Leaving Pakistan: Elections, Pakols and more cats

Edoardo, a project coordinator from Italy, is nearing the end of his assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Pakistan. In this blog, he shares his last impressions after 11 months living in Balochistan.

Edoardo Nicolotti in Murree, Pakistan

Election time

On 27 July 2018, the Pakistani general elections took place all over the country, including our province of Balochistan. Despite the security challenges in the province with a major security incident happening in the Mastung district, the areas where our project operates remained peaceful with a high number of women this time casting their votes.

Our mother and child healthcare facility in the town of Kuchlak was used as a women's polling station by the Election Commission of Pakistan before, during and after the election day.

Our election day was quite intense and attention was high on the general security environment.

As project coordinator, I was involved in several arrangements to temporarily close project activities and to make sure that our patients were informed. Our project activities resumed immediately after the elections without too many disturbances since the overall post-election days were calm.

A women's polling station was also placed nearby our main office. My team and I made extra efforts to develop a security contingency plan, keeping an extra-vigilant eye on our office premises during the day.


Edoardo with project assisant Murad and driver Mehraj
Edoardo with project assisant Murad and driver Mehraj

Our election day was quite intense and vigilence was high on the general security environment. The assistant project coordinator, Murad, and I maintained an open communication channel, monitoring the passing of hours from morning until late evening when the voting ended, the polling stations closed and security personnel withdrew.


One of our major objectives this year was to renovate the health centre facility in Kuchlak – improving patient flow and redesigning many of the main buildings and rooms we use for our daily medical activities.

Strong support was given by everyone involved in the project: the logistics team was very busy on follow-up construction work inside the medical facility without affecting patients’ visits; and the medical team actively analyzed how to create a better patient flow based on the designs.

Origin of the Pashtun Pakol

After several months spent in Quetta, I have been in contact with many colleagues who have different cultural backgrounds.  Culturally, our project is located in a Pashtun enclave, although other tribes from Pakistan are living here.

Many local colleagues of mine are of Pashtun origins, so I was introduced to the typical cultural hat known as a “pakol”.


Macedonians wearing the kausia hat
Macedonians wearing the kausia hat

I came to like this type of winter hat the first time I saw pictures of the 1954 Italian expedition to the summit of the mountain K2.  Moreover, not everyone knows that this hat design is thousands of years old, and the same as the ancient Macedonian “Kausia hat”, used by the army of Alexander the Great.

The pakol is also worn by Pashtun men in Afghanistan, and Pashtun men elsewhere in Pakistan.

When I was on leave in the mountains of Italy and Nepal, many friends were enthusiastic to receive a pakol hat. In the Italian Alps, I found this hat very warm. A friend of mine has also used it above 4,000 meters and approved of its warming performance.

Appreciating the Baloch sandal

Quetta is the capital of Balochistan. The Baloch people have their own traditions and culture, especially so the Bugti or Marri clans of the ancient regions of Jhalawan or Sarawan, who specialise in handcrafted sandals. Which, as I have found since my arrival here, are very nice.

Talking with Umer the base logistician and other drivers, I got to know that there are hundreds of different cuts and designs and the traditional handmade sandals have been representative of the Baloch culture for centuries.

The sandals are named “Sawaas” or “Chawat” in the local language. They are very popular and a source of income for many skilled local artisans. During some time off in Islamabad, I noticed the same sandals also being sold in markets there.

I have loved the extreme nature of Balochistan and the friendly people here.

Talking with some local colleagues at the office, they asked me why Italian shoes were so special. I replied that “I have seen the same ability to work leather here”, and Baloch traditional shoes are a great gift to receive before leaving Quetta.

Besides that, even if my colleagues at the office are behaving as if I don’t know, I suspect they have plans to buy me a pair as a leaving present for the day I leave the project. I am very glad to know they care and respect me so much.

Billy the cat’s replacement

Since the end of July, Billy the cat (who I previously wrote about) has disappeared.

It was too nice here for the cat, and he was getting too healthy with the extra care received from MSF international staff.

Close to an adult age, he likely decided to explore more beyond the walls of our house. Honestly, he took the right choice and might find new company or a partner.


Gingerino the cat
Gingerino the cat

Meanwhile, a second cat, which I have named “Gingerino” – meaning “small ginger” in Italian – has been living in our staff house.

My assignment will end in a month. I have loved the extreme nature of Balochistan and the friendly people here.

I regret not being able to visit the Gilgit-Baltistan region and the Karakoram mountain range, but this will be a great reason to come back here again… as many of my friends say: “Inshallah!”