The Chitral Diary – July 2011

Almost 12000ft above sea level - in a jeep.

Disclaimer: This post has nothing much to do with the ARTEd Outreach Workshop. It is of an entirely personal nature and does not reflect on the workshop. I’ll post details of the workshop some other time once I’ve completed my obligations to the funding organization.

This summer has been – eventful. After a series of fortunate and unfortunate events in July, I’ve been in hiding. As I write, it’s mid-August and I still don’t know when I’ll post this. I’ve tried not to do anything in a whole month and it has been surprisingly easy. Meanwhile, my mother has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and it seems to be responding well to treatment which is more than I can hope for. Lets just say that it has made me stop altogether and I have done absolutely nothing (except take care of her needs) and I feel oddly still. Perhaps that is why I couldn’t write. I have been so – still. It’s almost like I am afraid to move.

But that happened later. It happened after I got back from Chitral. And I think this post is about Chitral mostly. More on Hep C later sometime. When I can think about it without cringing into absolute stasis (is that even possible? I’ve come to believe anything is possible).

I went to Chitral to do something honorable (in my opinion). A friend and I had come up with this idea a couple of years ago (more on that some other time) and we finally managed to get funded for it (meagerly funded, if I might be honest which some people call ungrateful – people and their funny words!) We planned an art-education workshop for young people in remote regions – oh, you know, to make them aware of possibilities. Also to impart a basic skill-set if they were to pursue art after high-school. A noble cause. For art. For education. I was passionately motivated. I was driven. And then I went.

It began with great enthusiasm – especially when people paid attention to the idea and they wanted to fund it. Then the pain began. The pain of disagreement with my friend. The criticism. Collaborations can really suck sometimes. But I am a woman of my word. And I really wanted to do this. So I endured. The worst moment was when I questioned the clothing I was supposed to endure during this trip. I was supposed to go in sack-like garments with my head covered at all times. Ofcourse, I am completely unaccustomed to being forced to cover-up. But if it’s a requirement (for safety or to mix more easily with the locals) I suppose I didn’t mind so much. However, my friend, who hasn’t heard of tact, just rubbed me the wrong way about it, and I soured instantly. I hate self-righteous lectures. I hate judgement. And I never understand when people lack the patience to explain something unfamiliar to me. Ofcourse covering up isn’t entirely unfamiliar. I do live in Pakistan. But the drama could have been avoided. I was blamed for every immoral act known to man (emphasis on man) and old grievances were brought out and thrown at me. Oh how I hate dramatics that aren’t even interesting. How I yawned inwardly. And then fumed inwardly. And then outright exploded. In short, not a good start.

So it began. With trepidation. With absolute dread. I wrote a little while I was in Chitral. I should paste the appropriate excerpts as I go along. Yes, this is going to be a long post.

Day 1

July 1, 2011

In spite of thunderstorms and strange luggage misfortunes, I managed to get to the airport on time – at 5:30 am. I had been nervous all night and couldn’t sleep. I could tweet, though. I think I spent most of my twittering ranting about clothing restrictions. But I had a bad feeling about this trip besides my frustration about the clothes I had been advised to wear. Negative, I know – but sometimes you just get a feeling and you have no choice but to see it through and hope for the best (or the worst – usually both, at the same time).

I tried not to think about it but my stomach was churning. I had to pick up Aleem and Mehrbano on the way to the airport. On the highway, we saw a nasty accident. Also, it was raining but the storm had abated by then. The accident seemed very nasty and I couldn’t help feeling a sense of foreboding. I was worrying the flight would get cancelled and I had really put myself into getting this project on its feet – so it would have been disappointing to go back home from the airport. However, deep inside somewhere I was hoping the flight would get cancelled and I would go home. Something didn’t feel right.

At the airport things were uneventful. However, they have removed the smoking section altogether which didn’t help my mood. Also, I gulped down Red Bull which just made me edgy. I wanted to sulk for no reason but I masked it. Afterall I had decided I would try my best to hide my true feelings. My true feelings usually bother other people. I’ve noticed I’m expected to be considerate even though if somebody throws a tantrum I try my best to reason with them without being harsh or mean. I even pander to people’s shit. I usually never get that kind of respect. It must be a personality thing. Sometimes, I want to just not know the people I know. I believe I am too generous with myself.

Upon entering the aircraft I had a bout of claustrophobia which I did not expect. It was too damn small! I’ve never been like that inside a plane before. And I’ve spent my whole life in airplanes. This frightened me and I had a strong feeling that nobody would understand. They never understand my anxiety and the irrational but real fear. They never understand how my throat starts constricting. They never know how I know it’s irrational but I can’t help myself. Fortunately, I had remembered to bring ALP – that usually helps me with anxiety. But they had already closed the doors when I dry swallowed a pill. I had this insane urge to start screaming and forcing them to let me off. But I didn’t. The kind of self-control it took is now hard to believe.

