Travel Diary: No Place Like Home

Davis is a small university town in Northern California, home to majority of the students and teachers of the University of California-Davis, one of America’s best universities for agricultural and environmental studies. Accordingly much of Davis’ residents are very passionate environmentalists; everything from a mere walk past the bicycle inhabited roads or a drive down to the neighborhoods malls, cramped with a variety of organic products, reflects the strong pro-environment sentiments of its residents. As a tourist to these parts from Karachi, incidentally recently named the world’s most polluted city, it was in many ways an education of sorts.

Amongst the many environment friendly research conducted here was one particularly fascinating project undertaken by the Biological and Agricultural Engineering department. The “Biogas Energy Project” developed a new technology called Anaerobic Phased Solids Digester (APS), which allows turning organic waste products, such as feedstock, municipal and commercial organics and agricultural wastes into bio-gas, a mixture of Methane and Carbon Dioxide which can be used to generate electricity and fuel for vehicles.

The technology was licensed from the university and adapted for commercial use by Onsite Power Systems Incorporation last November, and by the new year, similar technology was being used elsewhere, namely in the state of Vermont to come up with an innovative renewable energy program that connects power from farm-based anaerobic digesters to customers in search of “green energy”. The Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) -that offered customers electricity generated from cow dung for as little as 4 cents per kilowatt hour- aptly called the program “Cow Power“.

A quick Google search subsequently revealed that cow power is now a familiar term for farmers in many other parts of America, as far away from California as Michigan and Minnesota. With Pakistan being home to the largest animal population of the world, I was excited by the possibility of this technology being used here, particularly in the wake of the seemingly never-ending power crisis of Karachi.

But the extensive costs of setting up such a technology (the Dairy Digester in Michigan cost $2.2 million to set up and even the smaller anaerobic plug-flow digester system in San Diego, California cost up to $900,000) some how made me skeptical of the possibility of it being employed here, but I learned that my pessimism was misplaced. The News reported that the idea had already been explored as means of generating alternative energy.

According to the report Mustafa Kamal has already awarded a contract to a foreign firm to set up a bio-gas plant in the Landhi Cattle Colony, which makes up 200,000 of Karachi’s total 1 million cattle population. The power plant, currently awaiting a “green signal” from the United Nations, could generate up to 38 MW of electricity, which again, may not be sufficient to eradicate the energy shortage altogether, but it will nevertheless be much needed progress.

Meanwhile, back here in the States, as I travel from one university town to another, I’ve landed in Chapel Hill, home to America’s oldest state sponsored university, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. This isn’t the first time I’m traveling to Uncle Sam land, and hence the disparity between our developing third world and the greener pastures here no longer seem to bring a sense of awe.

Instead they bring a sense of deja vu, both with the way Pakistan is represented in the news here, as well as in the monotonously disturbing nature of the news it self that comes from back home. First it was the cyclone-induced calamity, then the Lal-Masjid stand off in Islamabad, its like waking up every morning being desperate to see some positive, uplifting news in your Google News alerts. The ‘cow-power’ report was not exactly something that filled that criterion, but it was a refreshing change nevertheless.

Yet still, as I read through emails from friends and family back home filled generously with complains about Karachi’s weather and on-going power shortage, you tend to find your self complaining too, even despite the uninterrupted electricity, pleasant weather and reliable WiFi at your disposal, complaining this time, because you actually miss being able to complain about the indifference, ineptitude and apathy of those in office.

I do not doubt for one minute that I’m being ungrateful of the highest order, but it is true, at the sometime, that it is partly because I miss home and its disorderly chaos. Besides the tea here just doesn’t have the same taste to it. And even the imported Shan Masalas the desi stores here have seem to have been tailored down to meet the more masala sensitive taste buds of the expatriates here. Everything said and done, in the same way that a Tetley tea bag can never be superior to a Lipton ke dood patti, no place can be like home.

17 Comments so far

  1. Jamal Shamsi (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

    Very well Blended detail

  2. JayJay (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 6:09 pm

    “With Pakistan being home to the largest animal population of the world,”

    Plz check your facts. I doubt the above claim is true, unless you are including social animals in your count too.

