Monday, May 17th, 2010...20:22

How To Mail A Postcard From Pakistan

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A few months ago, my wife and I travelled to Pakistan to attend a friend’s brother’s wedding, stopping in Dubai on the way (photos). For as long as I can remember, receiving mail from other places has ranked high on my list of “neat things” and no amount of globalization has changed that. Postcards capture a moment in time via a unique and personal artifact which not many other things can match. As a result, I make time during every trip, no matter how “Tuesday Belgium“, to send a few.

Unlike most of our other trips where we were only tourists, here we were guests. Our friend’s family welcomed us with open arms and we spent the next 6 days immersed in various wedding activites and when convenient, a bit of sightseeing (documented well by one of our “tour guides”, my friend Meliha, things to do in Lahore and Karachi). We attended the Shaadi and Valima as well as a number of other family gatherings at both the bride’s and groom’s houses. I walked in the Barat we witnessed the Doodh Pillai, etc. We were treated to a spur of the moment live musical performance by friends of the family who played long into the night on their day off before embarking on a tour.

While we tried hard not to stick out like sore thumbs e.g. Gina wore traditional shalwar kameez and I even wore pants (as opposed to my usual shorts) a number of times, it was impossible to blend in. Nothing bad came of it, in fact it led to a number of humorus situations such as the 10 min “conversation” I had with a number of young boys at the Shaadi. They would constantly cycle through the dialog:

[boy] Peace be with you.
[me] And also with you. How are you?
[boy] I am good.
[me] What is your name?
[boy] My name is X. What is your name?
[me] My name is James.

That exercised about 40% of my Urdu and perhaps the same amount of the boys’ English as we would take turns switching between the two languages, always having the same conversation. Hopefully both my Urdu as well as the ease of visiting Pakistan (for Americans) will improve in the future.

The Pakistan Consulate in Los Angeles processes all the applications from the western United States. After filling out the form stating our purpose was to attened a wedding and sightsee, sending our passports, additional photos and a $240 money order, I received a phone call from an official at the consulate. She requested our marriage certificate, the Pakistan National ID Card of our friend in the United States, the NIC of his brother getting married in Pakistan and a copy of the wedding invitation. Lucky for us these could be sent electronically so for example, getting a copy of the NIC from Pakistan was achieved via the digital camera on a Blackberry and e-mail. A week later we had our passports back with visas. Unlike Dubai, where one can get a visa just by showing up at the border (airport) with a valid US passport and promise not to work; if we did not have connections in both the US and Pakistan, as well as a specific purpose for which people don’t enjoy saying ‘no’ to i.e. attending a wedding, I’m not sure a visa would have been granted.

We arrived in Lahore around 1:45am; about an hour later we exited the baggage claim/immigration area to see the smiling faces of our friends and made it to our destination, the Lahore Gymkhana, just after 3am. The security on the drive consisted of military checkpoints where searching of cars and questioning of passengers took place. During the day we realized armored outposts along roads were also the norm. While we never felt unsafe (even entering a McDonalds might involve driving through a gate with an armored [AK-47] guard) bad things happened 2 weeks after we left. Aside from a brief walk around the neighborhood in Karachi with a cousin, we were never out of eyesight/earshot of our friends from the United States.

Getting back to the act of sending postcards, i picked a few up outside Lahore Fort but finding an open post office when we were not doing wedding stuff or sightseeing turned out to be a challenge. By the time we arrived at the airport to head back to the United States, I had almost resigned to sending them during our stopover in Dubai; however, I really wanted them to have Pakistani postmarks. None of the shops in the airport sold stamps so in a last ditch effort I exchanged pleasantries in Urdu with a woman at the information desk by our gate. Then I asked in English how I could mail my postcards. She looked through them, shaking her head left and right and told me (I think) that I needed to do it before going through security. I asked for instructions on how to do that and she told me I could not. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I asked if someone at the airport would be willing to mail them for me if I gave them stamps. She again looked through my post cards, shaking her head, told me to sit down and she’d call me back later.

After about 10 minutes, a man in plain clothes came to the desk and the woman signaled me to come over. I showed him my postcards and he asked if I wanted express mail. I said regular mail was fine. He looked at them somemore and said 120 rupees. At the time, this was about $1.50 US which seemed reasonable to send an international postcard. I asked if the price was per postcard and surprisingly he said no, it was for all 4. It didn’t seem likely that it would only cost $0.37 per postcard and since I had a few hundred rupees left over, I gave him 300 and told him it was just in case it cost more. I thanked him and sat down, wondering if I just paid someone a few bucks to toss my postcards into a trash can.

10 minutes later they man appeared again, came over to me and exclaimed “done”! I thanked him again, and low and behold, less than 2 weeks after we returned home, people mentioned to us they had received their postcards!

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