Eat Eat

Eat, Eat

Reading the comments on the blogs, one of my dear and direct friends referred to my eating habits as picky. One thing about Pakistan, food is the spice of life since spice is an integral part of the entire flavor of food in Pakistan. The question is, does food define us or do we define food? The role food plays in life has many facets. It has been said over and over “the way to a man’s heart is though his stomach.” People love to eat for a variety of reasons. Today eating and food has many variables in our discussions regarding how we view eating, eating disorders, healthy eating, eating habits, nutritious, organic food and medical related eating problems. The negative effects are seen in the health effects to over eating. In fact when you mention eating, talk about eating, many people begin to salivate and hear their stomach start to talk to their subconscious until it is consciously tempting you with what you really want to eat. By now some of you might actually be headed to the refrigerator.

Prior to my arrival to Pakistan Mujtaba Khan had told me that people in Pakistan love to eat. I listened to what he had to say and remarked Ok. He then reemphasized, no I mean Pakistani’s love to eat, Ok. After arriving in Pakistan I now really understand what he was trying to instill in me prior to my arrival, that people in Pakistan live to eat. Eating is a communal activity of sharing with each other what they can as a gesture of sincere welcome and friendship. Breaking bread is about fellowshipping and letting others know how special it is to have you visit them in their home. No matter what the income level is of the people that you are visiting it is important for them to ensure that the best of the food that they can provide is provided to you as a manner of respect and gratitude that you are there with them in their house.  

When you arrive to a location it is the role of the invitee or the matriarch’s role to ensure that there is a constant supply of food on your plate. The statement of eat, eat is said over and over and when you immediately resist and say no thank has the traditional meaning of a polite response of yes go ahead and put more on my plate. So the host begins to place more food on your plate.  In any gathering of people in Pakistan whether for a simple outing like flying model airplanes, having a business meeting, or getting together, you can count on where two or more are gathered there will be food. The communion of eating together and the intimacy of breaking bread together have the effect of eliminating the air of superiority, power, and importance. Each person is a person that has purpose and dignity. The host values your presence and desire that in all manners you are comfortable and well taken care of while you are visiting. On days that I would go from one meeting to another It was hard since I had just been filled by my previous host only to start over at my new host location.

As a concern for the picky westerner visiting in Lahore Pakistan various family members and friends were assigned at lunch time almost each day to taking me to typical western types of eateries. We visited    Subway, Carl’s Jr (Hardies), Mac Donald’s, and other restaurants that served more western types of food.  Asim was often the person or one of the people that accompanied me to lunch on most days as he had flexibility in the afternoon to take me out to provide me a more traditional U.S. type of meal. Asim is dynamic, an eclectic thinker, passionate about life, and the joys of being young. Asim is balanced with a strong faith, and great work ethic yet he understands how to have fun. Asim has a deep rooted interest in music and is a talented guitarist. During our time together Asim would share with me his passion for food. “I live to eat” he said with such deep conviction, passion and sincerity. “I love Pakistani food soooo much, especially home cooked Pakistani food. I just cannot have enough”. In one conversation he shared that he and his cousin debated if food ranked higher than any other pleasure that would most be on the minds of young men. They had settled on the two most important and believed that food actually had greater the greater value.

Obesity is a problem in the United States due to the quality and types of food that we consume in our lives. Pakistani food is primarily wholesome and healthy in the manner that they cook and serve meals. The meals of Pakistanis are a balanced meal of meats, vegetables, fruits, rice, and breads. Besides the volume of food, and tea with sugar, there is little that is bad for you in the diets of Pakistani’s.  For the volume of food the traditional dress has expandable waist bands either with elastic or cord tied.

Happiness can be found in the fellowship of food and there is a value to balanced eating that can help create bonds and opportunities for connecting with one another instead of rushed meetings or electronic relationships. Eat, Eat will be something I will really miss participating in Pakistan, a culture where being together is really valued and appreciated.

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Road Trip

Road trip!

