Okay, first some history. I've been to Pakistan 3 times. The first (in 2004) we didn't have a kid so I didn't think about this at all. The second time (in 2007) we traveled when our son was 14 months old. I fretted about the car seat issue for months in advance. At home, here in America, both M and I are pretty crazy about car seat safety. I'm the type to research for days and spare no expense - and he's even worse because he's the type to actually stop strangers (and worse, family members) to tell them their kid's car seat straps are too loose. So, I fretted. He fretted. I spent some time on a car seat forum even. We didn't think we could bring a car seat with us because of baggage limits, and I didn't think car seats would be available for sale in Pakistan. Even if we did bring a car seat, where would we put it? M's family car had no seat belts in the back seat at all. In the end, we decided to try and buy something while there, but then we couldn't find anything. They had things that looked like infant car seats, but were just "baby seats" without any harness or way to latch it to the car. I felt incredibly pressured while I was there that "this is the way babies travel here" and not to worry because "driving is so much slower in Pakistan."
Well, it turned out to be my biggest regret and I hated every second of riding in a car with my son on my lap. I held him so tightly my knuckles were white. It was very stressful. Hey, I'm not judging anyone - every single other person I've seen in Karachi holds their kids in their laps. I have never ever not one time never seen a car seat in Pakistan. We all have to do what we think is best. I, personally, just didn't want to do that again.
For one I am very risk averse, and I have been in cars that go plenty fast in Karachi. Secondly, on our 3rd trip the baby was going to be 3 years old - plenty old enough to enjoy riding in a car without being strapped in and old enough to make it difficult to get him re--adjusted when we got back home. Third, I didn't want glorified peer pressure to be the reason I took chances with my kid's safety. You just never know, y'know?
So I decided that this was among the battles worth picking, and we set out to find a solution. We decided to take a car seat with us. I bought a convertible (from infant-toddler stage) car seat to take with me to Pakistan and leave there for future use. I found out that bringing a car seat with us would not count against our baggage limits (at least as far as Etihad Airlines was concerned as of December 2009.) We made arrangements to borrow a new car with seat belts. I looked around at various ways to rent cars in Karachi without a driver. And as a final backup idea, we bought a set of heavy-duty tie-down straps from Home Depot.
When the family met us at the airport - there was no rental car. We'd arranged rental through a friend of Chachoo's and that night they said it wouldn't be available until the next day. Chachoo's soon-to-be-wife's family was at the airport to receive us as well, though, and they have a shiny new car. We checked out the backseat and saw no seat belts, though. Turns out that even when there ARE seat belts in newer cars, they stuff them way down behind the seats because they're not used anyway. So M - in the parking lot of the Karachi Airport - took out the back seat of his brother's fiance's brother's new car to find the seat belts. ALL the while people kept telling us that a car seat wasn't necessary in Karachi, they don't drive very fast there, this kid and that kid and the neighbor's kid did just fine in the lap. We just tried to tune them out and some time later, our car seat was installed for the 30 minute ride home. It felt like a small miracle, a triumph of my principles.
The borrowed car came the next day and all was right with the world. Until like, three days later when it fell through and the friend came calling, asking for his car back. Literally MINUTES before we had to leave the house for I-can't-remember-what function.
At that moment, we decided to break out the tie-down straps. M is quite a handy guy to have around, so I'm not sure exactly how he did it, but he got that car seat strapped in there so securely it felt just as tight - if not tighter - than the LATCH car seat setup we have at home in America. And in our own car, too. It was so great that we were satisfied with it and that's how we rode around the city for the rest of our trip. And I left both the car seat and the tie-downs in my in-law's house for whenever we go back.
There was just a little tension about the car seat setup. Not really from my in-laws, they're very respectful and respected our wishes even though it meant we'd have to take two cars all the time. But I did hear bits and pieces of talk about our car seat and how unnecessary it was. I heard that it might even lead to our car being burglarized since it stood out as a symbol of expatriate-ism Even when we weren't in the car and it was parked on the street, it could be broken into because of the car seat. I also heard that the baby must be very unhappy/uncomfortable/sad in the car seat since he was all alone in the back seat tied up like a prisoner. I worried that my friends and family might think our insistence on using a car seat meant we thought we were better than or that Pakistan was inferior in general or something. Which, I don't know - I certainly think that the child restraint safety standards from where I come from are, in fact, superior because they save kids lives. But it's not a judgment of a whole people or a whole nation or anything.
Anyway, I stopped hearing anything about our car seat after 2 days, so it died down really quickly. (Relatively speaking, I mean - I STILL sometimes get questioned about my name!)
Here are some pictures of our car seat in Pakistan:
|Back seat - the safest place for kids.|
|Close up - the view from the trunk/hatchback. Here you can see M's handiwork, trying to turn some tie-downs into a LATCH system.|
|You can see the blue strap peeking out in the back where the LATCH straps normally go.|