I’m teaching at a leadership summit in Rattanabad, Pakistan, this week. It’s my first trip to the country, and it has been an unfamiliar experience already.
It began when I got off the plane. I was met by two men, holding a sign with my name on it. I didn’t know at the time, but these men were airport security and a customs agent. They had been sent by my hosts to whisk me through the immigration process and customs. I was bringing 60 Bibles with me, and my host did not want any problems with the customs agents.
The two men said a few words, offered a handshake and occasionally a hug to each official we met, and I bypassed lines and interrogations. At Immigration, they took me through one of the “Pakistan Visa” desks so that I didn’t have to wait in the “Foreign Visa” line. At the luggage carousel, they had a man ready to lift and stack all 200 lbs of my luggage on a trolley (60 hard-cover Bibles are quite heavy). At customs, one man ran interference with the uniformed agents while the other man led me out to meet my host.
It was all very efficient. If only I could take these guys with me everywhere I go…
The car ride from Karachi to Rattanabad is about three hours down unlit highways deathtraps equipped with every kind of hazard you can think of…pot holes, uneven surfaces, pedestrians, rickshaws, own-the-road weaving commuter buses and high-beam-blazing oncoming traffic. I found that it was easier on the nerves to just try to sleep through it, but my host was quite good-natured and chatty and kept me engaged in conversation for the better part of the ride.
Halfway there, we stopped at a McDonalds (because McDonalds has obviously done what no king or conqueror could manage and completed its conquest of the world). I have never seen a place so busy! There were easily 250 men, women and children present – half of them in the mosh pit that turned out to be the space where people ordered their food. There was no semblance of a line. People just mushed together as closely as they could, and the one who could get his money closest to the order-taker got served next – even if he was three rows back.
My presence attracted more than its fair share of curious stares, since I was the only large, white man in this particular restaurant, but my celebrity status was not enough to get us a table. We tried to get help finding a spot but then gave up and ate outside, where it was surprisingly peaceful. From this vantage point, I watched the chaos inside. Twenty women were tightly packed into the McDonalds Play Place watching four children in the tubes. Either the children were a fascinating watch or the mothers were excellent conversationalists. I couldn’t tell which. And where the hundreds of other children weren’t in the tubes also, I can’t tell you. I assumed that these must have been the four children of a high-level diplomatic official, who forced all the mothers to serve as body guards for his kids.
Two of my new friends ate something called a “McArabia,” which looks like a pita sandwich. They couldn’t believe that we didn’t have these in the U.S. or Thailand. When everyone was done, we all loaded back into the car, and I willed myself to go to sleep in anticipation of the death-defying stunts we would do on the last hour of our journey. I made it in one piece to a nice dorm-type building, where I’ll be staying and teaching over the next few days. I’m hoping for more out-of-the-ordinary stuff for my next blog post.