For me, being young and adventurous, road trips typically would occur on a whim and the outcome of the adventures now have many memorable moments and stories of the journey. For those that have been on a road trip with me in the past know the adventures that occur in traveling with me. Running out of gas is usually one that is unforgettable experience many of you might recall. Brian Duvardo has probably had the greatest amount of experience with me running out of gas; Brian started being my gas guage after multiple encounters with this gas phenomena. For the rest of those brave souls, crazy people, or unwilling participants, I am sure your mind can transport you back into the past to a moment of experiencing an adventure in travel with me. I remember Michigan to Florida for a space shuttle launch, Minnesota to help a friend of Steve, my brother-in-law, after a graduation trip to upper Michigan and Canada, moving Mom to California, going to see a Dodger Game in San Francisco, Several Yosemite trips with various people; Victor and Ernie, Kerri, Students, and trips to Mono Lake, and the list goes on.

My Pakistani road trip started out typical to many other trips that I have had in the past, at 4:00 AM.  The first leg was to travel an hour and rendezvous with the rest of the team. Once we arrived, I transitioned into the van where a total of 8 men began the journey into the Frontier Land and No Man’s Land of Pakistan. The traveling group was quite an eclectic group of people in age, occupations, and diversity, with even a “band of brothers” on board. On the surface, this sounds great but when traveling in Pakistan this eclectic type of group appears to outsiders as suspicious. During this excursion, I got the complete experience of a Pakistani road trip. One critical aspect of a traditional road trip is the “traditional Pakistani air-conditioning”, hot outside and hot inside the van with the windows open as much as possible. I was fortunate to be seated where I could have my head by the window to get the wind blowing enough to capture some sense of coolness. Another tradition in Pakistani road trips is how many people you can cram into a small vehicle for a road trip and still fit in your gear.  To accentuate the fullness of traditional road trips in Pakistan, you may have a seat that was fully padded at one time in history, but after years of people crammed into the vehicle, you search for what little padding there is left under you bum.

The human aspects of the road trip travel experience began not more than ten minutes into the trip when all of the Pakistani men burst out in song. Once they gained their momentum then they begin clapping their hands, snapping their fingers and performing hand gestures. They move from one song to another and this continues for quite some time. After each song is completed, the laughter is contagious and the ice is definitely broken. After the singing ends, then comes the telling of stories, interspersed with jokes, and poking fun at one another throughout the entire trip. This cycle occurs several times during the journey.  If you could not laugh when others are laughing at you, by the end of the trip you will have learned to laugh at yourself.

A logistics factor about road trips in Pakistan is due to the use of CNG as the fuel source. Your trip is guaranteed that you make a stop about every 150 KM. Stopping is nice since the quarters are tight.  This allows for periodic stretching of your legs and for making a stop for food and bathroom.  The bathroom is something I did not take a picture of for various reasons, but it is definitely an experience that one must have at least once in their life, or for as long as you stay in Pakistan. As with all road trips, there has to be a breakdown, but as usual it is an opportunity to experience something else while you wait for the repair.

A road trip is not fully complete without the element of finding yourself in a little bit of trouble in a minor manner.  After we had passed out Lifestraws in the tribal colonies, Mustava happened to notice river stones along the side of the road and had the driver stop the van. Mustava jumped out and loaded about twenty stones into the van for a fountain he wants to make at his house. A thought crosses my mind, “I am not sure, given the demographics of the group, that having a van full of rocks is a great idea. Protest in Pakistan typically involves rock throwing from what I saw in the local newspaper.”  Since we are in route to Islamabad, I could just see us trying to explain why we had the rocks.  Enroute to Islamabad, we approached  a river and, once again, Mustava had the driver stop at the edge of the river and everyone joined in the collecting of river rocks. By the time we left, the entire floor of the van is covered in two layers of rock.  I must say it is important to be careful of what you think about, for it might actually happen. We arrive in Islamabad, eat, and as we are leaving some police officers notice (when the side door is left open accidentally) that the van is full of rocks and we are a very odd looking group. After several tense moments of questioning, we are sent on our way.

