A New Job
We landed at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport at 2am. The airport had only one terminal and at that hour things were quiet. Our flight north to Islamabad was later the next day so we found a space and tried to sleep. At around 5am the airport started to come alive and Urdu and English intermingled. We had paratha and lassi for breakfast. I bought a copy of the Pakistan Times and saw an image of President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq on the front page. As it turned out our military hardman was a regular in the paper he controlled. We checked flight information and saw our plane had been delayed for some hours. At around 4pm and now, thanks to the newspaper, fully up to date on General Zia's doings around the place, we walked across the tarmac for boarding and it was true what our employer had told us - the temperature would be roughly the same as a cool Sydney winter.
The plan was that we would meet a company representative once we landed in Islamabad. Everyone else on the flight was from the region so spotting us would be no problem. We land. Having already cleared customs in Karachi we join the chaos at the baggage carousel and like so many other airports around about, there are touts everywhere. Our bags appear and as we wrestle them onto a trolley a tall man approaches and begins to help. Thinking we are being railroaded to a taxi and then onto a particular hotel I am less than polite. I feel frustrated that I cannot say a word in Urdu. Mahad seems to have seen this before and using English introduces himself as our driver. We leave the terminal and the temperature has fallen to below zero. So much for a Sydney winter.
Our destination is further north on the banks of the Indus river in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. We join the ancient Grand Trunk Road and dodge and duel with all manner of transport. The occasional dual carriageway of around 300 metres provides irresistible motivation for the decorated buses and trucks to scoot up the wrong side to pass a few extra cars. Off the main road we pass through the small mud-brick hamlet of Tarbela and reach the company compound in darkness. The guard at the gate is wearing a Chitrali cap, has a blanket around his shalwar kameez and a Lee-Enfield .303 across his shoulders which he adjusts as he shines a torch into the mini-bus. We pass through and Mahad takes us to our house. It is unlocked so we turn on some lights and realise that minimalism is what the company had been aiming for here. In the fridge is a bottle of water and a poorly plucked uncooked chicken and that’s it. We had already noticed that shops are not a big thing in this part of Pakistan. Carmel takes to her bed. The next morning I’m up early and meet the father of one of my kids as he heads to the dam site. He comes in a bit close and says, ‘Don’t you go mad on Vicky if she’s late. I’ll whack you if you do.’
All in all not too bad for our first twelve hours.