End of Part One – a year on

As this post goes live we should be cruising at around 38-40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean onboard our Emirates A380 headed to Perth for Christmas. This means that the first year in Pakistan for the Aussie in Lahore family has ended. And guess what? They all survived! 2017 will see them resuming life back in Oz. It was hard to believe that just under a year I farewelled Oz and headed for the Big P.

Departing Melb in Jan 16 with my mummy, dad, bro and sis.

Departing Melb in Jan 16 with my mummy, dad, bro and sis.

Despite the comments and calls from family, friends and complete strangers this time a year ago, mainly pointing out to us all the ‘facts’ like ‘you’re mad, why are you doing this, why would you take your family there, it is so bad and unsafe’ etc etc (all well educated comments I am sure..), but despite this, we made it, and we made it without incident, issue, fear, safety or any other possible outcome that could have occurred.

In our time here thus far there have been some  incidents in Pakistan, including a tragic bombing in Lahore at Easter where 74 people were killed. There were numerous attacks and suicide bombings in Quetta, a troubled area to the west of us, many protests, strikes and the normal day to day dramas seen around the world. To say outright that this made it the wrong thing to do would be insane. This would mean you shouldn’t go to France, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Mali, Israel, Thailand, Belgium, Bangladesh, Dhaka, the Philippines or the USA to name a few of the many incidents listed this year.

Maybe we have been lucky, or maybe the world just is what it is, and any random event could happen anywhere these days, even at home. But the year passed with us all returning safe and sound….so I guess the argument and its relevance has ended.

I thought I would reflect a bit about the time here, and although this blog was set up for the entire family to make posts to capture their experience, no one did, so this will allow me to have my own interpretation into events.

But first, a big scoop! (and some other maybe not so well revealed facts)

The Family….

Now that the family are on their way home, I can reveal that they are in fact the following:

The Wife – aka Stacey

The Princess – aka Madi

Little Boomer – aka Josh

'The Princess', 'Little Boomer' and 'The Wife'

‘The Princess’, ‘Little Boomer’ and ‘The Wife’ –  with the ‘machine gun’ man….in Muree

These names and the limited publication of pictures was on purpose and, although I am often accused of my stupidity, this was for the mitigation of any potential security risk in having too much of an online visibility and identifiable presence. Whilst this didn’t present any actual concerns or issues, it paid to be safer than sorry, and maybe the fact we didn’t reveal too much helped? The Aussie in Lahore social media page on Facebook was also kept purposely identity neutral (minus a couple of photo slip ups now and then), and each of our personal Facebook set ups had proper privacy setting applied and we assured non acceptance from random friend requests and messages (and many of these came). People would randomly message. After a while I would play the game and respond…they would make comments like “I like Australians”, “We can be really good friends” and other weird things you wouldn’t state to strangers…so the Facebook “jail” and block function had plenty of use!

Schooling

Yes the kids did go to school here….in fact the whole process of finding a school was a challenge. It took us many weeks and included tests, interviews and some strange curriculum in the said tests, which even we struggled with, including old world English at Chouifat School, which we rejected once we found  L.A.S – Lahore American School.

First the school year was different, going from July- June vs. Feb-Dec at home. This created a dilemma in what year to place the kids in. In the end they repeated half a year of their Australian year from last year, and then completed half a year of the year they would have been in…in the end it wasn’t a major concern as this one year hiatus was always going to be a mix up for them, so they will jump back into the Aussie school system in 2017 as though nothing happened, back to where they would have been had they not left.

The kids attended the Lahore American School, located about 15-20 minutes drive from our house. To access the drop-off area via car, the car had to registered and driver ID listed with the school. A dozen or more machine gun clad men surrounded the main entry every morning, as well as a multitude of gunman manning watch towers around the large walled and barb-wire perimeter fence. Parents could not enter inside the building itself without ID cards issued from the school and a double door entry/ exit system operated where children entered a ‘safe’ zone before being allowed out. Pick up and drop off was like a military operation that is hard to describe.

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Despite this, the school was a very good school. It utilised Google Classroom and the kids and parents had a portal to access results daily, and we found this a true driver and motivator for the kids as they always knew their marks and were constantly checking, knowing the impact of a test or homework, and working out how to get the next level. They would lose marks for being late to school or late to class so discipline and punctuality was quickly taught. Both kids did exceptionally better than they had been doing at school in Australia, with honour roll being just missed by both last year, but Josh achieving this year. The school also gave opportunity for them to learn new sports and have some amazing sporting experiences, with both travelling to Islamabad for Volleyball tournaments, Madi went to Singapore and Karachi for Soccer and Oman for Volleyball as well. The school is one of the more expensive in Lahore and the children attending tend to come from the ‘who’s who’ of town and highly wealthy local families, all the kids have their own drivers and freedom, and like most schools there were the fair share of issues regarding drugs, alcohol and other kid related things, so I guess its all the same no matter where you are.

