#Lahore #Pakistan, Part III: Swimming to Afghanistan
After a day or two, Lahore is fairly predictable, with old city and historic sights and shopping—for others. The food is less attractive than India’s rampant vegetarian options, but good enough. At least there are some broad avenues to walk if and when I want them. There’s only one real problem—no women. It’s not that I’m looking to get laid. I just want to look at something in my field of vision besides a bunch of old men with beards or young men without. Old men with bean bellies selling fresh-cut flowers? Gross!
I’d say the ratio of men to women on the street is about 100:1, and I’m probably being generous. It’s not that there are none, mind you, or that the ones there are all burkha’d to the max. They just aren’t there, for the most part (and the ones there are not driving motorbikes, either). I don’t know why women have to be kept behind closed doors, and I don’t know why some men—and apparently an entire religion—feel threatened by female empowerment.
Women are really pretty nice people once you get to know them. Some of my best friends are women (sshhh! Don’t tell). True, if they got too much power, then they might just ditch us males totally, keeping only a few for breeding purposes, but they wouldn’t do that, would they? And admittedly ‘female empowerment’ in the Thai fashion is not optimal, either, and probably where ‘free women’ get their bad rep, but still… There is entirely too much testosterone here in one place, with no outlet.
What else? The level of English sucks, especially considering the previous colonial heritage, same as India’s, so that’s a surprise and a disappointment. The radio sucks, too, especially considering their native ghazals and qawwali. Ironically the radio consists of more English-language programming than India, and even (American) country music. Go figure. The drivers are pretty similar to Indians—maniacs. They spit a lot, too, just like Indians, and probably more than the Chinese, who are famous for it. Betel-nut does that to you.
They even carry Indian vendors’ mind games a step further: “Pay as you wish.” Yeah, right. I know that trick. And there is definitely some overcharging, but nothing widespread or systematic. If you go back the same guy will probably give you extra next time. Mind games. But Sunday is shut down for commerce tighter than an… Amish community in Pennsylvania. Friday is the actual Muslim Sabbath, of course. But that’s okay, since I don’t feel so good anyway.
I woke up in a pool of my own sweat this morning, and it hasn’t gotten any better. My cough and sore throat have progressed into something much nastier, something much deeper in my lungs. I play the little rhyme in my head: “feed a cold; starve a fever.” Is that right? No matter; I’ll starve this one. I don’t have much appetite anyway—except for ice cream. Every good boy deserves ice cream. The fact that I’ve been cold every day for the last month doesn’t help, either, nor do Lahore’s smog-choked skies.
So my final day in Lahore I pretty much just hibernate, convenient since everything’s closed anyway. I get lots of rest and try to stay warm, even sun-bathe on the roof to burn some of the phlegm out of my lungs. Finally I give up the ghost and fall asleep, fully clothed and in a pile of blankets. Fever, sweats, chills, and general miasma follow, interspersed with some lucid dreams and pure fantasies in which globs of deep-fry batter assume weird shapes, hop into the fryer for a brief moment of life, then assume the position along with dozens of their compatriots on the carts of Pakistani street vendors.
Somebody in the next room is hacking worse than I. That’s probably where I got this cold. At least I can chat with Facebook friends when the power—and Internet—is up. There’s usually someone with a few spare moments and a few kind words. Thank God for modern technology. Travelers of yore were saying goodbye for months and years at the time when they stepped on the boat. Many never returned. Immigrants rarely—if ever—did. To say goodbye was to say goodbye forever. Internet changed all that. I like it. It’s warm in here.
Morning comes none too soon. The pool of sweat seems familiar by now. That’s okay; it’ll have to serve as my morning bath. I’ve got to catch an early bus, and don’t want to jump into an auto-rickshaw after a shower with this cold. But there’s another problem now. I’ve got diarrhea, too, something I managed to avoid in three weeks of funky scuzzy India. But how could I? I didn’t eat anything, except: could I have gotten sick from the halwa? That seems unlikely. I wait for the symptoms to pass. I can do this. The show must go on. Next stop is Islamabad. I’ll get my Afghanistan visa there.