Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Football Daze

You learn many things on a journey like this. At our hotel in Mansehra where we had a TV showing World Cup football, I learnt that you should not leap into the air, arms aloft in celebration, in a room with a low ceiling and a ceiling fan. Gayle shakes her head and a tut is audible as I writhe in agony on the floor like a... well, like a World Cup footballer. Luckily no appendages are lost. "It's only South Korea", Gayle remarks. Later the same day, as I'm returning to the room with a bag of fresh samosas I fall down a drain. I have already learnt that you should always keep an eye out for the pavement that suddenly disappears, but I had forgotten this valuable lesson. Only one samosa is lost - disappeared down a black hole.

Our ride to Mansehra is not too long and very pleasant as it's mainly downhill. Traffic has picked up though, and as well as the painted trucks there are now tons of minivans and the much-loved Suzuki Maruti. The drivers are uniformly moronic, or at least that's what I tell them when they buzz past close enough to tickle me. I'm not in a laughing mood and practice some new hand signals. We stop at a chaishop for the obligatory tea and get chatting to a young man called Kamran. When we set off again he insists on paying for the drinks. The air is fresh with the scent of pine as we descend through forest. Now and again we pass some dreadful-looking chicken factory farms. I vow never to eat chicken again - a vow that is broken once we arrive Mansehra.

Outside the little restaurant some women stop us to say hello. The younger one is from England, and she invites Gayle/us to her house. In a nice turnaround I am completely ignored by everyone. We're sweaty and starved so we pass on the invite and hurry inside, where we are then 'captured' by Idrees, a young graduate looking for a job. He wants to talk, practice his quaint English, and asks us a few questions while we stuff our faces. At some point he points out how much a pleasure it is for him to talk with a foreign woman for the first time. In true South Asian style he has lost interest in me once he learns I have no university education. Obviously I'm an idiot. Gayle garners all the attention with her masters degree in demography. At first I found this annoying, but ultimately I'm rather relieved. When I am asked what my educational background is (this is usually Question Number Three) I tend to wave dismissively, and say "Nothing. But my wife has a master's degree......" thus getting out of Questions Four to Ten. Idrees turns out to be a very charming young man, if a little serious. I have to hurry off to catch Algeria versus Slovenia.

Abbottabad is only a short ride down the road, but we still manage to squeeze in a tea stop along the way. Another traveller, a tea trader riding on his motorbike with his small son and a large sack of tea, pays for our drinks. The town is becoming a city - with a huge approach road full of new shops and snazzy restaurants, private schools and colleges. After riding into the centre for half an hour we stop for a mango milkshake. A young student pays for these before we can stop him. These kindnesses to strangers are embarrassing. Would an Englisman buy a foreigner a cup of coffee in England like this?? We're still in the hills here, north of Islamabad, and the climate remains fresh. Down on the Punjab plains it's a different story - pre-monsoon heat is cranking up. So we decide to take a few days rest here - the days we saved by taking a minibus through Kohistan. Besides the hotel has TV and look, it's New Zealand versus Slovakia tonight...........

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