Greetings from Nantes – beautiful city in Brittany, crossed by the Loira river, French country.
I missed a lot travelling, being grounded in Amsterdam for more than 3 weeks recovering from the knee “let me check” surgery I had.
Full of joy and excitement, I stepped into another taxi to reach the beloved Schiphol airport, starting point for a business trip to Milano, Italy and then here in Nantes.
The driver looked like an improved version of Mullah Omar, and I found it amusing.
We started the usual small talk:
“Going back home?” asked me. Being a Saturday afternoon, it was a happy idea.
“Yes, kind of, going there for work but I’ll also visit my family…”
Milano triggers in taxi drivers always the same football reaction about Internazionale, AC Milan, and which one I support, and this or that coach I don’t know, and that I couldn’t care less about following a match and what they do.
I normally try to came out of this corner asking something back:
“Where are YOU from?”
I guess too many times this is the end of the small talk, unless this guy is giving a ride to a cricket fan.
But after a little silence, by the time we were crossing Surinameplein reaching the A10 highway, I resumed the chat:
“Do you speak urdu?”
“Yes, I speak urdu!” – short silence – “Oh, you know, you know” – short silence – “how come that you know?”
My memory went back to my trips to middle-east, and all the people from Pakistan I met there. I didn’t know that urdu is only 5th in the rank of languages spoken in Pakistan, then I say:
“I’ve been to middle East. United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia…”
“…yes, there are many Pakistani, over there” he concluded quickly, no need to add details. We both know that Pakistani goes there to do the hard work, far away from their families, often exploited, sacrificing some years in the hope of a better future back home.
“I spoke with many of them” – mainly taxi drivers, but I didn’t tell him that – “and I’ve learn about urdu. They also told me there’s an area in Pakistan called the Switzerland of Pakistan, or something like that…”
“That’s the area we call the paradise on Earth…” – pretty self-explanatory as a name! – “It’s called Swat Valley, it’s beautiful. Very green, with mountains, rivers, lakes, flowers. You can even ski there, ski in Pakistan!”
I then learnt that Swat Valley is so rich of minerals that the water sometime has a yellowish color. And that because o the minerals, people are really healthy, strong and live long lives.
“When you eat a meal, it goes away very fast” – said gesturing with his hand an up-down movement – “then you need to eat again. But not 2 slices of bread! A full 3-courses meal.”
I think about my Austrian friend Geg, that needs to eat every 2.5 hours, and that maybe he has some strange mineral retention issue. I also think he would love this place, with lakes and snow. With enough wind Geg could be happy all-year around.
“People there eat 4-5 times a day, full meals, and they are healthy and strong”.
We just passed the Tutor speed cameras on the A10, monitoring that nobody runs faster then 80Km/h, but the driver is still driving slowly and peacefully in 1st lane.
It’s fascinating to hear people talking about their motherland with such an enthusiasm, or telling something so strange that you want to laugh but they are too convincing to let you do so.
I wonder if he learnt to speak such a good English over there, as Pakistan was a British colony.
“Do people know English over there?”
“Just a bit, an in Italy?”
“Pretty much the same…” then I explained him the usual story – that I had to learn a lot of English once arrived in Netherlands even if I though I knew enough from school and bla bla bla…. then I moved on with “but I can’t learn proper Dutch. I just can’t motivate myself”.
Then a different side of this man came out – a wise, paternal, philosophical side maybe more developed in Eastern culture:
“It’s because you don’t need it. If you will need it, you’ll learn in 6 months, studying 2-3 hours a day”.
I wonder if that’s how he had learn Dutch, but didn’t ask.
We are almost at the Departure area of Schiphol airport, and I still have to run to an cash-machine as I have no money with me to pay the ride… while I’m thinking this, he asks:
“So you’ve wife and kids in Milano?”
This is not an inappropriate question. Most of the Pakistani I met in my trips were living far away from their wife and kids, not seeing them for years. So he must be thinking how lucky I am, going back to my family that is living so close by.
“No…my parents and my brother live there”
“So you’ve wife and kids here?”
“No… I don’t have wife and kids”
“WHAAAAT? You’re alone?!?” – he burst laughing aloud – “A man needs a woman!”.
I’m laughing as well: “You talk like my father!”
“Oh, sorry sorry” says apologetically but knowing I’m not offended.
“No problem. When I’ll need a wife, I’ll find one – same as learning Dutch”
I’m off to Schiphol. I get money from a cash machine, I greet the man and we wish each other an happy day.
Then I check the monitors: where to check-in for the first flight to Swat Valley?
As usual comments are appreciated. Don’t leave me alone now that I’m almost at the end of my personal blog personal challenge 🙂