In terms of educational benefit, the year for the kids appeared to be a great one. Study habits and self ownership of homework (driven by Google Classroom) was no issue and some strong and bonding friendships were established by both kids, with Madi actually wanting to stay next year…..

Security and Staff

We went through numerous phases with security. Whilst it was one of those things that we debated – do we get or not get and will it simply draw attention to us, vs help us. Eventually with me travelling so much, and for peace of mind I got an overnight guard on the roof of our house to ‘protect’ the place when I was away. It didn’t work out 100% as planned with the effectiveness of guards and become a total pain in the bum in reality.

Mushtiaq and Saqib - my protectors!

Mushtiaq and Saqib – my protectors!

We probably went through 15-20 guards due to them sleeping on duty, not turning up at all, or simply disappearing, before eventually getting 2 live-in guards who remain on site 24 hours a day. They have been with us for the last 3-4 months and are good. We sometimes take them with us when moving around, not out of need but more to get them away from the house for their own sanity, and we have used them when going to some of the more crowded and potentially risky ‘tourist’ spots like old city and tombs etc.

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I am yet to decide if I will keep them when I return, but they are good to have and these guys are much more professional and give a feeling of security compared to a past company used, where they would be at home protecting us, only to find they had no bullets, they couldn’t actually shoot, or they would, and did shoot, but were shooting ‘practice’ shots into the air from our roof!

The only challenge (and yes it’s a tough issue to have) is having all these people to manage. As we leave we have 2 live in guards (live on our roof area in a room), 2 cars and drivers and a part time cleaner. Unfortunately you cannot overly trust these people nor leave or let them into your house without you, so you need to be around for the cleaner, co-ordinate the drivers for logistics and work out when and where the guards will be deployed.Having to constantly ‘manage’ due to crashing into people in cars, not turning up, asking constantly for money, finding going through rubbish etc does get a bit annoying and painful- especially when talking does nothing…

My driver - Aslam

My driver – Aslam

It sounds good having all these people but it is a pain in the bum, and we certainly don’t have a lot in normal Pakistani terms…and all these people are with us for the total cost of about Rs 85,000 per month ($AUD 1080)…and that’s full time, 6 days a week (or 7 in the case of the guards)!

Food

Food has been a challenge….Josh hates spices and is not open to trying much new so that makes him hard to please and Madi likes the spice, but won’t eat meat, which limits as vegetarian is not too common here. The local food is great, but the challenge is finding where to eat it that is safe. Food safety standards are not too high, and seeing meat hanging outside a shop in 50 degree heat makes it a bit concerning when you buy food from places where power is an issue too.

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Fresh veggies are so cheap, and readily available from local vendors all year around and truly seasonal, but in the heat of summer, veggies appear half cooked and spoilt as you buy them. Meat is near impossible to get any real good stuff, especially compared to the great quality we have at home. Beef is tough, lamb is rare and most of the meat is goat. Chicken is the most common meal we have, and I was never allowed to go to the local market and slaughter a chicken to bring home to eat…had to be market bought frozen stuff..maybe next year!

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At least we managed to find some ‘Aussie’ products from time to time- including ‘snakes”…

Socialising

We never had a booming social life, but did make a few local friends. We were fortunate or unfortunate to be living above our landlords, which meant the landlord is a constant part of our life, but this was also good as they have embraced us as a part of their family. We saw their family expand with a birth, shrink with a wedding and get involved in sharing meals, discussions and generally, they have helped in a massive way with the family in fitting in. Stacey and Madi spent many a day with them, having lunches, high teas and the like which really helped, so the housing location was actually a good one in hindsight and has made the transition here much easier.

The 'lovely' Saba at her wedding

The ‘lovely’ Saba at her weddingimg_4605

We went to a Pakistani wedding, which was a massive contrast to our weddings. We spent time during Ramadan at Iftars, experienced Eid, went to social events at local houses and where embraced by our neighbourhood including the street cricket matches. These are experiences that cannot be replaced.