Road trips anywhere around the world bring people together in a manner of the shared experience of travel, the journey, and the points of destination along the way. The journey was more than simply going from point a, b, c, and ending up at z. This journey created a unique bond of friendship tied to extraordinary experiences that will be fond memories the rest of our lives.

Time of My Life

Time of My Life-David Cook

Here I sit on the plane flying from Dubai to New York editing and completing some of the blogs I started or blogs and new ones I am in process of writing of the final days I journeyed in Pakistan. I got up on Monday morning knowing that I had to pack and go to various meetings that Soraya had set up for me. I spent time going over some details with Jalal and Khurram regarding maintaining communication using technology. The meetings were fantastic. I met two more of Soraya’s friends, spent time with Mustava and Riswan. As the day came to a close I had a variety of the new friends come to say good bye and then suddenly I am in the car, pulling away from the Rukhsana foundation in route to the airport with Naveed and Soraya. I went through the motions of unloading, hugging, and saying goodbye as if it was like the routine one does as you leave the house each day expecting to return home soon yet there are not any concrete plans to return to Pakistan but is has become for me a place that I connected deeply.

While flying from Dubai to New York, I had a long stint in the air. I managed my time to sleed when it was darkness was happening in Eastern Standard time even though daylight could be seen coiming through the edges of the planes window shades. After I had rested I set up a selection of music to listen to as I edited and began to write my remaining blogs. I was writing until David Cook began singing “Time of my Life” suddenly I was completely ovecome with all my feelings flooding over like the water over Pakistan. The words over took me and buried me in relentless emotions of all of my experience while in Pakistan. I copied the lyrics since this song powerfully portrays the euphony I have had from my experiences in Pakistan

David Cook: The Time Of My Life Lyrics

Songwriters: Hamm, Regie Glenn;

I’ve been waiting for my dreams
To turn into something
I could believe in
And looking for that
Magic rainbow
On the horizon
I couldn’t see it
Until I let go
Gave into love and watched all the bitterness burn
Now I’m coming alive
Body and soul
And feelin’ my world start to turn

And I’ll taste every moment
And live out loud
I know this the time
This is the time
To be more than a name
Or a face in the crowd
I know this is the time
This is the time of my life
Time of my life

Holding onto things that vanished
Into the air
Left me in pieces
But now I’m rising from the ashes
Finding my wings
And all that I needed
Was there all along
Within my reach
And as close as the beat of my heart

And I’ll taste every moment
And live it out loud
I know this is the time
This is the time
To be more than a name
Or a face in the crowd
I know this is the time
This is the time of my life
Time of my life

And I’m out on the edge of forever
Ready to run
I’m keeping my feet on the ground
My arms open wide
My face to the sun

And I’ll taste every moment
And live it out loud I know this is the time
This is the time
To be more than a name
Or a face in the crowd
I know this is the time
This is the time of my life
My life
More than a name
Or face in the crowd
I know this the time
This is the time of my life
This is the time of my life
Time of my life….
Time of my life…

Coming to the End

Coming to the End

Time seems to move quickly in our lives. The future seems distant, a day seems to move along at its own pace, and the past seems to have occurred all too quickly. When you are planning a trip the process has its own time elements. Prior to your departure one makes statements to people of “I will be in Pakistan for approximately fifteen days and away from home for a month” when I spoke that statement the essence of my trip seemed so distant and a long period of time. When finally after all the preparation and the day arrives to fly to your destination even the travel time seems to simply operate at its own pace. The moment one touches ground at your destination you feel as if a stop watch has started ticking and you now are on a mission to experience as much as you can in what now seems to be the short period of time that you are visiting the region you have just arrived.