The claustrophobic ATR

The ATR took off and fortunately it didn’t jerk around too much. There was some commotion from an air-guard when I walked into the cock-pit with the pilot’s permission. Nobody had informed the air-guard and he was worrying about security. I guess he was just doing his job. And I was just out of luck. But that was just the beginning.

We got to Chitral in one piece though and I had almost sighed with relief. But then my phone went beserk and nobody at Mobilink could help me. Apparently, they can’t if I’m in Chitral. And Blackberrys go beserk whenever they want. So there went any chance of an internet connection. With a sinking heart I shared my disappointment with my friends who of course did not understand. Instead I was chided for ruining things for everyone and also yelled at. I went to the bathroom and cried a while. Alone. They can’t judge me if they can’t see me.

Damn. That sounds pretty bad – even to me. Paranoid and sulky. And downright silly, even. But I feel bad too. Because I actually felt that way. Things got better later. Once I started taking my happy pills and the work started, things did get better. They were almost good.

Day 2

July 02

Next day, everything changed. Ofcourse it changed. I had drugged myself with a Xanax in the night and everything looked brighter. Sometimes, it’s just chemical.

The rest is a long account of the workshop and the way we got to our various destinations. I’d rather not go into that right now. I believe this is a personal post. The material about the workshop can go on my website – once, I’m done editing it. So, maybe it was chemical. Maybe I am a chemical myself. Something that is volatile and keeps changing.

The workshop was quite interesting. No, it was good. We did what we set out to do. Infact, I’d say it was a success. But the people were shocking. Yes, they shocked me. Here I was, yelled into submission for my clothes and my thoughts and scared out of my wits that I might accidentally offend somebody. And then I met the locals. They were unlike anything I had expected. They were arrogant and insane – besides being sleazy. Especially the girls. I’ve never encountered so many sleazy girl-women before. They tried to pimp their men to me. I was shocked and amused all at once. And so angry. I had been misinformed. I would have armed myself with something other than fear if I hadn’t been confused with dramatic lectures about culture and morality. As if I’m stupid and insensitive. My friend with the dramatic lectures almost had a nervous breakdown when he began to realize what we were up against. His mind couldn’t accept what was happening. Good for him. A hard jolt once in a while should shake any self-rightous know-it-all into common sense.

Once the workshop was over, we decided to go watch the final polo match at the Shandur Polo Festival. At 12,200 ft. Yes, that’s pretty high. Ofcourse I was given more dramatic lectures but I tried not to be afraid. By this time I was tired of the lectures and the criticism. So I braved it. And the ride was absolutely breathtaking. In my secret heart, I was elated. This made it worth it all.

With my luck, once I was up there, I smoked a cigarette and walked too fast and got altitude sickness. Fortunately, it was mild(ish) – I only threw up everything I had eaten in a year and couldn’t breathe – but I didn’t die. I got yelled at and criticised and everything else. But I didn’t care. I was alive. And it really had been my fault. I shouldn’t have smoked. I think I try to admit my mistakes. And I believe that once somebody admits their mistake, they should be left alone and not lectured endlessly. Ofcourse my friend never knows when to give up. Sometimes I wonder why I put up with his shit. I believe its called being friends. Kudos to me.

Also I spent the night in a tent (gasping for breath until I passed out). This was a first for me. I’d never been camping before. I’m quite proud of myself and very amused. I’m a stickler for brushing my teeth but I couldn’t because it was too cold and I couldn’t breathe. And I didn’t care. Cold has a new meaning in Shandur at night. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. Having barely any oxygen to breathe also made me reconsider my claustrophobia. On the way back to Islamabad, the airplane didn’t bother me at all.

I think I was just happy I was alive

By then my bad luck had pretty much run out. I had a wonderful experience in Kailash. It is a beautiful place with beautiful people. They are much nicer than the people we met in the rest of Chitral. And they are pagan(ish) which definitely makes them more fun. I totally recommend Kailash to everyone. If you don’t mind driving on very small dirt roads with your wheels off the ground and in thin air over great ravines once in a while…

Kailash and it's beautiful people: Gulistan, my new friend.

Meanwhile, I learnt a few things. I learnt to have more patience with people and their funny ways. I learnt that I have no fear of heights. I learnt that I can survive altitude sickness. I also discovered that my claustrophobia has lessened somewhat (after the no oxygen in a very wide open space ordeal). And most importantly, I discovered a real friend in Mehrbano – who I’ve always gotten along with. I discovered that she is a truly wonderful human being. So the trip wasn’t all that bad afterall (considering how well the workshop went, too) and as long as I learnt some important things, it was worth it.

So that’s my story for July. Weird summer.

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3 responses to “The Chitral Diary – July 2011

  1. Pingback: The Chitral Diary – July 2011 | Tea Break

  2. sometimes i wonder about the normal artists. how can they be so normal! maybe depression creates art or maybe it’s different for different people. be different. maybe there are plenty of people who understand you, i dontknow. but self righteous ones are the worst lot!

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