Monday morning bright and early, the wonderful Pamela drove me to the Bur Dubai area of town and I headed over to the CMA-CGM offices to meet Barry Dinnadge, the fine chap I had met over a game of pool in Rock Bottom all those weeks ago. As luck would have it, he’s the CMA-CGM agent who was responsible for chucking my ass on the CMA-CGM Jade.
After a cup of tea and a natter, I headed out for my last two errands of Dubai – post my tapes and old Dell Boy back to the UK and buy myself a spare battery for Sony Jim here. Tasks done, I waved goodbye to the old place (whose culture stretches back decades) and was whisked, courtesy of Mr. Dinnadge, over to Jebel Ali port for boarding. Of course The Odyssey wouldn’t be The Odyssey without some shenaniganing at border control.
I had gone one day over my visa. I knew this and had called up immigration a few days ago and asked what I should do. The nice Indian lady explained that I had a “10 day period of grace” that comes with having a UK passport. Of course, the guys at the border control had never heard of such a thing. Neither had they heard of an English guy coming from Saudi Arabia overland only to leave on a ship. Unfortunately for me, neither had their computer. As I was obviously a deranged serial killer intent on sneaking into countries with my repertoire of cleverly-faked visas, I was made to wait for an hour or so. Wouldn’t have been so bad if the other security guards hadn’t recognised me off the telly and spent most of the time posing for photos with me. If you know who I am, then surely you know…?
Oh —- it. Let’s just wait, shall we?
So (eventually) I clambered aboard the good ship Jade and after introducing myself to the captain and crew, all of whom (save Vladimir the Russian) hailed from Burma, I decided to nurse my monumental headache (self imposed, I’m sure) in my cabin.
A couple of days later and we had arrived in Pakistan. My 162nd nation of The Odyssey Grand Tour Du Monde, and one that I thought would never come. But here I was on an overcast Wednesday in port in the Land of the Pure.
Little note about Lands of the Pures: they NEVER work. Never in a month of Sundays. Of course there have been many attempts in history: the British expulsion of the Jews in the 14th century, the crackdown on the Huguenots under Louis XIV, the burning of Protestants at the stake by the good queen Mary, the Nazi’s nightmarish dream of world dominated by the so-called ‘Aryan’ race, and here in Pakistan we have the case study to blow all the other case studies out of the water.
A demented dream formulated in an Oxford Common Room in the 1930s (the decade of demented dreams) of a land where Muslims can live in peace and harmony and… HA! Yeah. Right. To wit: The Partition of India: 1,000,000 dead. Two wars with India (both lost). Hundreds of thousands dead. A war with East Pakistan (lost!) resulting in the birth of Bangladesh. Al Qaeda, The Taliban, suicide bombers blowing up mosques, the Massacre in Mumbai, the Kashmir conflict, nuclear proliferation, a billion coup d’etats, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto… damnit, Pakistan. You FAIL. You FAIL on a grand scale. You even fail on an African scale.
You see what the problem is? Any Land of the Pure™ will by its very nature activate and encourage the crazies. Look at those weirdos with the curly sideburns running around Palestinian territory clutching a gun and a copy of the Bible, building settlements and, (one would assume) howling at the moon. No other country would tolerate such nonsense from the loony fringe, but a Land of the Pure™ must, because although these are seriously unhinged individuals (who are about as in touch with reality as a coma patient with a Napoleon complex) they are members of the ‘Pure’. Oh joy.
Anyway, I’m with Ghandi on this one (actually I’m with Ghandi on a LOT of stuff, moreso than the Indians, although to be fair, it was them who shot him), Partition was a bad, bad, bad idea.
INT. CONGRESS PARTY HQ, CLOUD CITY, 1947 – DAY
Old friends JAWALHARLAL NERHU and MOHANDAS GHANDI walk down a corridor towards a conference room, deep in conversation.
NERHU: …but I’ve just cut a deal that will keep The Empire out of here for good.
Nerhu activates a door. It slides open to reveal… DARTH JINNAH!!
Ghandi SHOOTS his PASSIVE RESISTANCE at Jinnah, who just crumples it IN HIS FIST!
JINNAH: I would be honoured if you would join us.
NERHU (to Ghandi): He arrived just before you did. I’m sorry.
GHANDI: I bet you are. Friend.
But here we are. We can’t change the past, we’re kinda stuck with it. I just don’t like places founded on religious principles – Pakistan, Israel, Vatican City, Saudi Arabia – they are all deeply silly regions which only encourage deeply silly children who have not (and will never) grow up. I prefer places founded because people lived there and they all got along and decided it would all be in their best interests if they didn’t run about (usually, might I add, in a dress) screaming about what an invisible man who lives in the sky may or may not have said. And blowing stuff up.
Oh, it’s nice to have got the Middle East out of the way so I can say stuff like that without fear of having my head chopped off. No, seriously.
Anyway, as we were hitting Pakistan, it was a Security Level 2 situation on board, which pretty much meant lockdown for us passengers (that would be just me, then). The crew did allow me to scoot down the gangplank at run about in circles in the port going w00t w00t, but only for about 30 seconds and then I had to run back onboard and hide in my cabin LIKE A COWARDLY FISH.
And that was my ‘visit’ to Pakistan. I’m glad. It would have been a LOT of messing to get a visa for the place and, lets face it, it’s one of the seven active warzones left on the planet (according to Wikipedia) and ginger boys with neat hats are high on the list of know-your-enemy silhouettes.
We were in Karachi Port for about a day. On Thursday we set off towards the swirling monsoon storms that heralded our passage towards India, the great sub-continent. One of the crew was getting promoted, so I was invited to join the chaps on a barbecue on deck. It was like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and I was the only one wearing a hat. Sheltered from the wind on the port side of the ship, the vessel leered menacingly in the choppy waters and the containers (hundreds of ‘em) creaked and moaned like somebody was going a little overboard on the old ghost ship sound effects.
Meanwhile we stuffed our faces with beef and chicken and pork (YES!), drank copious amounts of Becks beer and Johnnie Walker and sang to the sirens with a yo-ho-ho and a (literal) bottle of rum. Before long I was DJing the crew aftershow and rocking out with my air guitar while the officers sung Burmese karaoke on the deck below.
The next day the combination of the booze and the waves made me a little worse for wear, but on the Saturday we had arrived.
I had made it to India. Country 163. At bloomin’ last. It’s frickkin’ AUGUST!! I better get my skates on.