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Whenever I need a reason to love Pakistan, and these days I often do, I go to get something fixed on the car.

This might sound odd.  Coming from the UK, as I do, mechanics are people to be avoided as much as possible, because they are so expensive.  The hourly rate they charge for labour means that even the smallest job is going to set you back a bare minimum of £50, and if your car’s problem is in any way serious, you will pay a lot.  A LOT.

This is not the case in Pakistan.  Labour here is cheap – a consequence of high unemployment and low literacy, which together result in a large pool of unskilled labour.  This is sad, but it does mean that car repairs are cheap too.  Once I needed to have the head gasket on our car fixed, a job which cost me £400 when I had it done in the UK.  In Pakistan the same job cost £15 – and even then the mechanic winced, blew out his cheeks, and sighed deeply when he informed me of how serious the problem was.  I tried to act sad, but inside I was rejoicing.

When I show up at the mechanic’s shop he welcomes me with open arms, invites me to sit, and orders tea.  For a few minutes we sit and drink and chat, catching up on what’s happened since I was last in, and eventually we come round to the reason for my visit.  I explain as best I can, he nods wisely, and he instructs one of his juniors to open the bonnet and start pulling things out.

Everything that is good about Pakistan can be seen at the mechanic’s shop: the ingenuity, the hospitality, the hard work.  With little more than a spanner, a jack and a piece of cardboard (to lie on when they peer under the car) they can fix almost anything.  When it turned out that I needed my transmission fluid changing, a junior mechanic was sent out to find the best quality fluid available.  When the rear brake shoes were proven to be in need of replacing another junior was sent out in the pouring rain to find new ones.  While they worked I sat and drink tea and chatted.

Eventually the work was done.  The mechanic sighed heavily, looked at me with sad eyes, and delivered the bad news.  For four replacement brake shoes (imported from Japan, not inferior local ones), replacement transmission fluid (again, superior Japanese quality), new wipers, and repaired brake pads, it came to…

“Eight thousand rupees [roughly £50].  I’m sorry, but prices are high these days.”

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A while ago it became necessary, for various reasons, to make a trip to a town some hours to the north of Rawalpindi.  As this was before we purchased a car we had to make the trip by bus.  You might think that would be a hardship, public transport being generally regarded as less preferable to private, but Pakistan is blessed with the Daewoo bus company.  This company – Korean, I think – has brand-new, air-conditioned buses which run to time, which have TVs, and whose staff even go to the trouble of handing out free snacks and cold drinks during the journey.  It’s an excellent way to travel.

             Anyway, I digress.  We hopped in a taxi and started to make our way to the Daewoo terminal.  It was a spectacularly bad choice of vehicle: run-down, clunky, and in remarkably bad condition, even by Pakistani standards.  The rear windscreen was a piece of clingfilm.  It rattled and banged like a loose door in a strong wind.  The driver was intent on stopping to fill up with CNG (compressed natural gas, the same LPG that some people use in the UK).  We insisted that we were in a hurry, so he grudgingly agreed to get us there and fill up afterwards.

 “Do you have enough gas to get us there?” we asked, more than a little anxiously.

 “Oh yes, no problem.  Don’t worry” he assured us.

             Well, he didn’t.  About three hundred yards from the terminal the car gave one last, sickening rattle and the engine died.  Coasting to the terminal was out of the question since Mehrans have a top speed roughly equivalent to that of a sloth with a sprained ankle.  We came to a halt by the side of the road – a four lane road, with cars weaving in and out at high speed, I might add.  He jumped out and started to push.  I jumped out and started to help.  Jodie stayed in the car and started to pray.

             Pushing a car down a Pakistani highway is the kind of thing life insurance companies don’t cover you for.  If you read the list of exclusions it’s in there somewhere, between “training to be a lion tamer” and “flying metal-tipped kites during thunderstorms”.  Cars blared their horns as they swerved around us.  Buses screeched their brakes in anger as they narrowly avoided slamming into us.  And the driver and I plodded stolidly on.  We came to a junction where two more lanes of cars joined our road, meaning that even more cars were desperately trying to avoid hitting us.  It really was quite terrifying.

             And then it was over; we pushed the car to the side of the road, paid the driver, took our bags, and dashed to the bus station, only to find that instead of being five minutes late, as we had thought, we were actually forty-five minutes early, which gave us plenty of time to thank God for his protection and to vow never again to stop a taxi driver filling up with CNG.