The 17 days in Pakistan have now come to an end. The time passed very quickly yet there is a sense that I have been here for a long time through the development of the relationships that I have made since I arrived. I have travel many miles around this country, and have seen many different elements of what this country is really about. I have listened to the stories of its long history in the world. I have heard of its great secrets. I have heard stories of the trials and triumphs of the country and individuals. I have been asked countless times “So what do I think of Pakistan”

I have found that Pakistan is really a misunderstood country. I have found that Pakistan like every other country has bureaucratic and political short falls. Each citizen of a country has concerns regarding the manner that their county is operating. Pakistani’s openly discussing the issues that they feel the government is failing to operate in an effective and efficient manner. I found while listening to their assessments and concerns that I felt I was sitting with friends in the U.S. having the same topical discussions.

I have found that Pakistan is a country of tolerance. The country though predominantly Muslim is open to allows open worship of Christianity, and Hindu faiths. The Christian churches are a small segment of the total population yet they are vibrant and bold about their faith. Pakistan is a country segmented by various cultures of people that make up the country of Pakistan. There are foreigners from many different countries that visit, work, and live in Pakistan. Being in the markets, shops, restaurants and traveling through Pakistan found people to genuinely be appreciative to see a U.S. citizen in their midst living and interacting in their communities.

Pakistani people desperately desire that people understand that they are as much interested in sharing and interacting as actors in an international intercultural stage. I would say that all the Pakistani people I met where genuinely hurt by how the media has created a general perception that they as a people are not to be trusted. I found that interacting with Pakistani people it is no different than interacting with all of the types of charter, and personalities that we each day encounter in our lives in our neighborhoods, communities, and work places in the U.S..

A majority of Pakistanis are Muslim yet they are not evil, nor since they are Muslims does not make them bad people. They are sincere people that are practicing a dedicated form of living out their belief system. It is sad that some segments of U.S. society are becoming extreme in their intolerance of Muslims just as Christians feel that they are experiencing the same persecution of intolerance of their faith and activities related to their faith. Persecution is the same no matter the color, faith, economic, gender, or age. Those that persecute are still harming those that are on the receiving end of the persecution. Aggression towards one another hurts both people in the end. We need much more open hands to reach out and interchange collaborative and interactive relationships that stand side to side to work out issues both the people of other countries and Pakistan faces.

I think my time in Pakistan was one of peace, one of acceptance, one of learning and listening, one of sharing both side concerns, one of finding more similarities than differences and discovering the differences are things that maybe we have forgotten to incorporate in our daily lives in the U.S. The extreme in Pakistan is the poverty, the injustice that so many people are left without the opportunity. This is the crisis for us to genuinely help resolve, and I believe that as we develop true relationships of giving and reciprocating, tolerance, shared discussions and creative innovative approaches, seeing potential and not fear and despair. I believe deeply in my heart that Pakistan with consistent collaboration in one decade can be transformed into a thriving player worldwide. I believe that if we make this effort that Pakistan will become a world destination we people all over the world will desire to come to enjoy all the precious and remarkably unique aspects its people, cultures, and natural environmental beauty.

Finding a Home

Finding a Home.

It was a Saturday in January 1991. I had spent the evening prior and the morning working with Parkwest Children’s Fund, a nonprofit that has ships that ferrying goods from the U.S. to other places around the world. The work I had been doing for them for the last two days was rolling up carpet in a 400,000 square foot building in the Los Angeles region that would eventually make its way to Central America. When I arrived home Saturday afternoon I received a call from a friend of mine named Kerri. I really did not want to talk with her, since the night before she had been working alongside of me and I found myself starting to feel a transition of her being a friend to possibly her being more than just a friend. During the call she could sense my distance on the phone and asked if I was OK and I said yes but she insisted on coming over. That was not what I was thinking, I was in turmoil of not wanting to mess up a friendship by having it transition into a dating relationship. Kerri brought with her one of her favorite movies “Out of Africa” and we sat and watched that movie and spent most of the evening talking. The movie starts with a woman saying, “I once had a home in Africa”. The remainder of the movie depicts how she entered a continent naively and though trials and success transformed a strange land into a home.      

