The End…For Now!

It’s been a great ride – six months of wonderful adventures and amazing people, sights and sounds in Pakistan and the Maldives. I’ll start up another blog for my next adventure somewhere in the world! But for now, I’m back in Ottawa and back to my life as an international communications consultant. Thanks everyone for reading and for all your wonderful comments. They were so nice to read half way around the world. I leave you with some photos that cap off my trip.

Life and love, Judith

Blog is coming to an end

There is just less than a day left before I return to Canada and mark the official end of my Pakistan posting. My return back to my life as an international consultant in Ottawa after being away for six months will be fraught with sadness for having left a great posting and amazing people but also happiness to see my Canadian friends and family again.

I’m sure to write one last time and perhaps post some last pictures.

Almost at an end…

I can’t believe that my six month posting is almost at an end. Just four more days here in the Maldives before I head back to Canada permanently. Yikes. I feel very sad. I always feel sad whenever I finish a contract. The intensity drops and then the reality hits. You mean I have to do laundry again? Cook for myself again? Clean again….UGH! Not have any more exciting things to discover every day until the next trip? Surely you jest? Surely life is more than just daily routines? And more than talking about what the kids are up to and what the best investments are for one’s portfolio? Surely there is more to life than that? I’m sure there is.

Two Days Left…

I can’t believe it!  After hearing about this for months, the government has finally started the offensive in South Waziristan and I’m leaving the country.  Right in the middle of good news stories but of course not so good for the tons of people who live in that area who will likely be displaced because of the military operations.

Things have been quite tense here since the WFP bombing on the 5th.  The Taliban have upped the ante – with a direct hit on a UN building, with taking hostages at – it was said – one of the most secure army buildings in the country in Rawalpindi just 30 mins from here (with good traffic) and with triple suicide bombings in three different cities.  Security is tight around the city and extra precautions are being taken all around.  Don’t worry.

I’ll be off for some debriefings with the UN in NY very soon, then a one day stopover in Ottawa to change suitcases and see my family.  After that I plan to spend 5 weeks in the Maldives working and playing before returning home at the end of November.  Looking forward to seeing everyone then.

But for now…I have to get back to packing.  Who knew one could accumulate so much in only 5 months!

Don’t worry

I was very far away from the bomb blast in Islamabad today – in fact about 2.5 hours away.  I am safe and sound but not so for the 5 people killed at the World Food Programme Offices today.  Several people were also injured.

Hiking in Northern Pakistan

I needed out of the city, out of the day-to-day routine and for five amazing days I escaped into the mountains of Northern Pakistan.  Certainly the four day hiking trip to Gilgit and the Hunza Valley was one of the highlights of my close to five months in this complex and fascinating country.  Thanks to a colleague’s contacts, I was well taken care of and safe, safe, safe (really!).

Crossing the Glacier

Crossing the Glacier

Our team consisted of two porters, a guide, a cook and a driver all for me.  It was a little embarassing.  But never more gratefully needed as we hiked over the Passu Glacier for two hours and the local porters faithfully and unerringly found our way over and between crevices from one side to the other in about two hours.  And thanks to the cook – who knew that the local apricots are a cure for altitude sickness!  And thanks to the guide for keeping me company and carrying my pack while I desperately told myself with every little step that the miserable side-effects of altitude sickness was really only a function of mind over matter!

But oh the rewards were so worth it.  We arrived to the Patundas viewpoint peak of over 4,100m in excellent weather and wonderful 360 degree views of 16 peaks – many snow-covered.  After a night in 2C temperatures, we then traversed the sides of many shale mountains before slip-sliding over 1,500m down a mountain and even further down into the bowels of the Batura Glacier.

Along the way we met absolutely no one except for a large number of boy scouts cleaning up the summer hut by the glacier.  Watching the boys in the closing ceremony singing, dancing and having fun was such pleasure.  Turns out our porter is also a Scout Leader in his village and he gave a short inspiring speech to the boys.  When the boys left for the two hour trek to their village, they lined up like the dwarfs from Snow White and off they went, singing and shouting like 10-16 years boys do.  So inspiring.

One more day….

One more day to my vacation in the Maldives.  Three wonderfully beautific days in a water villa sitting on my private deck watching the waves roll in as I drink an umbrella drink and unwind.  Oh I can’t wait!  And then I start my contract in the Maldives.  I’m really looking forward to it!

Flamingos and Lightning Storms

Well ok, they’re not flamingos but female peacocks but we have two running around the yard in the guesthouse. Imagine my surprise when I found out that females don’t have the beautiful plummage.

That just doesn’t make sense, women are always more beautiful. JJ Hiking the MargalasPoor peas…all they’re left with are red, beady eyes!

The peacocks are very brave. When we have lightening storms – which we have a lot of during the monsoon rains – they stand stock still right in the middle of the yard letting the rain and the wind rush right over them. Ummm….a metaphor for life?

The storms during a monsoon are spectacular – course you have to like storms. Thunder, huge lightning action – absolutely brilliant if you’re high enough to see it. But not too high! The flashes light up the Margala Mountains which are just minutes away. One of my hiking buddies describes the Margalas as “the wrinkles of the Himalayas.” They’re spectacular in that they are sharp, straight up, with tons of peaks and valleys and fantastic vistas to Islamamad. Much better than Kabul with the three hills in the middle of the city surrounded by brown mud.

First Field Trip

A few weeks back, I went on my first field trip to explore the process by which humanitarian agencies provide aid. My goodness. The logistics and the scale of the endeavour is not to be believed. In addition to having many meetings in the area, I visited a food and non-food items distribution base as well as a humanitarian hub where people pick up their aid items. My respect for people working in the field, already high, has increased ten-fold. And my compassion for the over 2 million internally displaced people has deepened considerably. I won’t post pictures of these areas, for security as well as to ensure the dignity of the people suffering so greatly but here is one with me and the courageous guards who were protecting me while in the field as well as some pics of aid products from Canada.

A Grab-Bag of Info

So much has happened, so little time to tell. So here in bullet points are the salient points.

1) Great News! My contract with the UN has been extended until mid October.

2) Great News! Just today, found out that my VISA in Pakistan has also been extended and with multiple entries without me having to leave the country. Sounds so small but honestly, I had a cast of at least 20 people working on this – the UNDP Visa people, the Canadian High Commission, contacts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and contacts at the Ministry of Interior plus CANADEM plus the UN OCHA people in Geneva.

3) Bad News. Will not be able to leave for my R&R next week because my new employee might be starting. Although this part is Good News!

4) Great News. I will be going to the Maldives at the end of August for 1.5 weeks to start a new consultancy contract with the government there. It is a long-term contract and I really look forward to meeting the new team. I’ll be advising the government on developing a public information campaign for the country around a new pension reform plan. Given that the country is spread over umpteen islands with poor infrastructure, this will be quite an interesting challenge!

5) Great News. Went on my second outing outside of the city – to the mountainous resort town of Nathia Gari. Not at all like the relaxing peaceful setting we were looking for but still a wonderful adventure. It was great to get out of the city and see a bit of Pakistan.

6) Great News. Still adore my guest house. Have now persuaded two other of my UN colleagues to move here. We’ll be able to partay! Course it might be way difficult without alcohol but we’ll find a solution to that I’m sure!

7) Bad News. The monsoon rains have started. Now, in addition to it being really, really hot (43-45C), it is also very, very humid. Very similar to Ottawa in the summer during an extreme heat wave. Except people go outside in this weather and we burrow ourselves in our aircon houses and office buildings!

That’s all for now..keep writing!