Leaving for Pakistan

Over the next few weeks, I will be doing a series of posts about my recent trip to Pakistan and the impact it had on me. I hope you will drop by and read some of the stories.

In 2005, I visited Pakistan to conduct research for my senior thesis. When I left, I told my family, I’ll be back before they knew it. Probably in six months. Definitely within the year. I told them I would bring Feraz!

Over the next seven years, I graduated from undergrad, started my first real job, went to law school, moved to Istanbul and then to DC. I did so many incredible things but I did not go to Pakistan.  
In March of 2012, my maternal grandmother had a stroke, leaving her unable to speak or walk. Those seven years seemed like a vast ocean of time and space in which lingered so many opportunities to have visited Pakistan. I realized how I would never get a chance to go back and visit like I should have. But I could go now. 
We took care of our visa and at the end of November, we booked out tickets to Islamabad. We decided to go through Saudi Arabian Airlines so we would be able to perform Umrah on the way there. What we didn’t realize at the time was that it would be almost impossible to get a visa to Saudi in December.
Feraz tried to apply for every type of visa- an Umrah visa, a transit visa and a visa to visit family members. Unfortunately, December is not a good month for US citizens to visit Saudi and eventually all our visa requests were unsuccessful. 
The worst part was that we didn’t find out until Friday, December 21st. The day our flight was scheduled to leave. I called Saudi Airlines to see if we could be put on a standby flight once we arrived in Jeddah. They told me that we wouldn’t be able to board the plane in DC without a visa. Saudi immigration policy doesn’t allow anyone to stay in Saudi, even at the airport, for more than 18 hours without a visa. I felt panicked. I called Feraz who was at Jummah prayer but he didn’t pick up. Our plan had been to leave at 2 o’clock when he got home for the 6 o’clock flight. I called Orbitz to see if we could change our ticket. They told us it would cost a couple thousand after penalties and price adjustments to change the ticket. 
To that point, I hadn’t believed that we would actually be going to Pakistan and it seemed that my doubt had been well founded. When Feraz got home, I was angry. We weren’t going to be able to go. We were going to lose over $3,000 on our ticket. And we weren’t going to be able to see my grandma. 
Feraz suggested we go to the airport and see what the airline could do. We trudged our four suitcases across a very windy Key Bridge to the Rosslyn metro where we caught the bus to Dulles. The bus was so overfilled but we luckily managed to squeeze on. We stood the whole way as I nervously played out different scenarios in my mind. All of them ended with us not going to Pakistan.

Once we got to the airport, we immediately went to the Saudi ticketing counter. Let me say this publicly. Saudi Airlines has the best customer service I have ever experienced from an airline. They immediately recognized the problem when I showed them the itinerary and there was no discussion, they just said, we are going to take care of it. As long as there was a free seat on an earlier flight out, they would reroute our ticket. $160 and less than an hour later, we were set to get on our flight.

It was official, we were going to Pakistan!


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