanwhile, two other colleagues would drive the bus to the city, and wait for everyone’s arrival there. From Quetta, they would together drive further, through the deserts of Beluchistan, towards Taftan, the Pakistani town on the border with Iran.

Kacper was to visit villages, with the Finnish friend of his – Mariukka. She was of his age, and had a typical Nordic look. She was tall, and thin, and her hair was so blond that nearly white, which in Pakistan attracted lots of attention, especially coming from men.

They happened to be travelling, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, when all self respecting Muslim fasted during daylight. The fact that people do not eat, or drink in very high temperatures, makes them very tired. This disrupts normal businesses too. Shops, restaurants, or transport companies would be either closed, or would offer a limited service.

Mariukka and Kacper soon found out that their plan of visiting rural areas outside of Lahore was not going be easy. A mini-bus that they had hoped to take them to their destination was not going anywhere that day. They therefore, ended up wandering pointlessly around Lahore’s shuk (market), thinking how to adjust their plans. It was hot, and they were already quite thirsty and hungry. They decided, finding some upmarket restaurant, or hotel, which could serve them drinks and food, despite the Ramadan’s fasting.

‘Excuse me, sir…’ Kacper approached a friendly looking middle-aged man on one of the streets. ‘Do you speak English?’ he asked. ‘How can I help you?’ answered the man encouragingly. ‘We are looking for a place, where we could eat. Do you know anywhere, which is open at this time of the day?’ Kacper kept on asking. The man explained that because of the Ramadan, it was going to be difficult to eat anything now. He however mentioned that there was an international hotel the neighbourhood, but it was surely quite expensive.

Mariukka and Kacper thanked the man, and walked off. They did not intend to eat anywhere pricy, they were students, travelling on budget, and needed to save. They continued walking hoping that something would come up sooner or later. They also decided that they would take a night train to Quetta, and try visiting villages around there, rather than Lahore.

Kacper had a strange feeling; they were being followed. He looked back, but saw nothing unusual. ‘I am imagining things’ he thought to himself. Five minutes later, someone grabbed his arm firmly. The man, who had just talked to them, reappeared. ‘I would like to invite you to my family’ he proposed. ‘We will be very proud to host you’ he added. Mariukka and Kacper did not need much convincing. They had experienced many families treating them in their homes in India. ‘Now it was happening again in Pakistan’ they assumed. ‘We will be privileged!’ decided Mariukka without hesitation…

The man brought them to a parking space near one of the shops. ‘This is my car…’ he opened the back door, and invited them inside a nice, modern looking 4x4. There was another man sitting behind the steering wheel. ‘That’s Ahmed, my driver’ he introduced him. ‘We will now go to my family’s house, it is not very far from here.’ Ahmed switched the engine on, and they started moving around busy streets of the city.

In the car, Mariukka and Kacper told their host that they were students, and travelled around Asia. They told him about their countries, and families. Of course, they assured him how much they loved Pakistan, each time, the man asked them for their impressions of his country.

Kacper noticed that they were leaving the city. This was slightly unexpected, as he believed that the man’s family lived in Lahore. ‘Don’t worry, this is not very far from here, it is just 20 more minutes’ reassured the man. They kept on driving through small villages, and something told Kacper, things were not right.

After half an hour, he asked the man to stop. ‘Sir, we do not want to inconvenience you… you must be busy, and we imposed ourselves. Please do let us out in this village, and we will manage on our own’ suggested Kacper. ‘We are nearly home!’ he exclaimed back, making sure Kacper understood, they would continue. Some time later, at distance, they noticed some decent nice looking buildings. ‘We are going to that blue house that you can see on the horizon… this is where my family lives…’

They moment they left the car, the door of the house opened, and many people walked outside. The host introduced his visitors to people that Kacper believed were inhabitants of the place. To Kacper’s surprise, they also met a Pakistani woman dressed in western clothes. She spoke spotless English with an American accent. ‘This is my wife… she will make sure, you will be fine in here’ the man announced proudly. Everyone was friendly and kind to the two visitors. This made Kacper feel more relaxed again, despite his surprise of meeting people, who did not seem to behave like he had imagined a typical Pakistani family would.

They all enjoyed the dinner. Mariukka and Kacper entertained their hosts with stories from their countries, which everyone seemed to have liked. It was late, and they wanted to rest. Mariukka and Kacper were offered one of the modest looking bedrooms, with two separate beds inside.

‘This is where you will sleep’ explained the host and passed them glasses with milky tea.

Mariukka seemed very tired and informed Kacper, she was hitting her bed immediately. Kacper also felt it was time to sleep, in fact, this was the only thing he could imagine doing at that point.