Faith, Hope, and Love depicted the 17 days that led up to me being here in Pakistan. The 17 days in Pakistan are now nearing an end. Prior to me coming to Pakistan I had never traveled beyond the neighboring countries adjacent to the United States. In traveling to Mexico and Canada I had never spent more than three days outside of the United States. Flying over an ocean to another country let alone half way around the world was not an experience that I had yet to experience.  I said to friends in the States prior to leaving that I am going to another world while staying on the same planet. When I arrived in Lahore I truly was a stranger in a strange land.

When I got outside of the airport and was looking for Naveed who was the designated person to meet me at the airport at 3:00 AM, I could feel the humidity of Lahore. Prior to leaving due to the accelerated pace of going to Pakistan I did not do my due diligence on where I was going and learn all of the statistical information on Pakistan and the various major facts about the county. I was unaware of what I was embarking on in this journey to Pakistan. I was told that the population of Lahore was 1.2 million, when it is really around 8 million people. I had no real exposure to the language and had little geographical bearings, just the basics- four of the major cities.

Being welcomed in Pakistan has been an experience that is the antithesis of everything that you read, hear, and see depicted about Pakistan. The everyday people of Pakistan have been wonderful, gracious, and so accommodating it is hard to explain. I arrived a stranger and through this experience I am now an adopted son of Pakistan. I know nothing about being adopted as a child. But I had no family here, but are family and friends of Mujtaba, but I had only spoken with Naeem on the phone and had a video conference with him once prior to me leaving for Pakistan. Naeems family took me into to their vast family of Uncles and Aunties, cousins and second cousins. Naeems friends opened their circle of friendship and let me come to know the manner and depth of the relationships that they have shared for a life time.

The journey was started on faith, with a sense that I knew I was suppose to go to this distant land and place myself in the God’s hands manifested though all the people I would encounter here in Pakistan. I came with great hope, that in some small way I could come to learn and understand what Pakistan is really like, what the people are really like, how they live. I hoped to experience their struggles, their sense of pride, their fears, their hopes, and their dreams. I hoped that I could possibly make a small impact while I was here and develop strong bonds of friendship. I wanted to learn to love the land of Pakistan, and the people of Pakistan in a personal intimate manner.

In the course of what will be 17 days all of this and more has occurred in Pakistan. As I get up in the morning to start my routine, hear the sounds, and see the sites I see feel as if “I have a home in Pakistan.”

Forever Friends

Forever Friends

I was born in Florida and lived there for the first 10 ½ years of my life. Stanley was my neighbor and Rusty lived down the block. These two guys were my buddies. I was in the 5th grade when my family moved to Michigan in 1974 and life was like having to over when it came to friends. In 1974 there was no real consistent way for as we say now preteens to stay in touch. When I moved to California in 1985, the phone was one manner of keeping in touch yet there were no calling plans or methods for really staying close. I once again seemed to start all over again. I did maintain distant relationships with individuals in Michigan who I feel very close too though we may talk infrequently or even hardly yet when we do talk it is as if the conversation picks up where it left off no matter how much time has passed and how much life adventures have occurred during the journey between actual conversations. Facebook and other social networks have rekindled opportunities to start a dialog and conversations with people we crossed paths in the past so we are starting to reconnect once again in the United States.

I found something I admire very much when I met Naeem, and then he provided me the opportunity to meet his dearest friends Soraya, Riswan, Naeem and a long list of others that are friends for life. When I mean friends I mean extremely close. I am amazed at how Pakistani people develop strong bonds of friendship that transcend distance in a nano second. ( I stole “nano second” from my friend Chaz Haba) These individuals talk to each other frequently, sharing their daily adventures and provide a grounding of understanding in each other’s private worlds. Each person is a pillar of support to help each other through all the aspects of each of their success’s, challenges, and failures. When these friends were young they knew all each other’s secrets, they plotted, and contrived together. As friends they had a code where they backed one another up even when they were not warned that the other needed and alibi.  There were times when one of the parents was looking for their child who was supposed to be at a particular location and the friend the parent called provide a cover then immediately got word out on the wire to the one that needed to contact their parent.

