Sunday, September 27, 2015

Single stories can be changed

The Badshahi Mosque from Lahore Fort.

This blog has been somewhat quiet over the past month as I have had the opportunity to travel to and work in India and Pakistan where I led three International Baccalaureate in school and regional workshops. These workshops had been booked months in advance and they were fantastic opportunities to meet and work with new people in these countries.

The opportunity to travel & work to Pakistan was an interesting one. When I received the invitation to do so, I went through a mixture of feelings - should I go? what will it be like? will I be safe as a woman travelling alone? I started seeking out non Pakistani's who had lived in Pakistan to ask them about these issues. They were quite positive and gave me some tips. I have one friend whose mission is to travel to every country (he has 50 left to vist), who recently visited Afghanistan and who said do not take much notice of the travel warnings as long as I am sensible. I decided to go, planning my wardrobe with appropriate clothing to cover my arms and legs so as not to garner too much attention beyond being a foreigner.

My perceptions of Pakistan before I visited were : 
  • All women wore burqas in dark colours
  • Women were treated somewhat poorly by males
  • Foreigners are treated with suspicion and as possible kidnapping fodder
  • It was dangerous with Taliban extremists running around everywhere
  • Bombs may randomly be set off in crowded places
  • English was not spoken very well
  • Infrastructure was poor
  • The population is poor
  • There was animosity toward India & America particularly
  • Religion is a major influence on life in Pakistan 

I was well aware of the Danger of the Single story - those who write the stories are the ones in power, I was going with an open mind.

I spent a week in Pakistan - 5 days in Lahore, then travelled 200 kms by car to Faisalabad for another 2 days. The time in Lahore was spent with 6 other workshop leaders, 5 of them women who had travelled to Pakistan from Mauritius, Tanzania, Indonesia, Canada, England and Beijing. The IB rep had travelled from Singapore and our workshop field rep was a school principal from Karachi. We were treated with the utmost hospitality by the local people everywhere we went. We had a designated driver and van to take us around to some of the historic sites, we were taken to lovely restaurants to experience the wonderful Pakistan cuisine, we were invited into peoples homes for dinner. The workshop participants were all keen learners and hungry for new understandings. English was the medium of instruction and no one had problems with this. 

The Librarians I worked with in Lahore
The women wore Kurta's of different styles and wonderful colours in the most beautiful fabrics and designs. Yes there were still burqa's and hajibs, but nowhere as many as my expectations had been. I went shopping and bought a few of these beautiful garments. We had men and women working together and having what I would consider normal healthy working relationships with each other. Many men were dressed in regular business attire, with some wearing the traditional Pakistani Shalwar KameezAll were acceptable forms of dress.

In Faisalabad I found the same hospitality. One of the male staff members even travelled 2.5 hours with a driver to pick me up from Lahore to take me to Faisalabad, and then did the same thing for my return to Lahore to ensure I was delivered safely to the right place as the drivers english was very basic. The road we travelled on would match any tollway / motorway in the USA, Australia or Europe.

Security was tight at the hotel, and everywhere we went we had to pass through metal detectors. The schools had guards with big guns.  These measures were in place to reduce the possibility of unseen problems by people who want to cause trouble. The area of Punjab is renowned for being a safe state with the Pakistan Rangers playing a major role in the security with one of the headquarters based there. The Pakistani people are sick of the random acts of terror in their country by those who feel the need to act this way. 

There was no animosity by the people I spoke to toward any other country, even India with which it shares a common heritage but also a common conflict of politics. Everyone I spoke to, and plenty of people on the street and at the historic sites approached us to speak with us, were interested to find out where we were from and to share their information about what they knew about our home country. In many cases they had relatives living there. They were so open and welcoming.

There is a large divide in Pakistan between the haves and the have nots. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics the average annual income is $1,513USD. However, there are some very rich people in Pakistan worth billions of US dollars. The cost of schooling is also a divider. Private schools charge from 150 - 330USD a month. Private schools are for profit schools. The average monthly salary for a teacher is $530USD depending on experience and qualifications. 

