Lucy Ferriss

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I've called this blog "Travelin' Thoughts" in the past, because I kept it mostly as a journal to record impressions of new places and cultures. But in a way, it's still a place for traveling thoughts--ideas that move through and past me, and out into the world. Some of these are literary, some just about life. It's a good place to open up the conversation, and I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Hanging Callendars & Other Curiosities

May 13, 2015

April 18, 2012, Peshawar -- I want to pause and point out some of the colorful details I risk overlooking. Like the buses. I’m trying to get a couple of good photos of these, though the streets are always so crowded it’s hard to stand back and get a clear shot. They are massively decorated, not just painted everywhere with alluring women’s eyes staring from the back, wild animals along the sides, perhaps the zodiac, famous buildings, fantastical creatures, slogans, horses, abstract designs … They also sport glittering grillwork, scarves waving from every available hook, pompoms, streamers, often a sparkling rooftop railing for the roof riders. I asked Shazia how anyone knows where any particular bus is going, since the paintings seem individual and not indicative of a route, and thre are no numbers or destinations indicated. She pointed out the young man who hangs from the bus door. As they approach a stop, he leans out and shouts all the roads along which the bus will run, and if that’s your route, you hop on. He also hustles people onto the bus and tells the bus driver (who can scarcely see, for all the people hanging onto the bus and the press of traffic and pedestrians) when to take off. He’s known as a “callender,” stress on the second syllable.

I’ve just been served tea by the cook. This is always a formal affair. I am not allowed to return the tea things to the kitchen when I’m done, or even to lift them as he approaches to clear. He’ll make me set them down again so he can do it all.

Haggling is different here. The seller gives you a set price, say for a hand-embroidered shawl, and you go all the way to buying it. Then, just as you’re about to hand the cash over, you look at him slyly and saying something like “You don’t really mean 25,000 rupees. Come on. I’ll give you 23,000. Right?” And he objects, but then you fork over the 23,000 and more or less turn to go. Then he’ll say something like “You need to give me 1000 more,” and you say, “500.” And the deal is done. Forget about credit cards. We spent several infuriating hours dealing with banks, ATMs, and MasterCard (who knew I was here and had promised not to block anything), and in the end I’m simply going to reimburse Shazia via bank transfer when I’m in the States. People here walk around with millions of rupees in their pockets, despite the risk of robbery, because there’s no other way to buy anything.

Speaking of money, yesterday Sohrab returned from Lahore on the overnight Daewoo. I asked if he’d been able to sleep. He said no, because the overnight bus eschews the motorway for the crowded and extremely bumpy Grand Trunk Road for the entire distance. Why? Because at night, highwaymen attack on the motorway. They set up a blockade, perhaps as primitive as a bunch of logs strewn over the motorway, and then they force their way onto the bus and take everyone’s money and goods. Or they stop expensive cars and kidnap the occupants.

I’m making this place sound insane. And it is insane. Yet within the shops, the sellers are polite, calm, not the sort of hustler you’d expect. Outside, a young boy will be almost continually sweeping the dirt, trying for cleanliness in this city of blowing dust and garbage. The horses pulling the carts that crowd in among rickshaws and buses are uncommonly beautiful, lean and dark and glistening with sweat, trotting with head held high, a bit of bright decoration on the forehead or mane. On the rare occasion that the smog clears, the mountains of the Khyber Pass guard the city in ancient splendor.

One last mention, then I’ll close and post again on events. Polio is a big problem here. Young men with withered legs beg in the streets. Why? Because when the government or the NGO goes into the rural areas with vaccine, the people think they are trying to sterilize their sons, and they refuse the vaccine. No one seems to trust anyone in so-called authority.

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