When I met five Arabs from Jordan in Larkana


April 23, 2010

KARACHI: At a rooftop restaurant serving succulent seekh kebabs and seemingly every other meat known to man I meet five young Arabs from Jordan who are studying medicine in Larkana.

I say, ‘What the...?!’ They explain that Jordan and Pakistan have good diplomatic relations. They have exchanges for students. Medicine is highly competitive and highly expensive in Jordan as it is everywhere, so they were delighted when their embassy secured them a place in Hyderabad. “So why aren’t you in Hyderabad?” I ask. According to them, the dean at the Hyderabad medical school sold their seats to other students and they were transferred to Larkana.

In the middle of this conversation they point out a landlord entering the restaurant with a security guard in tow. The meaty man has handgun holsters wrapped around his arms and around his waist. A shotgun is clasped in one hand. For a split second, I am transported into a postmodern Western. The Arabs have been here four years but they have no friends. Their Urdu is limited to ordering food and drinks. Their Sindhi is non-existent. “What do you do here?” I ask. “Nothing.”

There is nothing to do here. “Do you have girlfriends?” They all look at the floor. “There must be girls at the medical college,” I splutter. “Do you not meet them?” “You can’t even talk to them,” they say. “[A] friend. He tried once. But there are so many comrades. The comrades called him and told him not to talk to the girl anymore.” “What do you mean by comrades?” “That’s what young people do here.” They laugh. “They are with political parties. They do a bit of politics. For fun. That’s how bored they are.”

I ask them if they like Pakistan. They say that they have found that people’s minds are closed. There is no electricity. Bad roads. “It is like Jordan seventy years ago.” One of them says, “Every country is good in some ways and bad in other ways. Pakistan is OK. It is OK.” I ask them if the locals are friendly. “They respect us because we are Arabs. And they hate us. For the same reason.” There were other things in Larkana. A small park which includes a ‘Jogging track for Ladies’.

This track circles a small hut and has a circumference of about twenty metres. There was a cinema in this place once upon a time. But there were no more movies so it closed. It is now a nondescript hotel and when I walk by not a single light is on inside. The Larkana railway station was also in darkness. A train rests there. I ask someone if it has been delayed. “Yes,” he replies. “By three or four hours. I don’t know anything else.”

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