The staff from the school I visited in Faisalabad
Literacy of Pakistan is at 58%. Pakistan Youth (15-24 years) literacy rate is 79.1% for males and 61.5% for females. Each new generation of Pakistanis is more literate than its predecessors:

Over 55 years 30% literate
45-55 years 40%
35-45 years 50%
25-35 years 60%
15-25 years 70%

English was the official language of Pakistan until just recently, and Urdu the national language. In the private schools English is the medium of instruction and 49% of Pakistani's have a command of the english language, making it the third largest English speaking country, behind the US and India. Education is seen as a way to improve the situation of the Pakistan people.

Something interesting I did discover is that there is no specific teacher training in Pakistan. Teachers become teachers by having a degree in something, and then applying to a school for a job as a teacher without any background in pedagogy. This means they generally teach the way they have been taught, which is usually through lectures and text books. This is a challenge as the IB format of inquiry learning and teaching moves into Pakistan, requiring a very steep learning curve for administrators, teachers, students and parents. This 2011 article from the Express Tribune outlines some of the issues encountered.

My perceptions of Pakistan after my visit were:
  • The women wear beautiful clothing and are free to dress as they wish. There are expectations of modesty.
  • Relationships between males and females is one of mutual respect
  • Pakistani's are delighted to meet and converse with foreigners, being very hospitable 
  • Security is everywhere to prevent disruption to the normal peoples lives. The Taliban are disliked in Pakistan for their violent ways.
  • Generally the infrastructure in  Pakistan cities is good and the roads across the country are good. There are a variety of transport options - cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, donkey and horse carts.
  • English is widely spoken
  • There are many poor people in Pakistan, but many middle and high earners as well. Pakistan has a growing & bustling economy.
  • Regular Pakistani's do not hold any animosity toward anyone
  • Religion is important in Pakistan, and, it is understood that everyone is at a different level of understanding and growth. I had many wonderful religious based conversations in my time there, with the people I spoke to open to questions and sharing of their beliefs. They were also interested in mine.
  • The people of Pakistan are just like everyone else, wanting a good family life with opportunities.
  • Eating good food is very important in Pakistan. 

I am fully aware that my experience was based on being an invited guest in two cities that have more opportunities than the rest of the country. If I had visited by myself without the complete hospitality of my hosts, I may have a different experience, but for now, this is my story of Pakistan as I saw it. It also brought to my mind why we need to be careful of the information that we pass onto or encourage students to use in their research. We need to be critical of who is telling the story and why. We need to be aware of the single story. I am also very grateful to be given these opportunities as an IB educator to both expand my knowledge and understanding of the world, and to meet people from very different cultures to mine.

I have shared a few photographs from my trip on here, but if you wish to see all 500+ more, please visit my Smugmug account. Many of them were taken from a moving vehicle as we travelled to and from the workshop. I was there to work!

Visiting Pakistan was one of the best things I have ever done in my life, and I will return at the next opportunity I have. 

Edit : Watch this TEDx Talk - about the stories that Pakistan needs to be telling. 
How we become the stories we tell | Nadine Murtaza

The clock tower in Faisalabad
Preparations for Eid well underway.
Donkey carts - a sustainable form of transport
Bicycles were designed to carry many things
The outside walls of Lahore Fort
The Badshahi Mosque, Lahore
My tour guides in Faisalabad

The clocktower in Faisalabad
Sunset over Pakistan


Imran Shahid said...

Thank you so much Dianne McKenzie for changing your single story. Pakistan is not that horrible as it is stated. It is a beautiful and secure place to live and visit. Thank you for being a wonderful resource person.
Shahida Imran.

Sabahat said...

Hi Dianne

Thanks for being such an awesome narrator. Your story was indeed an engrossing one...loved reading through it! Yes you are right Pakistanis love welcoming guests from foreign lands and enjoy sharing their sights and sounds.

Warm regards

Bilal Waseem said...

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful side of our story. It was great honor for everyone of us to have you as a mentor and guest. Thank you once again for being such a wonderful person.
Muhammad Bilal Waseem

Brenda Macbeth said...

Fantastic post! You are well-written and your perceptions were valuable to absorb and learn from. What a beautiful people!!

David & Brenda said...

What a wonderful post! You are well-written and your words are a gift to those of us who have not had the opportunity to visit Pakistan. What a beautiful people!! Thank you for opening the door of this amazing country to us through your thoughtful and insightful perceptions and through your photos.