  3. JayJay (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 6:24 pm

    The world cattle population is estimated to be about 1.3 billion head. India is the nation with the largest number of cattle, about 400 million, followed by Brazil and China, with about 150 million each, and the United States, with about 100 million. Africa has about 200 million head of cattle, many of which are herded in traditional ways and serve largely as tokens of their owners’ wealth. Europe has about 130 million head of cattle (CT 2006, SC 2006). SOURCE:

  4. Rukun (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

    and could you link us up on Karachi being the most polluted city in the world?

    last i heard, china and the US are steps ahead of any one in the world when it comes to pollution. beijing had to move chemical factories to be allowed to have the olympics.

    the recent lifestyle had a really good article about karachi. its a huge but volatile system

  5. Anon. (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 7:28 pm

    I have seen a lot of positive change in the last 5 years. As long as there is progress, we know that eventually the city will catch up to the demands of its residents. It may well take another 20 years, no one said it was going to be easy right!

    Mustafa Kamal has accomplished a lot. He understands the challenges that the residents face and he seems to understand what investments need to flow in.

    Given that the pace of progress continues and fight against crime ramps up, the city is capable of having a significantly better quality of living.

  6. Haseeb (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 9:20 pm

    I think you forget to mention that the UNITED STATES spews out the MOST POLLUTION in the world!!

    Yup, they like to keep their own backyard clean is another issue…

  7. Anon. (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

    China has passed the US in pollution stats.

    To get an accurate view you must also compare the size of the country with the amount of C02 emissions. I don’t know what the results are.

    Having CNG cars/trucks/vans/buses is an excellent way to reduce the C02 emissions. AND ITS CHEAPER!

    Almost everyone I know in Karachi has at least 1 CNG based vehicle. The lines at the pumps are only getting longer.

  8. Rukun (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

    mustafa kamal isnt effective when mqm is at conflict with other parties. for example, tipu sultan road has been dug up for months now, look at II chundrigar road.

  9. Zainub (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 10:16 pm


    If you had actually bothered to follow any of the links in the post, you’d not have asked me to check my facts, instead you would questioned The News, caused I used the figure about Pakistan’s animal population from a report in it, that I have linked to in the post, and for your convenience am linking to again here . I don’t doubt that Wikipedia suggests a different figure, but Wikipedia in itself is written by ordinary internet users like you and me, and often contains unreferenced information, that is prone to being incorrect. It may well be correct in this case, and The News figure may be wrong, but you should not, either way, accuse me of not fact checking, especially when you your self have not bothered to read any of the sources I have linked to in the post. And Karachi’s pollutions stats too have been talked of many times here at this blog before, please refer to Tee Em’s post here and my post here.

    Rukan, Haseeb, Anon, please see above.

  10. Arsalaan Haleem (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

    Quite an interesting read. Very well written, Zainub, very well, indeed!!

  11. Anon. (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 11:58 pm

    “for example, tipu sultan road has been dug up for months now, look at II chundrigar road”.

    What juridistriction do both of these fall under? The city nazim does not have all 13 under his organization.

  12. pkhan (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 12:34 am

    @ Zainub come visit us in COW Country?

  13. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 12:49 am

    Zainab, you never disappoint majority of blog readers. Another good article,asuusual and have a good time in US.

  14. Shiraz (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 8:25 am

    I thought part of being an author on KMB required the author to be living in karachi, Pakistan. I wonder why zainub is so special and allowed to be an author of KMB.

  15. Zainub (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 9:18 am

    I do *live* in Karachi, I’m just on holidays during the summer! And I thought I made that obvious enough in the post it self! Reads “tourist”, “traveling”, etc etc.

  16. ShahidnUSA (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

    @ Ms Zainub:
    I enjoyed your post. I have visited Davis University near Sacromanto California.Who would have thought cow power :) makes me go vegetarian.

  17. Jaad Syed (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

    Excellent article!

    but “With Pakistan being home to the largest animal population of the world,” really?????!!!!

    I thought it was India!

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