Notes from Pakistan: Random sights in Karachi still amaze | MyWindsorNow.com

Notes from Pakistan: Random sights in Karachi still amaze

Randy Bangert
rbangert@greeleytribune.com

Entering my second week in Pakistan, I am still astounded by much of what I see. For example:

» Karachi is a city of 22 million people. Approximately. But nobody knows for sure, because Pakistan hasn't done a census since 1998. Various media, government and nonprofit officials we have met throw out numbers ranging from 19 million to 22 million for Kirachi. Most just say 20 million. Several said Kirachi could be the world's largest city by 2025. The population of Pakistan is estimated at 200 million, or maybe just a smidge under that figure.

» So in New York City, which has a population of 8.5 million, the largest employer is … New York City. Yes, municipal government employs more than anybody else. That pretty much makes sense when you consider all the services that must be provided — fire, police, water, sewer, parks, on and on and on — for a city that size. So how many does the city of Kirachi employ? Zero. That's because there is no city government. No elected mayor or city council. All city services are handled by private companies, or the provincial government (state government). Imagine the state of Colorado handling all city services in Denver. Yup, it sounds like a disaster.

» There is no public mass transit in Kirachi. That might explain why the roads are a massive traffic jam. Nearly every day, at any time of the day. There are a few buses, operated by private companies, but apparently there is no coordination of routes. They are jam-packed with people. Tonight as we were on the road, we saw about a dozen people riding on top of a bus. But at least the buses look pretty. They too are almost always decorated with impressive artwork.

» Remember when I said driving in Islamabad was crazy? It's twice as crazy in Kirachi. I was told there are 1.7 million scooters in Kirachi. I think I personally have seen 1.6 million of them. If it is a two-lane street in Kirachi, vehicles and scooters routinely turn it into a 4-lane road, with only a few inches separating them. I have come to the conclusion there is only one traffic law in Kirachi: Honk your horn before you do anything. As long as you honk, you can crowd over in the next lane, even if the car is right next to you. You can pull out in front of an oncoming car at a city intersection, making them slow down. You can pull up within inches of the two-wheel scooter in front of you. As long as you honk first. Our guide for the eight journalists on this trip, Zainab Imam, was born and raised in Pakistan, though she now lives in Washington, D.C., working for the International Center for Journalists. Her philosophy on driving in Kirachi: "You drive as though you're the only one who can see everything," she said.

» Trash collection also is abysmal in Kirachi. Many streets have random piles of trash in the curbs and gutters. If there is a vacant space of dirt, there is a good chance it has become an unofficial landfill, with stray dogs seen rummaging through the pile of trash. Said one official we interviewed: "Karachi is a dry, dusty trash can of a city." But like many others here, he admires its resiliency and ability to survive.

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» Eating on top of tables is common at some restaurants in Kirachi. Seriously. But only at restaurants that have outdoor seating. A big flat table about knee high is set up outside, with a thick Pakistani rug covering the table. Some have pillows. Customers climb up on the table and sit cross-legged or lay down on their side to enjoy the meal.

» China is investing big-time in Pakistan, although not all Pakistanis are excited. The government certainly is excited about the $46 billion CPEC as it's known — China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It is a multi-faceted plan to improve trade routes between Pakistan and China, largely through improved highways and rail lines. But $33 billion is for construction of energy projects to help Pakistan with a looming electrical shortage. We have experienced a few short power outages here this week, but nothing that lasts for more than a few seconds. Some Pakistanis are critical of the project, doubting that it will create the promised jobs or economic revival. Plus, the power projects are mostly coal-powered.

» Does this sound familiar? Farmers produced too much wheat, prices are down and selling the excess wheat is a problem because other countries can offer it cheaper. It's the current situation in Pakistan, according to a story in today's Dawn, the largest newspaper in Karachi. Similar to the U.S., a world grain glut has Pakistan producers unsure of what to do with its excess wheat. Pakistan ranks eighth in the world in wheat production; the United States is third. Who's No. 1? China. Pakistan also ranks fourth worldwide in cotton, and 11th worldwide in rice. And that's why Pakistan leaders are worried about the impending water crisis.

» Speaking of water, again: A headline in today's Pakistan Express-Tribune, based here in Karachi, reads: "Taps run dry at Jinnah Hospital." The story went on to explain that one of the city's largest hospitals, with 1,250 beds, has shut down for two days because its water supply ran dry. It was postponing or trying to find another site for 2,000 medical procedures and emergency surgeries. Yet another example of the difficult choices facing this country: Water for one of the world's greatest ag economies, or water for a burgeoning population and its health care?

» A copy editor at The Express-Tribune is Ali Zafar, the journalist who was in the Greeley Tribune newsroom a year ago. Ali and I have connected a couple times already, and we hope to see each other at least one more time before I leave Wednesday night (Pakistan time) for my return trip.

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More notes from Pakistan

Tribune Editor Randy Bangert is taking part in a two-week international journalism exchange program with Pakistan, sponsored by the International Center for Journalists. The Greeley Tribune played host to a Pakistani journalist last year. In turn, Bangert is with a group of eight journalists visiting Islamabad and Karachi, Pakistan. Here is a collection of his dispatches from his trip across the globe.

» No. 6 This country isn’t a world leader in higher education, but it may offer a lesson for us

» No. 5 When it comes to the beauty of trucks, Pakistan has us beat

» No. 4 The mountains, and the water, offer echoes from home

» No. 3 It’s a land of gated homes and advertisements

» No. 2 Lack of security may be the least of concerns

» No. 1 Trip to Pakistan will be an eye-opener