Islamabad Reservoir Cools Pakistanis

Summers are swelteringly hot in Pakistan. So, when there's no power for up to 18 hours a day (and you can't afford a generator) what do you do? Head for the nearest lake. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Lake View Park, on the edge of Islamabad's edge.

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Most people look forward to summer, but perhaps not in Pakistan. NPR's Philip Reeves has been out and about in its capital city, and sent us this letter from Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: I often wonder how Pakistanis manage to keep up their spirits. Every day brings fresh reports of militant attacks, murders or kidnappings. And even after the monsoon rains roll in, as they are now, it can be unbearably hot. This year's worse than ever thanks to constant power outages. The people of Islamabad call themselves Islooites as a kind of nickname.

This is where Islooites come to unwind. It's called Rawal Lake. Here people actually laugh. There are gardens with palms and gazebos. A young man joyously takes a shower by standing, fully clothed, in front of a lawn sprinkler. Women in black burqas cool off by dangling their feet in the water. Pakistan's a conservative Muslim country. Swimming in public would be unthinkable for these women. Technically, no one's supposed to swim here because of the risk of drowning. So what is this now?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They say that swimming is prohibited.

REEVES: And this one? Swimming is prohibited. So there's about three notices we counted. Now we go over here, over to the end here. Oh, there's loads of people swimming. Some schoolboys are taking a dip with their teachers. Out on the water, people in bright pink plastic paddle boats pedal slowly along. We set out in a rowboat with 17-year-old Umair Mehmood at the oars.

Rawal Lake's a reservoir, fed by water that tumbles down from the nearby Himalayas. Umair says when the lake's low, you can look down and see ruined homes and mosques that were there before the dam came. On hot, airless days when everyone's unwinding, things can get a little surreal. Umair says he's looking forward to the fishing season in the winter. He reveals he's rather partial to a fish he calls sole.

UMAIR MEHMOOD: (Through Translator) He's saying that we don't sell, or we don't give the sole fish to anyone because it's good for sex so we eat it. We give other type of fish to other Lake Rawal. We give it to other people.

REEVES: I see, I see. Understand now. All right. I heard of aphrodisiacs made from wild oats. Osama bin Laden apparently had some in his lair some 60 miles from here. I've heard, unfortunately, of people using powdered tiger's bones. This is the first time I've heard of aphrodisiac fish. Back in town I stopped to check my story.

Sarfraz Ahmed is frying fish at his store. This is hot and stressful work, but my questions cheer him up. Yes, he tells us, some fish are aphrodisiacs. He personally prefers fish called baam. Right now sales are slow. In this weather, in these conditions, that's hardly surprising. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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