He opened his eyes, and looked around. He had a scrutinising headache. In fact, Kacper’s head seemed to be spinning mercilessly, making him feel sick. There were many trees around him, for some reason. He tried to lift his body from the ground. It ached! He noticed, he was dressed in a jalaba (a Pakistani dress), and not his usual clothes. Kacper looked around, and here she was – Mariukka, sleeping on the ground. Her body was curled, and she looked a bit like a sleeping cat.

‘What was going on?’ he tried his best to remember. ‘We must have had a car crash’ a strange thought crossed his mind, without any reason, and he decided that he needed to look for a telephone booth, to call for help. He passed out again.

…There were some people around them, perhaps five. They looked worried and curious, but concentrated their attention on Mariukka rather than Kacper. She vomited, and Kacper thought it was funny. ‘Mariukka is sick, she must have been drinking’ he thought to himself, and turned around. All what he wanted was sleep now…

He opened his eyes. He inspected the room he was in… Mariukka slept on a bed that looked very comfortable. There was a big crucifix on a white wall, which he faced. He did not know where he was, and what he was doing there. He did not seem to care though.

Kacper decided to get out of his bed, and moved towards a big brown door. He opened it and walked out on something that resembled a terrace. He was on a first floor. Everything around seemed very quiet. Kacper looked at a beautiful garden that appeared to his eyes. ‘Am I in Heaven?’ he asked himself.

He found stairs leading to the garden. He decided to walk down them. As he was approaching the ground floor, he noticed… a monk planting a rose carefully and with adoration. He looked at Kacper, and smiled gently. The man’s face was very friendly. His white and beautiful teeth contrasted pleasantly with his dark skin.

‘How are you… I hope you are feeling better?’ he addressed Kacper. ‘Thank you, sir! I am well indeed’ he answered and paused. ‘But… but who are you, and where am I?’ asked Kacper.

‘God…’ thought Kacper after he had talked to the monk. ‘We are really lucky to be alive’ he evaluated… The monk had explained that local peasants, who were on the way to cultivate the fields, found Mariukka and Kacper in the woods. They brought, the unconscious Europeans, to one of a local car garages. From there, the owner called the Catholic Missionary Centre in Lahore, and explained what had happened. He was asked to look after them until the Missionary Centre would pick the foreigners up.

Mariukka and Kacper apparently slept for over 24 hours. Sometimes they would wake up, and talk to the priests, but Kacper could not recall any of it. No one in the monastery knew, who the guests were. They were found with no documents, no money… NOTHING! They reported to the Police of Lahore of the two foreigners, but it seemed the police were not interested in finding out, who Mariukka and Kacper might have been!

Kacper’s mind slowly started recovering, but it was a slow process, and for most of the time, Kacper felt like he was in between two strange realities. ‘How funny… we had been kidnapped’ he thought to himself and started laughing.

Mariukka finally woke up. Kacper explained to her in a nutshell what he had found out. She found the story as amusing, as Kacper had done. She then went for a shower, and something strange happened, when she returned. She burst into tears and started sobbing, and looked really miserable. Kacper kept on asking what was happening… and feared the worse… ‘Mariukka must have been assaulted’ he thought grimly. ‘I do not have my deodorant… they had stolen my deodorant!’ exclaimed Mariukka dramatically and fell on her pillow!

Kacper was worried. He needed to do something! He was a gentleman after all, and Mariukka needed her deodorant. He rushed to speak to the monks. ‘Do you have any women around here?’ he asked impatiently. ‘Excuse me… did I hear you right?’ responded the monk somehow shocked. ‘You have been unconscious for days, and all what you are asking for are women?’ Kacper realised that the monks misunderstood him terribly. He started explaining frantically that Mariukka was a real lady, and her deodorant had been stolen, and that he – Kacper, the gentleman, needed to do something about it! They realised that Kacper’s body must have not extracted the poison yet, and hence his strange behaviour. They just smiled, and offered to share with him remaining of their after-shave lotion instead! Kacper picked the bottle, and rather pleased with his mission run to see Mariukka. ‘All they had was this after shave, Mariukka!’ She didn't seem to mind to be using the after-shave, intstead of the favourite deodorant! She opened the bottle, and sprayed the liquid all around her in hefty amounts. She seemed happy again. Perhaps smelled slightly less conservative, but all what counted was her happiness!

Their friends in Quetta looked at Mariukka and Kacper with shock and disbelief, when they heard about their adventure. You are going to hospital now, you will need to be checked – both of you, and then we need to call your embassies…

PS. Kacper is reading the reports of pork/swine flu in Mexico.

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