Assasination, 40 dead and sacrifice

When ANDREW WEBSTER, 23, last wrote for The Hunts Post, he finished his article by predicting Christmas in Karachi could be a mundane affair . The former Longsands College pupil, who is working in Pakistan for a year, admits his prediction was well wide

When ANDREW WEBSTER, 23, last wrote for The Hunts Post, he finished his article by predicting Christmas in Karachi could be 'a mundane affair'. The former Longsands College pupil, who is working in Pakistan for a year, admits his prediction was well wide of the mark.

Here he reflects on a Christmas that could not have been any more different from the times he shared with his family in St Neots.

ONCE more Pakistan has stood true to the basic rule: expect nothing and be prepared for everything.

In that vein I have been witness to the effects of a tragic train crash, an Islamic celebration and most recently the assassination of leading political figure Benazir Bhutto.

It has certainly been a Christmas to remember.

So it all started with the Eid holidays. I was initially meant to be travelling to Lahore on a train called the Karachi Express. However, the morning before I was to leave, breaking news hit the BBC that the Karachi Express had derailed three hours outside Karachi and as a result 40 people had died.

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I don't like to think in terms of ifs and buts, especially not in Pakistan, but it did effectively put an end to any plans I had to travel over the festive period.

Not to worry, though, I would spend Eid in Karachi.

Animal mania was taking over Karachi at this time. The significance of Eid is the willingness Prophet Ibrahim had to sacrifice his son for Allah. This is now remembered by the sacrifice of an animal by Muslim families.

Wel,l in the days leading up to the celebration cosmopolitan Karachi became awash with livestock. I saw sheep in the back of taxis, cows tied to lamp posts and men marching home with goats over their shoulders.

When I arrived home on Friday night there were two bulls outside my house grazing in the rubbish. When I left on Saturday morning there were two carcasses being butchered in the very same place.

To be honest the whole thing seemed quite shocking to me. But the point of the celebration is that you are making a sacrifice. And with most of the meat being given to the poor, it can't be such a bad thing, even if it is a little public.

Immediately following Eid was Christmas and I had initially been in fear that I wouldn't get my turkey, but thankfully this was not the case.

Among the group of people I live with, we managed to organise a full-on Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Although unexpected, this one day was the respite of normality before once more I was thrown into unfamiliar and chaotic territory.

On December 27, I was returning from the park after a much needed run. The busy street I live on is dark, quiet and empty, indicating that something is definitely wrong. It is almost ghostly. I get home quickly, thinking something terrible has happened in my neighbourhood, only to be told that 'Benazir is dead'.

For someone in the UK, this might not seem like a big news story, but this woman has literally been on the front page of every newspaper since I arrived here.

Throughout Karachi especially, she has a hero's following which was only too obviously shown on her arrival in October. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered along the road from the airport to the city, before being dispersed by a bomb that killed 140 people.

On that occasion Benazir escaped. This time, though, she wasn't so lucky and the reaction across Pakistan saw the country implode for the next three days.

At times it left me feeling quite anxious. The reason the street was empty when I returned from the park was because people expected trouble, and that was what they got.

For the next three days we locked ourselves in our house while the country came to a complete standstill for the mourning period for a fallen hero. For two days our diet consisted of rice and potatoes, with all the shops closed and with any that attempted to open being forced to close by the rioters and their rocks.

In our area it was eerily quiet. Our busy bustling neighborhood was calm and empty as people sought safety in their homes. However, in the distance you could see black smoke rising from all directions.

On the fourth day, New Year's Eve, things were expected to go back to normal as the country came out of mourning. However, by lunchtime I was rushing home from work as further rumours spread about trouble erupting around the city. Although the rumours were little more than rumours, it effectively sealed the fate of the new year ball we were supposed to be attending. Instead, we had a low-key party in the safety of our own home.

Moving into the new year, things have been fine and Pakistan has started to return to normal.

Although the death of Benazir and the forthcoming elections are still very much in the atmosphere, the people have done what they do best and that is get on with their everyday lives. Me included. I am now back at work, left reflecting on a Christmas holiday I can never forget.

As a concluding thought, I am reluctant to give the impression of a country in total chaos. Although it may sound like a scary and unstable place to be, I rarely feel in danger and not once have I thought to come home to St Neots.

Furthermore, with a new year comes new hope and I have plenty of that as I look forward, expecting nothing but feeling prepared for everything.