I was really keen on writing about my job inside the MSF project.
But after realizing how much I love living in Islamabad, a few Pakistani colleagues encouraged me to write about my personal experiences in the country, apart from work.
I thought it would be fun. After all, even with all my research prior to arriving here,
I had no idea of what life was going to be like in this exciting new country.
I’m Nathalia Peixoto de Oliveira, a 31-year-old Brazilian pharmacist who arrived two months ago in Islamabad: the capital and location of the MSF country coordination office in Pakistan. My job role is mainly to support the Country Pharmacist in several tasks of our department, and also to visit the projects and follow up on their routines, needs and gaps. For someone on their first posting, I sure have the best of both worlds: the experience of the life in the field, but also, being able to see a completely different country from what is portrayed on the news – and that’s why I decided to write my first blog post about life in Islamabad.
Nathalia wearing a salwaar kameez - a traditional tunic and trousers. Photo: Nathalia Peixoto de Oliveira.
I landed in here on a Monday morning, after five days of briefings in Brussels and a long flight with overnight connection in Dubai. Still, I never felt so energized in my entire life. Standing in the immigration line, during a 40 minute wait, I was already trying to soak in the people, the language and this new country that was going to be my home for the next nine months. Not even in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that my first time in Asia would be coming to Pakistan. I felt the luckiest girl while I was stepping outside of the airport gates.
The MSF driver took me to the house I was going to be living in, and this nice Pakistani lady greeted me with towels and a cozy room. Rest, she said. But the ongoing energy thrill was so much, that I unpacked everything, took a shower and went straight to the office. I reported to HR, got to know my new workplace, had lunch with the staff and spent some time in the medical department, where my colleagues were already waiting for my arrival.
That same night, after office hours, was my first encounter with the cosmopolitan side of Islamabad. Another pharmacist from the international staff took me to Jinnah Market – probably the most famous one in town. It is located in the center of the F7 section of the city, and there you can find anything: from traditional street food to hand-made carpets from, not only Pakistan, but neighbor countries like Afghanistan and Iran as well. This shop was actually my first stop in the market, because they also sell the most beautiful scarfs – with amazing prices. I couldn’t help but go home with a few of them, and also a beautiful cashmere blanket to keep me warm in the winter that was about to come.
On the next couple of days I made it my mission to explore the markets after office hours. I had the perfect excuse: a need to buy some Salwar Kameez to wear at work, but also a few shawls and, why not, a nice pairs of Pakistani shoes. What I didn’t know was that during all this walking from market to market I would encounter such a vibrant city. Islamabad is surely a box of surprises, especially when it comes to the food scene. Not only did I have the most amazing experiences while trying the local food, but I can also have Lebanese, Afghan or Italian food with great quality and very good prices.
But nothing beats the coffee shops. As a Brazilian, it can be hard on your drinking habits when you’re living in a country where tea is the big star. So, accessing the local coffee places became my main hobby here in Islamabad. Now, I have a few options in hand and I often share with my colleagues and the newcomers. Here are my three favorite ones:
As the name suggested, they have the best espresso in town. This coffee shop is located on the underground floor of an apartment building, so you can’t find it, unless you know what you looking for. They also have great soups – a good choice now, in winter time. I usually go there after work, to have coffee with a colleague.
This is the international one. Very busy and always crowded with all types of people, especially other international workers. They have bagels, muffins, tarts and very good quality Norwegian salmon – and that’s why this is the perfect spot for a brunch. Needless to say, I usually go there on Sundays, right?
THE RED DOOR
On the other hand, this is the low profile one. Since it is really close to our house, I go there so often that now I like to call it my own “Central Perk”. It is quiet, with a relaxed atmosphere and in a not so “touristic” area. I love the pancakes and their English breakfast. It’s my hang out spot at weekends or after work, when I’m in the company of a good book, or just on my computer, having some work done outside the office.
One last thing...
I’ve started off by writing about the fun side of life in Islamabad. But I’m also here to work, and MSF has several projects in the country which are providing vital health care to vulnerable communities. I’ve written more about one the brilliant projects I’ve had a chance to be part of in my next post, which you can read here.