Cities should never be planned.
It robs them of any soul.
Designers can create efficient, functional, organized spaces, but they cannot breath life into them.
It is the difference between a river and an irrigation ditch. Between a lake and a reservoir.
Islamabad was planned and built in the 1960s specifically for the purpose of being Pakistan’s capital. Even its buildings and monuments lack heart.
The Supreme Court, where we sat through a half hour of painfully pedantic proceedings, was a beautiful building. But it was just a façade, with its scales of justice slightly askew, for a dingy, disheveled interior.
The stunning Faisal Mosque, designed by a Turkish architect to be shaped like a desert Bedouin’s tent, was magnificent from afar, beautiful as you walked its stairs and courtyards, but hollow, lifeless once you were inside.
No one was allowed to enter except at prayer times and the worn blue carpet made even colder the chilly marble interior.
Still, it was in Islamabad that I had my best hours in Pakistan.
It was our last full night in the country and a few of us Americans escaped with a few of our Pakistani friends to a park overlooking the city.
We escaped the bubble and the bus, the security guard and the guide and wandered in the dark, in a park, with the square lines of city lights stretched out below us.
After many pictures at the overlook we drove to a hillside village and sat outside and drank chai on a chilly February night.
We laughed, we joked, we listened to the gentle melodies of a flute and drum duo. I learned some new words of Urdu and even got to show off my one soccer move to some kids playing in the parking lot as we returned to our cars.
It was the most blissfully normal hours I’d spent in two weeks. Friends, music, laughter, freedom, chai.
I returned to the hotel and had a wonderful night’s sleep feeling I’d finally found a happiness in Pakistan.
In the morning I ate breakfast across from stark headlines “Suicide bomber slays 26 outside Hangu mosque.”
Men, women, children massacred on their way from Friday prayers.
Pakistan is like that. It grabs you by the throat and only lets up occasionally so you can have a gasp of air.
This time I had a decent breath and then it flexed its hold on me once more.
As I was preparing this piece for the site this weekend word came of another horrifying bombing.
My throat constricts again.
OPB photographer and web editor Michael Clapp recently returned from a two-week trip to Pakistan with six other American journalists as part of an exchange program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists. This is the fourth of five travelogues he will be writing about the trip for OPBNews.org.
Pakistan: Mapping The Unknown - OPB News Series