Thursday February 5th, 2016
Trying to meet with Bindiya, the head of the khawaja sara (transgender) community in Karachi is the beginning of the adventure. As arranged, I call B who speaks with Usman (our translator/ lawyer-philosopher / all-round perfect guy with a car) and arranges to meet us at Jinnah Hospital, the free hospital which provides medical care to the poor. B also has a party house but she wants to meet somewhere more characteristic. Two minutes away from the hospital we come up against a diversion which takes us who-knows-where, and it’s not a surprise because this whole trip is like that – full of interesting diversions and unexpected encounters. I’m very interested in the bustling community outside the hospital – on the pavement outside, there is a small screened marquee where meals are provided for anyone who’s hungry. Usman tells us about the time he went with his father to give food to people living in poverty, and how his father told him he should also sit down and eat with them.
Speaking of eating, in the past 2 days I’ve surpassed my grease quotient for the next 2 months, eating a green chilli omelette with paratha and tea at a roadside café on the way to the villages on Wednesday. You dip the paratha in the sweet tea and it’s the most delicious thing! But first we use tissues to mop up some of the grease from the paratha, so much so, that the waiter brings us a new box of tissues.
Back at Jinnah Hospital, B calls to say someone will meet us at the water filter/pump. There is one by the entrance and Aisha and I wait there while Usman checks our car wouldn’t be towed. Soon we see a tall and glamorous khwaja-sara coming towards us and Aisha greets her like an old friend, which pleases her enormously.
Aisha: (hands held out, delighted) Ahh….
X: Salam Aleikum, (something something in Urdu, her hand held out)
Me: Salam Aleikum (to her)
X: (something something in Urdu)
Me: (not sure this is our contact) (in pigeon Urdu) I’m Shazea and this is Aisha
X: (in Urdu) I’m Shazia
Me: No, my name is Shazea
X: Yes, I’m Shazia
(all 3 of us are confused)
Me: (in pigeon Urdu) I don’t understand… (then) we are waiting for our friend. (to Aisha) I don’t think this is our contact. (we feel slightly awkward as we don’t want to offend her).
Usman: (to her, in Urdu, respectfully) Hello, We’re actually here to meet with Bindya.
Shazia / not me: (in Urdu) Oh, why didn’t you say! well, go there, turn left etc etc… Bye!
Aisha and I collapse in giggles – her name is Shazia, what are the chances! – and we get in the car, call B, and follow directions to another water filter pump. We find one on a patch of waste ground behind the hospital, which seems a surprising place to meet, but anything is possible. Could our contact be behind it, staying out of the sun? The phone rings again and it is established we are at the wrong water pump. We follow more directions which lead us back to the pump we started from, which can’t be right. This time Abbas (B’s secretary) answers the phone and says B’s directions are terrible so he will meet us by the hospital gates and take us to B. We drive and Usman somehow knows that the man standing smiling and so neatly dressed, is A – he gets in our car and directs us down some twisting streets to the correct water pump which we would never have found without him.
This is the colony by the hospital where B has her base, in a house down some alleys. The area is poor but clean and well-kept.
And finally we have arrived. We go through a doorway where B waits for us.