Five Pros and Cons of Living in Islamabad

A few other bloggers in the Foreign Service are posting their Pros and Cons for their current Post.  I am re-visiting my four different posts to write my lists.

Five Pros

Endless shopping opportunities
Some will tell you that you can save a lot of money when you get 35% danger and 35% hardship – well Islamabad doesn’t get the maximum 70%, I think when we were there the figure was more like 60%. You can also spend a lot of money on expensive items: jewelry (lots of stones), furniture, and carpets to name a few.

Customize everything
Because labor is cheap and artisans are very skilled, you can buy unique pieces or even design them to your taste. We designed: a 100 plus-year-old carved door into a magnificent bed, an armchair, a chaise longue, about 80 outfits from day-to-day woman ensemble to silk dresses, from dressed men shirts to cashmere coat, and many pairs of shoes.

Cost of living
Food costs a fraction of the price in DC. House help costs about $300 a month for a full time person – and at that rate they are in the top 10% earners in the country!

Food
Being foodies we are so happy to have been posted here where food is so good and varied. It is similar to Indian food with some variations (replace pork by beef for example). One beautiful thing to look for: boxes of cherries, presented like rubies in a shrine. One tip: the fish store in F7, Rana Market, is the best. We had sushi from this place several times, never got sick.

Fitness
I have never been so fit in my life. There is an Olympic size pool, a large gym, biking around the diplomatic enclave, hiking the Margalla hills. I even participated in my first Triathlon ever!

Five Cons

Security
Islamabad feels like Fort Knox so you do not feel unsecure at all. RSO wants to keep you on your toes and forbids many things to various degrees depending on RSO personality and real country context. For one year we were able to hike the Margalla hills every weekend, the RSO changed, it got forbidden.

It is very hard to visit the country. Even when RSO tells you it is OK, then Pakistani authorities step in and require extensive paperwork to be processed a month before (Lahore) or three months before (Karachi) – even for work purposes. This definitely hampers travels and tourism.

Embassy community
Tons of singles and faux-singles, more male than female so when you come as a couple, it feels odd. No families so parties never really start until 11 pm even when advertised at 9pm. In the Chancery people dress as if they were in DC and look at you funny if you dress like your Pakistani colleagues – which is much more comfortable considering the weather.

Heat
I like hot weather but for at least two months, you pass 100 F so the difference between inside the office and outside can be uncomfortable.

Hygiene
Or the lack there of … Latrines don’t exist in many places. Flies are everywhere on fruits, vegetable, fish or the hanging in 100 F degree piece of beef. Get used to it. Bring sanitizer!

Tons of work
Many people don’t come as a couple so for fear of getting bored they stay at the office. Many people stay at the office to get overtime even if they don’t really work. Some people really have tons of work because Washington wants constant updates. Visas are an issue so you often end up doing 2 jobs because the incumbent has not arrived yet. Whether you really have a lot of work or not, people make you feel crappy if you dare leave at 5.

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Escaping in Budapest

A typical Mother’s Day might involve a nice brunch or lunch, flowers, and a family gathering. While in Budapest, here is an idea for a very different celebration: a room-escape game! We surprised my husband with such game on Father’s Day last year and had a fabulous time.

It took only a few minutes after the door locked behind us for the atmosphere in the cramped room filled with odd items to turn tense. A hasty note, left behind on a battered table, warned us that we had only an hour to escape, and it soon became clear that our route forward was beyond a second door.

This was not a spy movie, but downtown Budapest.  When we arrived in 2013, we discovered that the top attraction on Trip Advisor for Budapest was not the Széchenyi baths, the Var, the Parliament, nor the Basilica, but “Claustrophilia,” a room-escape game.

We had the choice between the Voodoo Tales and The Wickelwood Heritage which is one of the city’s more imaginative games. It is also one of its more difficult: only 30 percent of players make it out in time. It takes place in what was supposedly the home of a 19th-century explorer and treasure hunter, and the three-room apartment is filled with such travel-related antiques as maps and trunks. Escaping requires uncovering a clue that will help you find a key to the next room. Each clue requires different types of mind and different part of the brain to succeed.

We were remotely monitored to encourage our progress and ensure we were still having fun. They gave us just the right amount of advice to help us until the next step.

It is a team game. Each room stretched our brains in various ways. We also had to stretch physically. We were four and physically needed to be four to escape that first room. One had to push a button to generate light for a few seconds so that we could read parchment scrolls. One person had to advance them with a mechanism at the other end of the room. Two of us attempted to break the code.

I’m happy to report that we were among the successful 30 percent to escape, and well within our allotted hour. When we had solved the last puzzle and found the key that would let us out of the apartment, a lady came out from behind her hidden control room. “Not all the teams work so well together,” she said. “But you did well.”

There are now over 20 room-escape games in Budapest. The quality and settings vary dramatically, but all share a common premise. Lock a small group in rooms filled with clues and obstacles, and see if, through deductive logic, teamwork and a bit of luck, they can figure their way out. In other words, it is like a live video game.

Claustrophilia is the city’s top-ranked room-escape game on TripAdvisor but there are many others. Most games last an hour, cost around $40 for a group of two to five, and are as popular with locals as with visitors.

Challenge your family and friends for this Mother’s Day … or Father’s Day!

www.Claustrophilia.hu

www.escaper.hu

https://szabadulos-jatek.hu/ (E-Exit Games)

www.Lockedescape.hu