NextThought Monday: Pakistan: A Land of Misunderstood Opportunity
Let’s play a game. I’m composing a song in my head and I want you to guess what song it is just by listening to the taps I make on the table. I’ve picked an easy song for you: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”, so you should get it. Ready? TAP TAP, tap tap, TAP tap TAAAP, tap tap TAP TAP, TAP tap TAAAP…”. Within my mind, the orchestra is in full swing and I can even hear a gorgeous voice belting out the lyrics, but you look at me dumbfounded. You just heard: “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap, tap tap tap tap tap tap tap” and you’re curious why I have picked such an ugly and boring song.
Earlier this fall, I did this exercise with Sasha Dichter. As he explained the point is to discover how hard it is to communicate something as melodic as a song when you just have one finger tapping. You might hear the rest of the symphony going on in your head but others won’t be able to comprehend you.
My plane landed in Pakistan just a few days ago. It’s my first time here. As I take in the country, often the first question people ask is, “why are you here?”. Sitting outside a cafe in the middle of a bustling street packed with lively market stalls, I told my new coworker, Salman, “I’m eager to explore because I believe the country has so much more to offer than bomb blasts, terrorists and other misrepresentations portrayed by the media. I came here so that I could discover the true Pakistan.” With a smile and nodding of his head, Salman replied, “People don’t understand my country. They say this is a war zone,” then he spread his arms wide, gesturing at the market, “but look around, this is a peaceful place, where is this war?” Leaning forward with a sad look, he went on, “I’m sorry, Mr. Bryan, but I’m afraid Pakistani’s have a very negative view of America too.” I had just read in the newspaper that Barack Obama had an 8% approval rating in Pakistan – lower than that of Osama Bin Laden – so I was unsurprised. As we waited for our chicken biryani, Salman and I continued empathizing with each other over the fact that both of us come from countries misrepresented by the media.
Anatole Brovard wrote, “To be misunderstood can be the writer’s punishment for having disturbed the reader’s peace. The greater the disturbance, the greater the possibility of misunderstanding.”
Both Pakistan and America have disturbed the peace of billions of readers, but there is a truth that runs deeper. Sure, Pakistan today is a land marred by challenges – from illiteracy to high inflation – but there is a beautiful, functioning culture that often goes unmentioned. The media has forgotten the vibrant markets, delicious chipati and the rich smell of spices and curries that float in the humid Pakistani air. The media has forgotten that being an Islamic nation means that faith and respect are valued above all else. Most of all, the media has forgotten that Pakistanis are the most generous, humble and welcoming people. I have been told by everyone, “You are my guest, and as a guest you always take precedence.”
I will be staying in Lahore, Pakistan for the next nine months, working on affordable housing and community development as an Acumen Fund Fellow. Throughout the period, I will be focusing much of my writing on sharing my thoughts and discoveries about the opportunities and the immense tests Pakistan faces.
My goal is to remember what the media forgot. I want to show you the greatness of this country, along with what can be done to improve it. I’m talking about a different side of Pakistan than you usually hear about, and I want to make sure you distinguish the two in your mind, so let’s start with the pronunciation: when you read my posts, remember Pakistan is pronounced “Paw-ki-stahn”, not “Pack-is-tan”. The difference is exquisite.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” Pakistan is both. The people of this country are tapping out a beautiful song that they want the world to appreciate, but they have no orchestra behind them. For now, I’ll play along with my own instrument, however small it may be. Try to catch the tune.