Karachi

Where does one start? I arrived at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan at 09:00AM after a long trip through Dubai. I was exhausted, sleepy and hot. What I needed was a shower, some sleep and probably food. I had an 8 hour meeting the next day, so I was very aware that my bonding session with Karachi will be restricted to my hotel, which also the venue of my meeting, the cab driver and airport. Upon arrival, I wheeled my single bag to an empty passport control hall. The counters were all empty, meaning my fellow passengers had been basically whisked through. There were not many foreigners on the plane and the activity at 'my' specific counter justified this. When I arrived at the passport control space, there stood close to 8 counters with officers ready to serve Pakistani nationals. Which is fair enough because it is their country and they deserve a high level of priority. At the far corner of the lobby stood a lonely counter labeled ‘strangers’.  I knew that was my counter. There was no passenger queuing on this counter, meaning I was the only stranger. Quite strange indeed!

I handed my passport to the officer in charge and the shock in his eyes was evident. Of course he could see that I held a Kenyan passport, but he still asked about my nationality. The next logical question was what I was in for in Karachi? At this point I assumed he had not read the bunch of documents that I put in front of him, or he just needed to counter check that I am not one of those people who get prepped to say stuff to immigration officers, which are categorically different from what they have in their documents. The conversation was simple, straight to the point. He still checked whether I was Nigerian. I referred him to the Passport. He asked me to look direct at his logitech camera to ensure that I am a true representation of the image he held in his hand. I guess that went well, cos he positively stamped on passport.

Having gone through the administrative processes and cleared to stride into Karachi, someone figured that my little bag needed deeper screening beyond the electronic scan that I walked through. This was a long process as it was pretty much piece by piece check! My bag was emptied and pocket after pocket checked. Did I mention that I was extremely tired and sleepy? YES I was. The last thing you want to do to a guy who has been traveling for the past 16 hours including a not-so-fun lay over in Dubai is check each and every pocket of his trousers. For those planning their next trip to Karachi, keep of cargo pants cos those tend to have at least 5 pockets. 3 cargo pants means 15 pockets, which translates to probably 20 minutes search. After checking through my passport for the 4th time, I was let through. My ride to  the hotel was uneventful. I was tired and sleepy, but I could not ignore the buzz of activity in busy Karachi. Showing every characteristic of a poor economy, Karachi was an excitement. The striking feature on the streets was ambulance and police sirens. Close to 5 every 10 minutes. Qualitative research on the frequency of police and ambulance sirens and contextual realities in Karachi might be a useful piece of work.

The Regent Plaza – Hotel and Convention Centre was a piece of ART. Beautiful and golden. Very disconnected to the realities I had experienced on the streets. Walking through the vast doors and through the lobby, you could pass for being in New York, DC or Amsterdam. The lobby was cool – thanks to the AC. Walking into my vast room, I could not help my draw open the curtains. Suddenly I was reminded of the reality outside. My 6th Floor room overlooked the city of Karachi and through these wide windows, I could see Karachians hussling to make end meet. Busy in the mid day heat and from a far I could still hear the ambulance and police sirens, meaning people somewhere needed urgent attention, or in this case someone needed to wade through traffic with ease.

After a cold shower and some biryani for lunch, I crashed out. It had been a long many days and sleep was vital if I had to survive the eight-hour meeting the next day. I woke up to a ringing phone and my host had a folder – full of preparatory material for the meeting. For 8 hours, we grappled with the challenges of translating conflict early warning signals into action for preventing armed violence. On the streets, the question was, how does one develop early warning systems for suicidal bombers? At that point, it was time to go home and no one really knows the answer to that.