I should explain that the consulate in Karachi is in a self-contained compound surrounded by a high wall and is under tight security. Our office building, where all the work takes place, is about 150 yards from the residential building, where we all live. Between the two is a totally open area of sidewalks and palm trees but, since the wall is so high, it is impossible to look into the compound from the street. Or so I thought.
As I was leaving the consulate, one of the security officers cautioned me to go straight to the residence as the protesters had been allowed, in spite of what we had been told, to move up the street outside the compound and they were gathering right then. I moved on through the entrance and began my walk to the residence. I was about a third of the way when I heard the music and shouting. It wasn’t threatening shouting, and it wasn’t cheering. It was just lots of noise coming from the area outside the wall and, when I looked in that direction, I was absolutely shocked to see people—lots and lots of people—standing above the level of the wall.
So there I am in the middle of the otherwise deserted area between the two buildings, looking at these folks who are looking right back at me. Many of them were waving their arms, and it seemed to me they were waving at me. I didn’t feel threatened at all, but it certainly ran through my mind that this was a situation I had not anticipated and with which I was not completely comfortable. While I saw no indication of hostility, I also know it only takes one person with ill intent to turn a situation violent.
I quickly considered my options. I didn’t want to turn around, as that would put my back to the crowd. Instead, I did what every good southern woman from the United States would do in that situation. I smiled my biggest smile, waved at the crowd and kept moving forward to the residence, reaching it without incident.
Later, I learned that the crowd came with buses and people had climbed on top of the buses to see into the compound, thus giving me the impression they were standing above the wall. And the initial estimate of several hundred turned out to be several thousand, though that was not obvious from the numbers I saw levitating above the wall.
I have caught a lot of ribbing from my colleagues for waving at the protesters, and more than a few have suggested that the “waving” I perceived was, perhaps, less than friendly. I choose to remember my version of the event. It is the southern way.