23rd Feb- Shipping arrangements, and invoking God. Lahore, Pakistan

(Daniel) I got a worrying call from our shipping agent, Dart Asia this morning.  Because of its height, they told me that the Wolf would require an open top container. This would be at least three times more expensive than a normal one.  On top of this, they would have to transport one from Karachi, another cost, and worst still, a delay of three more days.  This meant that at least one of us (yes, me) would have to miss their flight and wait in Lahore with the vehicle.  I ran up to Rowan and Gabby’s room, and told them that I was heading down to the Dart office. 

The traffic was manic, as excited preparations seemed to be going on everywhere, for tomorrows Bazant (kite) Festival. I arrived at Desmond Fernando’s office in time to meet ‘The Captain’, a retired freighter captain, who spoke excellent English and had a calming demeanor.  The Captain was employed by Dart Asia in special cases that require some innovative solutions, a bit like Harvey Keitel’s character “The Wolf” in Pulp Fiction.

The three of us walked out together to measure the vehicle. I mentioned that I could let the tyres down to lower the height slightly, so we let one down to check the difference that it made.  It only dropped about 5cm even at a very low pressure.  I filled the tyre up again with the Wolf’s built in ARB 24V compressor.

The only other option that I thought possible, was to remove the expedition roof rack which holds the light bank, rooftent and some empty jerrycans.  I would then ratchet-strap the rack on top of the trailer for shipping.  The Captain agreed that this would make enough difference, and so it was that I found myself driving off with one of Dart Asia’s office staff as a translator, to find some helpful mechanics.

Fortunately just around the corner was a busy bodyshop. I pulled up outside and went in to see the manager.  The last time I had the roof rack removed it was by TBR in Harwich.  They charged a fortune at the time and told me that it had taken many hours because of the location of the bolts etc.  With this in mind I spoke to the boss of the bodyshop, and was not surprised when he said the same thing, that it would be around 4-5 hours.

I discussed the price and agreed on 2500 rupees, (Around £17)  This was a bit expensive for Pakistan in my opinion, but I wanted the job done now, and this guy was able to oblige, so I agreed and started to help the two workers which he sent out.  To our surprise the bolts were not hard to get at with a couple of thinner spanners, I could see that this would not be the hard job that we thought, and tried to talk to the Boss again through my translator.

The Translator seemed to ignore all of the things that I was saying, instead just laughed and joked, and kept trying to engage me in small talk or change the subject. In the end I began to lose patience and said to my translator “no more laughing, no more smiling, this is serious, I need you to explain that this is not a 5 hour job, it’s not even a one hour job, and before it’s finished we need to agree a new price.”  Sadly this is what a few weeks in Pakistan has done to me.  I pride myself on being able to get along in remote regions and such situations without getting angry.  With all the challenges that this country has thrown at us, I have become bitter.

My translator’s efforts didn’t improve and within 30 minutes we had finished unbolting the roof rack. The workers tried to suggest that we hire a crane to lift the rack, but I jumped up on the spare wheel, and slid half of the rack off to one side, at that, the bystanders all grabbed the sides and carried the rack off the top placing it onto the trailer.

I turned from strapping the roofrack down to see the Boss again, this time the familiar tea was waiting, and seats were brought out.  The Dart Asia guy, who could now see how quickly the work had progressed tried to ask if we could have a discount again which was dismissed. He used a strange gesture repeatedly, where he stroked the other mans beard.  This time I asked him to translate exactly my words.

I spoke with a smile and a friendly head wobble, directed to the man; “Sir, you have quoted me a price for four hours of work.  I accepted your quote, but now the work has been completed in less than one hour, because neither you nor I knew how long it would take.  I suggest that the price should be 700, but I am prepared to pay you 1000 for the good work which you have done.  Now you can stand there and ask me to pay 2500 in full, and I will pay it, because I am a gentleman.  But if you do, then you will know that you have overcharged me, and so will all of these people, but more importantly God will know about your treatment of other people.”

By the time the translator had finished, a large crowd had gathered and all of them were nodding, and giving approving looks.  I had noticed that at this last comment, the bosses head had gone up, and he looked at the sky for a second.  (For the benefit of Mr Khan, this feels like a better way to play the game, not the way you did a few days prior.)  The man agreed to take the 1000 rupees, and seemed happy. He was very keen for me to take his picture for the site, possibly now feeling absolved.

After leaving the bodyshop I dropped off the Dart Asia guy, and drove to a nearby carwash. The Wolf and trailer were cleaned by about ten boys of differing ages, who clambered and climbed all over the vehicle, working one after the other washing an drying.  While they worked, I sat and had the usual unavoidable political conversations with some other men, also having their cars cleaned.  One man kept coming to me and telling me how he was Christian too, and how we had that in common. There is no point in trying to explain a modern view on religion to very religious people, so you are always best to just go with Christian, that way you can drink.

