The following experience was very new and very out of my comfort zone. I’m not a religious bloke, and I never will be. I’m a weird mix of anarchy, atheism and idiocy – in short I’m a massive dork. However, travelling brings me the chance to explore new things and gain an insight into how things work. Being a curious bloke, I always try to give things a go. Except riding camels. No thanks. Anyway, we are now in Karachi…
Men wearing colourful toppies, multicoloured turbans and tribal scarves made their way inside Madni Masjid on a warm thursday evening in Karachi. It was a blast of culture. Thousands of different faces wandered around from men with red beards, to wrinkled silver haired ancients. It was as if the world had turned up for the evening prayer.
A bloke will stick out like a busted thumb even with a Kameez, white pants and toppie. A nose ring and a tattoed foot is a dead giveaway of a foreigner in any Islamic country I suppose. Still, even with my somewhat apprehensible appearance, it didn’t stop a plethora of handshakes and hand covered hearts greeting me.
Amongst warm welcomes a call came out over the speakers. A colourful mass of Shalwar Kameez covered men rushed over to join the lines of others preparing to pray. Sandy greens, rusty reds, pure whites and night blues melded with a thousand other colours. As I moved to the back of the masjid to observe, that same voice called out the prayer and the colourful mass became one.
The last prayer of the day finished, and now it was time for dinner. People began to roll out running mats to eat on. Rich men, poor men and foreigners too. Jugs of cold water were run out by volunteers to every portable rollup table of the huge masjid grounds. Lids were taken off pots and smells of a thousand exotic foods played havoc with my hairy nostrils.
To my right, a large gentleman with a full beard caught eyes with me and introduced himself as ‘Mahamud’. With a long heavy arm, he reached across, large hands comparatively turning the teacup he held into a miniscule shot glass. “Welcome to Pakistan and to our mosque. Please have some tea.”
As the night rolled out, the occasional star glittered in a murky, polluted sky above the masjid’s minaret. I lay back in my borrowed sleeping bag and enjoyed a chat with Tanveer, Asad and Saad. More people in pure white wandered over to say hello and have a chat about beards, canada and motorcycles. Yeap, motorcycle banter inside a masjid!
The call to prayer woke the majority of sleepers, while the snorers gorged on dreams of their own. The washing basins busied as Saad and I brushed our teeth with olive branches. Wandering back, a mass of colour was again gathering in shoulder to shoulder lines as I moved to the back to watch the movements of many become one again as the morning prayer began.
Beggars wrapped in once flambuoyant garments held tiny, skinny children as they slipped in and out of the 30,000 strong crowd exiting the Masjid. Holding out wasted hands, they pitched their woes to which the crowd, and I, were very well attuned. As in many countries it seems, there is always the thought of the overseer, the “mafia”, that runs through peoples minds, who collects the money. To give or not to give?
As a peach coloured sun rose up from behind earthy shaded buildings of orange and green, all I could think of was “Wow”. Karachi is kind of a beautiful place to walk through when the city begins to wake itself up… Especially once you open your eyes up properly and look past the small piles of scattered debris and other unfortunate bits and pieces.
Thin white smoke wafted upwards from poori cooking inside giant Kaarhai’s (a kaarhai is a kind of huge cooking pan). Oversized tins of ghee stood at the ready waiting for their turn to top up the hot bubbling bath. Steaming poori were quickly stacked and snatched off the cooling board by rushing waiters and delivered without a word, while the masses fed at the steel tables on the traffic-less street.
Large groups of birds chattered loudly on low hanging eletrical lines as buildings slowly became sheeted in gold from a rising sun. The pink hues had now left the sky and the sun was setting everything in it’s path alight. Watching the city come alive, I sipped on my chai at the end of a steel table, while occasionally dabbing my warm poori into some sweet Halwa. It was a nice place to be clogging one’s arteries at 6 in the morning.
With breakfast inside the old tummy, it was time to head back to my hostel with another new enriching experience in the bag. Not a terrible place, this city of twenty million people.
The Karachi Kings
On a sunday afternoon, it was time for a calm foray into one of the markets inside Karachi. What I found most interesting was the local blokes people watching at their juice carts and chippers, throwing me a casual grin. I grinned back and wandered over for an orange juice and a hello. With the help of my bearded compatriots we had an information exchange – I got to learn more about them, and them more about me!
Mohammad Qasim lived outside Karachi and worked in agriculture. The business went belly up, so Mohammad moved into Karachi to get a job to support his family. He currently rents his cart off a friend for 400 rupees a day and has been officially bearding for 25 years. The reason his beard is red? Initially it was sprayed salt and pepper, so Mohammad used henna to treat the grey and white – which ended in all his hair turning white due the henna. Now he rolls with a red beard and presses some tasty, fresh OJ!
