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I Predict A…Peaceful Weekend

December 2, 2013

November was an interesting month in Pakistan.  That’s ‘interesting’ as in the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”.  November is the muslim month of Muharram which contains the Shia festival of Ashura.    Pakistan is mostly Sunni.    Traditionally the Sunnis and the Shias don’t get on.

During the festival of Ashura, the Shias parade through the streets to their mosques. This can, and often does, result in unrest.   There was also unrest because of the American drone strike which killed the head of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The result, for us, was two consecutive weekends of being on ‘lockdown’.  It was my first experience of lockdown.  All I knew was that we wouldn’t be able to leave the area in which we live.   This area contains a bar, 2 restaurants, 2 tennis courts, 2 swimming pools, a coffee shop and a well-stocked supermarket.  Despite this, and in keeping with my tendency – when I don’t know what the future holds – to prepare for a nuclear holocaust, I stockpiled cans.  I bought cartons of UHT milk.  I filled the freezer with pizzas.  I made sure the wine rack was full.  I was ready.

For the first weekend lockdown lasted 8 hours.  We managed.

The second weekend the school shut on the Friday.  On the Thursday we were warned that the major roads through Islamabad were going to be shut.  The mobile phone network was going to be closed down for the weekend and there were shipping containers poised to seal off the enclave where we live.

As I drove to pick H up from school down the busy highway which would, in a few hours, be deserted, The Kaiser Chiefs came on the radio singing “I Predict A Riot”.   ‘How appropriate,’ I thought, ‘you’re not the only ones’.

As it was, all passed peacefully.  And now it’s December and all seems back to normal, save that I’m still working my way through the pizza and wine mountains.  It will take a nuclear holocaust before I touch UHT milk.


  1. Sara permalink

    We second you on the milk!!!


  2. You’re not in the clear yet I’m afraid. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic (Lunar) calendar. This year, it happened to fall in November (next year it will move about 10 days back). Regardless, Ashura falls on the 10th commemorating the massacre of the Prophet’s grandson and his family. The “mourning” period is 40 days so they also commemorate the “40th” (chehlum) which falls in Safar (the month following Muharram). Though I’m not sure if it’s a big deal in Pakistan?

    The Shia/Sunni divide is interesting – apparently it was significant immediately after the Prophet died (it’s what caused the divide). But then Sunnis and Shias lived peacefully for thousands of years. Until about 80 years ago when it was re-ignited (not sure exactly why). These days it’s become very violent which is really sad.

    Sorry for hijacking your post with a history lesson… Nothing like experiencing a lockdown (no matter how ‘luxurious’ your accommodation to bring out the survivalist in you! I’m glad it all went down peacefully.


    • Please never, never apologise for constructing an island of expertise in my vast ocean of ignorance. How strange about the rebirth of the Sunni/Shia divide. Does it, by any chance, coincide with the brilliant job the British (and our allies) did between WW1 and WW2 in dividing up the Middle East using a small map, a very large crayon and a ridiculously straight ruler (why make a river a border when you can just draw a straight line between 2 points on the map???)? There seem to have been a vast number of skirmishes fought over unclear boundaries ever since.


      • Ha – I do believe it had something to do with the “imperialists” stirring the pot before they retreated to their homeland. I guess they didn’t want to leave the place without instigating some internal strife… and the “natives” were too naive to realise they were being played.


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