May 25, 2010
Let the Americans have it
Our dirty business and Hakeemullah Mehsud Hollywood lookalikes
[Karachi, Pakistan] A friend of mine is telling me about her new man. They are driving back from the French Beach, a heavenly strip of Karachi sand and sun that has yet to be polluted or spoilt by humans.
“So I told him at the hut not to flush the condom down the toilet,” she says.
I shake my head. “Why’d you tell him that?”
“Because they get stuck you know. How embarrassing would it be that his guys… you know the fishermen who mind the hut for him, had a sewerage problem. They’ll think I’m a whore.”
She takes a look at my face. “Don’t laugh at me. I read it in Cosmo years ago. You’re not supposed to flush the condom down the toilet.”
“So what the hell are you supposed to do with it? Didn’t you have a dustbin there or something?”
“There is a dustbin there,” she replies as if explaining things to a child. “But even then, if the men at the hut…”
“Okay, okay… I get it. So…”
“We’re driving back from the beach and are on Mai Kolachi. He rolls down the window and I think he’s going to smoke one of his stinky cigars or something. But before I can say anything he takes the condoms…”
“You took them back with you in the car?”
She rolls her eyes. “I wrapped them in tissue paper and stuck them back in the brown paper bag… Anyway. He grabbed the brown paper bag and chucked it out the window!”
I sit back. My coffee has grown tepid. “So your um… dirty business, your sex life is lying on Mai Kolachi… as we speak?” I can see that she is getting irritated. This was supposed to be a different kind of conversation.
“You know me,” she says through tight lips. “I never litter. Ever. Which is why I was like, ‘Dude! What the hell are you doing?’”
“What’d he say?”
“He said… ‘Let the Americans have it.’”
‘The Americans’ her boyfriend was referring to was the monstrous new US consulate compound that has been under construction for a couple of months now in Karachi, Pakistan. It is located on Mai Kolachi (Mother Kolachi in Urdu), a long strip of road that connects the harbour to Clifton neighbourhood in the south of the city. On both sides of the road are mangrove swamps or at least what is left of them. The Americans had to relocate because the old consulate, which has been shut for years because of a series of bomb blasts, is too centrally located.
The smart new complex is, as far as one can gauge from the road, a high-tech fortress. It is a marked departure from the old building on Abdullah Haroon Road, opposite the posh Sind Club and wide gardens of Frere Hall. When the first consulate was built times were different. I remember Kay Anske, I think, the consul-general for Karachi, or Karen Waltz-Davis, another embassy official, once tell me that when they built the first consulate they chose a spot close to the US CG’s residence which is located on the further side of the Frere Hall gardens on Millionaire’s Row – a breathtaking avenue of colonial architecture now hermetically sealed off from the rest of the city for security purposes. The idea was that the consul general would be able to walk across the gardens to go to work.
How times have changed. You won’t see a single white person in Karachi these days, unless they are the Russians out shopping in the early hours of Sunday morning at Paradise Store for their groceries.
As I wrote this, the big news of the day was that there was an audio message from Hakeemullah Mehsud, the longhaired tribesman who took up the battle in Waziristan after Baitullah Mehsud. It was thought that he was killed in a drone strike. We weren’t that surprised when the news broke in the newsroom where I work.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Sara, a colleague. “He looks like Orlando Bloom!” And indeed, as we all crowded around her computer, the similarity was uncanny. I had always found it hard to believe these men were the enemies of the State. When Baitullah Mehsud gave a presser, he smiled and laughed and seemed like any old bloke you go could down to the local bar to have a beer with. Even Hakeemullah, in most of the photographs we have access to, seemed like a pot-smoking hippie with his stringy tresses and goofy smile.
Now we have Faisal Shahzad and his facebook or Orkut photos. And it starts all over again…