Mohammad Arif worked in Saudi Arabia as a taxi driver for 8-9 years. He was very happy with his life Saudi Arabia as his Taxi company sent him for Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). Mohammad Arif ended up getting married in Pakistan, moved back to Saudi Arabia for work, missed his family too much and returned home to Pakistan. Mohammad Arif now runs a chipper (3 years in) outside his son’s menswear store in Karachi. Super happy bloke and gives a bloody firm handshake.
A few hundred metres later I stumbled across the real Karachi Kings. Stumps were spread across the 4 lane road with broken bricks that marked the cricket pitch. Balls were smashed across the area as colourfully dressed youths chased after them, while batters looked on, awaiting their turns inside huge concrete pipes. Street cricket at its finest, where champions are born!
Motorcycles in Karachi
Motorcycling culture in Karachi, and even most of Pakistan at first seemed to be all ear scrubbing Honda CD70s, mixed in with the occasional Suzuki GS150. Smoke is the word burnt into your lungs when straddling your iron steed between smoky rickshaws and pushy drivers. However there is a little more to the usage of motorcycles around Karachi.
Enter Zeeshan from Throttle Motorsports, who managed to find me a Kawasaki Ninja 650, and get me on road for the afternoon. There is a small community (as with most places around the world) that are really into their bikes, and they usually congregate on the Arabian sea in south Karachi (DHA 8). The reason for this gathering point is that it’s relatively the only place to ride a bike in Karachi with some road room, away from the nutty traffic and lesser roads of Karachi.
Here you’ll find bike enthusiasts (along with some car enthusiasts too) on anything from a two-up CD70 popping mono’s to throaty ZX-14s. There is quite the open bike exchange, where everyone seems to riding everyone elses bike – something that would make many riders cringe. I still don’t know how the majority of riders here manage to ride without helmets, though I guess that part of riding culture is still yet to be ingrained withing riding communities across the country.
The light of Lyari
Monday evening began with a most interesting van ride with the men that run Evergreen Education System in Karachi’s less advantaged suburb of Lyari. It’s very easy to travel and see all the ‘nice’ things a city, the cathedrals, the mosques the parliamentary buildings and so on and so forth. But is that the real side to every city or just a facade?
As I sat in the back of the white van, I was carried into another world on the banks of the Lyari river. As I looked across the river, the sun farewelled the day, leaving behind a carpet of soft gold over widespread bareknuckle housing. Children ran around immense piles of dirt and plastic looking for a lost cricket ball, while a batter casually relaxed at the brick stumps, watching birds flutter around the top of a mosque.
A wild clash of culture erupted out of Lyari like a spillage of blaring, colourful jingle trucks. Camels pulled along heavy carts of hay and kindling along the edge of the lyari expressway, heavily littered with people and the occasional smouldering fire. It was like seeing the 1950s clash with the 1700s.
As the streets grew narrower, the scene outside my dusty window only grew more lively. Rickshaws bleeped at everything as they zipped past an aged gaming parlour filled with youths playing board games. Lightbulbs hung willy nilly from shops selling everything from door fasteners to daal. The term ‘a feast for the eyes’ really comes to mind, because I had no idea of where to look first.
Simply put, Evergreen Education System is an NGO funded trio of schools for those who cannot afford education. Males and females, from toddlers to adults are entitled to an education in these institutions. School uniforms are given, along with books, stationary and of course, classes. A month of schooling for a student costs around the amount of $2-3.
Of most interesting note is the bond between students and the teachers. There is something special that is secured in Evergreen… something like kinship amongst the 140 students spread across the three learning institutions. There appears to be an overwhelming happiness and respectful atmosphere across the classrooms, and also from student to teacher and vice versa.
Visiting the Evergreen Campus
A brief visit to one of the three Evergreen campuses with my excited escorts took us onto another campus, where youths were piled out of the door waiting for our van to arrive. So many people had turned up to say hello to this bearded, chicken legged foreigner! (Aka known as Mr Dutch, I’ve stepped up my adulting level apparently!)
I entered a room, chock full of students who were hellbent on welcoming me warmly with loud cheers and applause. It all seemed a bit strange, I mean, I’m just a bloke who’s riding a motorcycle, but I recieved a welcome something similar to the Quetta Gladiators. Countless selfies, cheers and handshakes followed on and I couldn’t help but laugh! What a reception!
Over the following hour, students and teachers alike fired off a never ending volley of questions about my ride home. It was very humbling in a way, answering the most innocent of questions to the more somewhat political. The genuine curiosity of Evergreen was most engaging, as was the excitement emanating through the classrooms. I felt very honoured to spend some time with this awesome bunch from Evergreen!
To summarise, Karachi is another invaluable experience I can now add to the growing sack of experiences I call life. See you soon folks 🤘🏍.
PS – big shout out to my big and little homies at Evergreen, can’t wait to see you all soon!