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Tailor Made

November 19, 2013

Last week my parents were here and my mother wanted some things made, so we went to the tailors. I eschewed the usual tailors populating the ‘blue area’ in the centre of Islamabad (which in itself is a rather odd thing.  It’s about a kilometre long and runs on both sides of a dual carriageway.  There don’t seem to be any partitions and it’s slightly alarming to be given an address for a business which says something like “No. 5, The Blue Area”.  Come on people – let’s work with some proper signage and numbering systems here.  Life could be SOOO much easier.)  and, instead, decided to patronise a small company which is run by some lovely people from our church who employ Christian tailors from Peshawar. 

Christians in Peshawar have a very difficult time and only 2 months ago there was a bomb blast in the church there which killed 85 and has left many more with wounds that will last a lifetime.  Anything that can be done to help these people earn money is therefore to be celebrated and supported, in my book. 

And so we set off.  I took my mother, H and a lovely lady who had just arrived and wanted to come along for the ride (she won’t do that again).  My father, wisely, stayed at home.  I knew that my friends were away, but I had told them that we were coming and my friend had arranged for her tailor to meet us.   I pointed the car in the right direction and drove…and drove…and drove.  When we started to pass fields on either side I began to feel a little uncertain. I then spotted a clutch of huts to my right.  That can’t be it, I thought, that’s just a shanty town.  

It was a shanty town.  And it was the right place. I turned off our lovely wide tarmac road and onto a narrow strip of dirt between two fields.  Ahead of me was a wall of open-sided huts with corrugated roofs with men inside selling things.  Some things looked like tyres.  Other things looked like, well, it’s hard to say quite what was going on.  The street was pure mud with puddles of grubby water and I kept having to brake suddenly to avoid children.  My mother went quiet.  

I turned left, following the directions to find another mud street which ended in a field.  Happily there was a right turn where I thought it would be and, in the middle of the huts and squalor was a proper house with a house number which matched my little piece of paper.  We were all rather relieved and, having parked on a rubbish tip, we decamped.  

I rang the doorbell of the house.  A chap arrived and chatted in urdu. I don’t speak urdu.  I mentioned my friend’s name repeatedly to which he nodded, so that was nice.  We smiled and nodded at each other and then, eventually, he asked us in.  There were no lights on in the house.  We stood, rather awkwardly, in the hallway looking at each other, and then I decided to ring my friend.  I explained that we were at her house but that there was no one there who seemed to know what was going on. I then passed the phone to the smiley man who gabbled away and then put the phone down.  

He showed us into another very dark room filled with sofas and, in the middle of the murk, an inflatable bed.  At this point I was thinking that perhaps I ought to have waited until my friend returned; my mother, who can sometimes veer to the melodramatic, thought we were being sold into white slavery.  My friend, who had just arrived in Pakistan, was too polite to tell us what she was thinking,  but I think it probably involved something to do with an airport, a return ticket and a transit through Dubai.

We sat on the sofas in silence.  We looked at each other.  We looked at the bed.   H asked why we were looking at a bed, when we were sitting in a sitting room.  I couldn’t tell him.  He then asked why we were sitting in the dark in someone else’s sitting room.  I couldn’t tell him that either.  Fortunately I then found a half-eaten packet of biscuits in my handbag (life used to be so glamorous.  All I had in my handbag was my Chanel lipstick, mulberry purse and travel card.  Now I have to scrape the chupa chop off the purse to be able to open it; I stopped wearing lipstick when I found out just how much I kiss the boys during the day and just how much scrubbing it takes to get it off; and I haven’t needed a travel card since 2008.  How things change.) and managed to keep him quiet with those for a little while. 

After another, slightly longer pause during which I had decided to cut our losses and head home, I saw a flash at the window. There was a scrabble at the front door and a man burst into the room, panting.  It turned out that this was the tailor.  Much later my friend rang me to say that the poor man had been on the toilet when we arrived and the other chap was a deputy tailor who hadn’t known we were coming.  I didn’t like to ask about why he’d been outside and thought we’d draw a curtain over the whole waiting period.  The tailor was here now, and that was all that mattered. 

We went down into the basement of the house and everything improved dramatically.  Here was light.  Here were nice people working on their sewing machines making beautiful things.  Here was a tailor who spoke very good English and was smiley.  And so we left him our mountain of tailoring to be done and it was done and we saw that it was good and were all very happy. 

I will go back there.  I will.  Particularly if I’m feeling in need of a spot of adventure with my tailoring.  I might just, however, make sure my friend is there first. 

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  1. Aunty Ailsa permalink

    Another exciting Mrs S adventure. Always makes my morning when I see a “carrot crush” in the inbox.


  2. Sara permalink

    I want to come along next time – sounds too fun to be missed!


  3. Snigger! Brilliant adventures, and very glad H has his priorities straight….


    • He can cope with most strange situations armed with a packet of biscuits. He takes after his father.


  4. iotamanhattan permalink

    I am trying hard to visualise the elements of this post, and failing miserably. The Blue Area with no numbers, the mud road between fields leading to a house that’s big enough to have a basement… parking on a rubbish tip… your mother… No… can’t picture any of it.


    • Gosh – that’s a D- in descriptive writing for me! Ok, I’ll try a bit harder.
      The Blue Area: picture a dual carriageway which just goes straight. Now put shops down either side. These are not nice western shops, but vary from little shacks to offices to really quite large shops. They go down the road for about 2km. There are no street names for the roads going off the dual carriageway and there are no numbers on the shops, just names. It makes it very tricky to find anywhere.
      Mud Road between fields: Pretty much what it says. Once you’re off the main roads none of the roads are tarmaced which makes them dusty in the norm and very muddy when there’s been rain (which there has been).
      House big enough to have a basement: All the houses out here have basements. As it was, this was a very nice house which sat very strangely in the middle of the rest of the squalor.
      Parking on a rubbish tip: The road wasn’t wide enough to park on and still allow other traffic to go past. There was a rubbish tip next to the house. I parked on it.
      My mother: defies description.
      I hope that’s helped.


  5. I love hearing about your adventures – I grew up in the middle east in the 70s and 80s when the oil was just beginning to make it’s mark. I think my parents were very adept at giving instructions to their house, like: “after the second roundabout take the first turn to the right, go past the blue house and turn left. If you reach the mosque you’ve gone too far…” I can only imagine that your friend is also very adept at giving those sorts of instructions.

    It’s also interesting how when you’re in a place where you don’t speak the language and the entire landscape is different, you have to have faith that it will all come together. And keep going on that assumption or I doubt you’d ever get anything done.


  6. Candace permalink

    Absolutely lovely. Picture of these tailored goods please?


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