Striking along

The strike got nasty last night and cars and buses were set on fire, people died. These things happen here. This is the reason people don’t want to drive after dark. And this is the reason why my date with Sayeed was also canceled this evening. He tried to leave his house to pick me up but he returned when it was clear that the demonstrators had not stopped creating mayhem. The strike was extended by a day.

The consequence of another day of strike is that our two day workshop has now been reduced to one day, Tuesday. Whether we will even be able to have that one day remains to be seen. I hear a lot of incha’llah talk about the end of the strike. There is much at stake with the opposition’s threats that the hartal last until their kidnapped leader is returned. But some people fear that he cannot be returned because he may already be dead.

Not knowing quite how to behave under hartal circumstances, and with the restrictions of movement in Kabul still freshly imprinted, I was happy when my friend Fatima offered to come and get me for an escape from the hotel to have lunch at Nando’s. She came in a bicycle rickshaw and then negotiated in a mix of Urdu and Bangla our trip to the first circle in Gulshan where one has to transit to another rickshaw as the territories are clearly delineated. The presence of a foreigner by her side put her in a poor bargaining position – a difference of 80 cents.

We had lunch at Nando’s where I opted for a ‘mildly’ spiced meal, fearing that spicy would be unbearable in this place where most food is very spicy (mild was just right).  Over lunch I learned that Fatima hails from Hunza, of Three Cups of Tea fame, up in the northwestern corner of Pakistan, the place so eloquently described in Kathleen Jamie’s book ‘Among Moslems.’

She told me what it was like to be a midwife there, something she did for many years. I got a glimpse of the stress she endured of not having people die on you lest the health center’s (and one’s own) reputation be damaged; a heavy load to carry by a young midwife in a place where people usually don’t come to the health center after they have tried everything else. Death is usually around the corner at that late stage.

Now she is studying at BRAC University’s school of public health. She confided in me her struggle on  how to connect a difficult bio-statistics course with her practitioner’s experience of public health. The school used to be good at making that connection for the students.

Back at the hotel I had a vegetarian thali while watching a TV channel that seems to show only one movie, over and over again (The Bridges of Madison County). No matter where you start in the movie, eventually you get to see the whole thing.

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