In addition to this we did manage to find a local ‘International’ Club where a gradual increase in the number of Lahore based foreigners would congregate, mainly on the weekend. This allowed for some degree of western interaction, and a bit of an escape from the normal day to day life, which was something to look forward to on a weekend. Some good friendships were generated here, and although fairly basic, the club offered refreshments, a small pool and gym and a pool table…along with food Josh would actually eat!

In terms of the initial listing I made back in my early posts on things the kids etc were looking forward to or going to miss about home, my views again shall be provided without them and I will make some comparisons.

The positives and negatives listed are from before the family arrived along with my views on what actually happened or what they may think now, after a year here..

Madi- Pre-Pakistan

“The Princess” is most looking forward to:

  • Living in a new part of the world and learning about the culture and the people
  • Not cleaning her room EVER.
  • Getting a new iPhone..

“The Princess” is least looking forward to:

  • Missing friends and work colleagues
  • Missing out on Cheerleading for a year

Madi- Post Pakistan

Positives for Madi included great friendships she made at school, new sports and international and local travel to represent the school, performed and excelled at school and learnt to self monitor and manage her homework etc, expanded her food tastes, rarely did clean her room, got her new iPhone and be-friended a camel (even if only briefly before his tragic end)

Madi actually wants to stay and has been attempting to lobby to allow her to do so, but year 11 and 12 beckons in Canberra!

Josh- Pre-Pakistan

“Little Boomer” is most looking forward to:

  • The adventure and cultural exposure
  • The end of 2016 when he comes home
  • Seeing if he can get selected for the Pakistani cricket team!
  • Also, getting his new iPhone..

“Little Boomer” is least looking forward to:

  • Missing his AFL, friends, cricket team (after making Div 1)

Josh- Post Pakistan

Josh did very well at school this year and also had the chance to increase his sporting and school representation as well as school travelling. Cricket was a let down, as much as we expected Pakistan to be a cricket crazy place (well it is) the degree of organised junior cricket is minimal if not non existent. Senior and other organised activities are everywhere but at a junior level we couldn’t find anything apart from academy’s and we had security concerns with the layout of these. Josh had a term of cricket at school but again he was playing with U17’s…He struggled with the food, made great friends, got his iPhone as well, and got to enjoy many an hour on youtube or Netflix, which seemed to be his favourite past-time…Josh struggled and missed the ability to simply go to the park for a kick of the footy etc, and is looking forward to coming home and ‘eating normally’.

Stacey – Pre-Pakistan

“The Wife” is least looking forward to:

  • Some well earnt time off work to recuperate
  • A new adventure and new cultural experiences.
  • The ability to travel and see the region again

“The Wife” is least looking forward to:

  • Missing family and friends
  • Amusing herself as a non working ‘stay at homer’
  • Time alone if I am away?

Stacey – Post Pakistan

The year off was probably good for Stacey although towards the end she has started to be ‘over it’ and go insane…She made some local friends and had a good relationship with our neighbours downstairs and some locals around the street for morning teas etc. Food was enjoyed, but also a degree of frustration to buy and cook, as there was always something missing from the ingredient list, so our dishes where ‘not quite’ right, or we had the earlier mentioned quality issues etc..Managing the maid and driver etc was another interesting one, giving details in English and getting a response in Urdu and then hand gestures etc to gain understanding but it worked. Varying degrees of concern over safety occurred with the first 6 months being the hardest, but lately this has been good, probably the biggest frustration was in not knowing what is/ is not safe, which limited our ability to do some things…the local Pakistan travel was a bit limited due to this. She is ready to come home…

Overall and closing

Although the year has ended for them and a new one will commence in Oz, this has been a beneficial year for the kids, and hopefully one they will look back on. It is now up to them to maintain contact with friends made here, and to re-establish friendships back home, They should also be more aware of the fact that they have life pretty good in Australia compared to how some other people live- Australia is truly the ‘lucky country’.

img_3714We got the chance to do some travel with a few Dubai trips, Turkey, Islamabad etc, but the bucket list still has the northern region including the Hunza and Karakoram area where the natural beauty is probably some of the best in the world, another sad thing for Pakistan that its reputation limits its ability to maximise this.

So to all the commentators, I thank you for your well educated and highly travelled opinions, as I am sure you all knew about Pakistan from personal experience – or the bias views from the media, but we did ok thanks…….

We shall see you all in Oz very soon, whether in Perth, Melbourne, Bendigo, Canberra or Sydney….just another hectic and chaotic trip back to Oz…only this time I depart again by myself for Part 2….2017.

Merry Christmas and a Safe New Year….

Aussie In Lahore

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