After a while the Christian man went from chatting to begging, and was ushered away by the others. When the vehicle was finished, another man came and gave me his ring, he said that I was not to sell it, and that it made us brothers.  I didn’t have anything to give him.  But was not convinced by him in any case, however I had to take the ring so as not to cause offence.   

With the vehicle now cleaned, I drove back to Dart Asia to wait for the Captain.  While I waited outside I cleaned the kitchen, which had a broken bottle of soy and another bottle of balsamic spilled all over it. There was a lovely smell like a nice salad or something from Japanese cuisine.  While I cleaned, people came up and spoke to me, including some kids.  When I had finished, I walked back into the Dart Asia office and went to use my mobile phone realising only then that it was gone and that I had been pick pocketed whilst cleaning the trailer. 

I couldn’t believe it, but now remembered when it had likely happened. Desmond was devastated, and made a big fuss, looking all over the place, he even got his staff searching the office but to no avail.  I tried to be ok about it, but it really stung. That phone was so many things to me, my contact with the outside world, Music, Camera, currency converter, and so many more things. To make matters worse, I had lost all of my recent numbers and all of my recent Pakistan photos.

I kept swinging between feeling ok, saying that it was just a phone, back to anger again, mainly with myself for letting this happen.  While all this commotion was going on, the Captain arrived.  He said that we could go to the container yard now and put the Wolf in a container for overnight transport to the dry dock ready for tomorrows inspection by customs.  Now I suddenly had a dilemma, I hadn’t spoken to Rowan and Gabby since telling them that I was popping out this morning.  So I had no idea what they wanted from the the Wolf.  Also here I was suddenly driving out to some container yard in the dark to put my truck in a box amongst 500 other boxes that looked just like it.

I could really have done with a second brain, just to make me feel better about the sudden progression of events.  I knew in my mind that this feeling of mistrust was coming from my just having been robbed.  I suddenly felt a fear inside, like I couldn’t trust anyone.  To make matters worse, as we pulled away from the offices towards the container yard, traffic was in full rush hour mode, Lahore style.  I had the roof rack weighing down my trailer, and they had given me as co-pilot, the same guy from the bodyshop, who was getting right back into the swing of his laughing and annoying small talk.

It didn’t take long for me to start ranting.  I was really pissed at the fact that I have come out here to prove that people are generally good and that we can all live together. Here I was in Pakistan getting conned and robbed at every opportunity.  Then I calmed down, as I knew that it was pretty much all my fault for putting these valuable items in front of people who are desperate.  But that didn’t take away the fact that these things were really important to me.

I tried to console myself that karma would sort this out, although the thief was probably in a pretty bad position already. Maybe this was karma sorting me out for something, I racked my brain. So many things that I could feel bad about, but none of them done with any ill intention.  Thinking in circles.  I realised that I had been behaving badly, and apologised to the guy sitting next to me, trying to move past the bad sentiment before we pulled up at the container yard. 

The Captain was waiting for us at the gate, and went to make the arrangements while I waited with Desmond and his staff.  After a short while, Desmond broke.  He was really angry about the phone, but this came from his own frustrations, and the fact that he had been living here for three years.  He told me that my theory about people all being generally good was not true. He went on to tell me his story, that he had asked repeatedly for a transfer, but his boss had extended his contract year after year, and he would have to wait until 2008 to know if he could return to his family in Sri Lanka.

He told me enthusiastically about the wonderful people there, and how there would be no need to worry about theft or underhandedness. Listening to him, I really felt sorry.  Here was I struggling after three weeks, and this man had endured three years of it.  We spoke about his home for a bit longer, before my stomach caused me to have to break off and find a toilet in the office building. This is Pakistan

When I returned, the yard manager was looking for me, the crane was ready and I needed to drive the vehicle into the container.  As we came round the corner, I saw that they were not using a container mover but a standard crane to stack them.  The operator was putting a 40foot box in place, and it was knocking into another loudly as they were far off target.  Another man stood on top of the hanging leviathan directing the driver, who couldn’t see. This is Pakistan.

The yard boss opened up our container and I carefully drove the Wolf inside.  As I got out I noticed that the vehicle would have easily gone in without removing the roofrack or lowering the tyres.  This is Pakistan.

I ratchet strapped the trailer to the floor and we locked up the container with our own padlocks for which I kept the keys.  Then we took notes of the serial numbers etc. and jumped in Desmond’s car to drive out into the donkeys, cars and buses of rush hour Lahore.  This is Pakistan.

After Desmond dropped me and I had arranged for him to pick us up early the next day, I went upstairs in the Guesthouse to see Rowan and Gabby.  By now, they were used to me disappearing for the whole day.  I brought them up to date, and ranted again about my phone.  Over a cold beer, we ordered take away pizza as they tried to console me with the fact that I would be in Bangkok in a few days and would replace my phone then. I realised with some relief that this was true.  If all went well tomorrow I would be in the MBK Shopping Centre in two days, getting a haircut, a new phone, new clothes, and decent food. I would then collect the Wolf in Malaysia in a few weeks, if all went well tomorrow… but then what are the chances of that?  After all, this is Pakistan….