I’m learning a bit about myself on this trip. As you know, we are filming the whole thing to make a documentary at the end. What that means practically is that I’m seeing myself from every possible angle when we review the camera footage at night. There’s plenty of it that I don’t like. I’ve fallen into the body image trap.
I’ve always had a bit of a gut and a double chin. It’s just how I am. But having it thrown in your face by the camera is extremely confronting. What’s worse is there is nothing I can do to change it in the short term.
I’m a little bit ashamed of myself. Not for being a little bit chunky, but for being worried about it. It’s not as though I’m a slob. The gym is blessed with my presence twice a week, and I still play Australian Rules Football and cricket. But at age 42, is it time to accept that my modelling days are behind me?
Maybe this is the wakeup call I need to change my diet when I get home? Probably not. I like my chocolate too much.
The crew and I had to rise at 4.45am to catch a 7am flight to Bahawalpur. A small town in southern Punjab that is home to Pakistan’s first ever Test venue.
Unfortunately, learn at the gate that taking cricket bats onto a plane as hand luggage is not allowed, so our $15 tape ball bat has to be sacrificed.
As is consistent with most things here, the plane was 30 minutes late. Then they lost my bags. What were Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) doing with that extra thirty minutes they took from my life?
The hotel in Bahawalpur looked comfortable and quiet as our Suzuki “Dabba [box]” spluttered up its driveway. However, the reception staff where surprised to see a “gora [white]” and called the police. What we didn’t know at the time is that hotels here need a special security clearance to host foreigners. Not that I felt unsafe here. We were in the middle of the countryside. But these are the rules.
The police intelligence guys appeared. They interrogated me and inquisitively looked through my passport. They highlighted that my visa had some travel conditions in it that meant we probably shouldn’t have been where we were.
After about 30 minutes of back and forth, they agreed to let us stay, but we had to move to a more secure hotel that had foreigner clearance. They would also provide us a full police escort wherever we went in town. I asked one of the cops if Bahawalpur was a safe place for me. He said that it was 100% safe, but that they didn’t want to take any risks with me. If something happened, it would be a major issue.
As we checked into the new, more secure hotel, the crew received a phone call from the police stating that we had to stay put. Military Intelligence were on their way. They also wanted to check me out.
These guys were more formal than the police and took copious notes about my trip and my background.
These guys gave me a feeling of unease. While one guy probed away with direct questions, the other kept staring and observing my reactions. It was like I was on trial for being a tourist.
It’s quite a paradox. Pakistan is desperate to improve its self image to the world and encourage people to visit. Yet when I do just that, I am made to felt that I must be up to something sinister.
Is this country paranoid or are these real concerns?
I begin to suspect that the intelligence guys are becoming more comfortable with my presence when I showed them pictures of myself with Moin Khan, Zaheer Abbas and others.
Stupidly, as they were leaving, I tried to take a picture of them. It was a massive misstep. The senior intelligence officer calmly walked over, grabbed my phone and asked me to show him the pictures I had taken. He then surgically went through them, deleting ones he didn’t like, including almost all of the ones that contained uniformed police.
He also asked Qasim for official documents about Cricingif. Registration papers. PCB correspondence. The introduction letter they sent to me for my visa. This took about 2hrs in total to work though.
While waiting, I finally got to taste my first Pakistani biryani. A rice and dry chicken dish with plenty of tasty spices. I’d happily eat it again.
But, despite all of this, we were granted permission to explore and the police escort was waiting for us when we left the hotel.
Given we had lost most of the day, it was decided to skip the stadium shoot and head out about 60kms to a place called Derawar Fort. A 12th century structure where the local “Nawab [King]” once lived.
We captured some wonderful footage at this place for the documentary. It was so quiet out here in the middle of the desert. You could hear things like the cow bells in the surrounding paddocks, the kids playing in the nearby village and the birds. Real countryside, and a welcome respite from Karachi’s aggressive heartbeat.
On the return journey the cops let me ride in the tray of the Hilux. We chatted with Zulfiqar, a veteran officer of 10 years who had kindly posed for a few pictures with me also.
He explained that the region we were in was ridiculously safe.
“It is sparsely populated and the people are community based. You could leave your car or tractor unlocked overnight and it will still be there in the morning. No one will touch it.”
Our evening consisted of sitting outside in the lush garden of the hotel, shooting the breeze. A few non alchoholic margaritas, talk about DSLR camera technique and how marriage works in an Islamic society occupied our words.
All of these guys are under 30 years old and live at home. This is how it is here. The western concepts of moving out before marriage, or even dating are foreign. Not that these guys seem to mind. It works for them.
A day in the country was exactly what I needed. I feel refreshed and myself again. There’s something about space and clean air that has always appealed to me. Despite having a population of over 200 million, Pakistan has plenty of it. Overlay its hospitable nature and you have a recipe for good living.