The Last Stand

“There’s no way so many Pakistanis are going to Ethiopia,” circles round and round on the merry-go-round in my head.

1:30am at the Dubai airport and a herd of bearded, mustached, and clean-shaven Pakistanis are huddled around the Ethiopian Airlines counter. They are garbed in knockoff Armani (made in Pakistan, of course), tight jeans, and shalwar kameez.  Frantic, annoyed, and confused, their voices vacillate between a consultative murmuring in the viscerally familiar lilt of an Urdu-Punjabi blend and subdued yelling at the Indian travel agent. In their midst, one of the few female members of their group valiantly vocalizes her opinion in the ongoing debate. Niqabs, shalwar kameez, and duppatas gracefully draped, the other females, smugly timid in a way that still alludes me, loiter behind. 

By choosing not to communicate with each other in English, this group of furiously muttering Pakistanis unwittingly give away their socio-economic background. Frustratingly, in a deeply stratified country, access to mode of education (metric versus A-level) and language of education (Urdu versus English) often reveals and defines the opportunities you have already had and those you will have in the future. 

Utterly bewildered, I eavesdrop to make sense of the hungama. Giving up, I ask the three whining girls behind me, who are slowly attempting to circumvent their way around me, if they are indeed on their way to Ethiopia. My Urdu, more than my question, unpleasantly surprises them.

No, they are not going to Addis, but laying over in Moscow on their way to Havana. They’ve been awarded scholarships to study medicine in Cuba, and the whole contingent is currently attempting to resolve issues of missing suitcases supposedly arriving from Pakistan and overweight suitcases on their way to Russia.

I thought the Cold War ended 20 years ago.

Alas, in the era of McDonald’s globalization, the Cold War axes makes its last stand in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Pakistani medical students (and Canadian college kids on spring break).


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