Relationships are difficult to develop and maintain over time and especially distance. I was talking with Riswan Last night and he said it baffles him and many Pakistani’s how people in the western world can simply cut their roots and move anywhere at any time and seemingly start all over again.  As I was listening to him discuss his confusion in this practice that we have in the United States of fragmenting our lives I realized this is the cost for those in the United States- a large circle of very close personal friend. The friends rendezvous each December in Pakistan where they sift from individual lives into a  single focus on spending time with one another, enjoying each other’s company, doing group related activates, having a great deal that cement the bonds of their friendship and adding to the memories of their lives together. 

Relationships are important to the people of Pakistan. They value the relationships, bonds, and commitments that they have made with one another. It is a foundational aspect of I believe almost all the people of Pakistan. Today I landed in Dubai from Lahore and as I transitioned one gate my next gate for New York a young Pakistani approached me and asked me if I had just come from Pakistan. I said yes, and before I could go further, he continued, were you helping with the floods and I responded yes. He then pulled a marble pedestal clock from his pocket he had brought with him from Pakistan and said I want you to have this as a thank you for the time you have spent working to help my country. He continued on to remark on how time is so precious yet he appreciated how I took my time away from work, and family to come and Pakistan. The action of this young man traveling to his work abroad in the oil fields for one month on shift and one month off shift epitomizes the depth of genuine character of Pakistani’s is the foundation for long term close relationships. I leave Pakistan having gained the secret recipe that my Naeem and his friends in Pakistan demonstrated their friendship by giving to me and in return I reciprocating my true appreciation of all the support that they provided me while being in Pakistan. The constant interaction of simple ongoing giving and appreciation provided the environment that establishes the bond for building lifelong friendships.

Selfless Service

Selfless Service

I think of the transformational story of a much loved toy, “The Velveteen Rabbit”. Many have read the story and may remember that as the toy became more worn to the point that all of the fur was eventually rubbed off. The rabbit was looking like an eyesore to many but it really was in essence a much loved friend. When the last of its fur was finally gone the extent of the love it received in its inanimate state transformed the toy rabbit into a real living creature. Transformational love is staying in love with something long after it is new, well into it looking worn, and even when it is an eyesore.

Everyone likes to have a sense of accomplishment a personal sense that what they are working on or towards has value. In some cases people want to tell everyone about what they are doing, why they are doing it, how they are doing it, and why it is so great. Some people simply just do what they do each day never really thinking that what they are doing is really significant, yet they know it has to be done by someone and since they see the problem or issue they simple start helping.

Rukhsana Foundation is an organic organization that is simply the latter of the summary above. One person, Rukhsana, the wife of Mushtaq Tahirkheli and mother of two children by birth, knew in her heart the people that she was surrounded need help and love. She simply began helping one person at a time in a simple manner of whatever she saw was the specific need at their current moment of need. She would not stop with that initial act but she would develop relationships with people to better understand the long term issues that she felt that she could possibly contribute what little she felt she could to improve their lives. Others would remark to her that what she was giving away today financially would be what her and her family would need in the future to ensure a nice stable existence in the latter years of life.

Rukhsana Foundation did not formulate a mission statement, have a brainstorming session, have a group of people say let’s start something because I have always wanted to do this, it simply started by doing and then it became an entity in and of itself.  The work of one individual, Rukhsana, continued to help more and more and more people to the extent that she really did not want anything for herself but she wanted to serve others to be an instrument of an answer to their prayers. Her family and family friends began to realize that there was not stopping Rukhsana’s everyday step at a time approach to helping people each day that they finally made a formal commitment to serving the people of ….. Lahore and people who though catastrophic events where in need.

Transformational is the word that describes the work that the Rukhsana Foundation performs. When a little is transformed into a lot is how the daily efforts and work of individuals adds up to a lot in the lives of those it serves. A little is transformed into a lot when outsiders see the long term sustainable impact that this foundation is making in the lives of individuals that is transforming the local are into a self sufficient and functioning community. A little is a lot when the minimal amount of resources can provide and individual the ability to transform them from mere existence into a sense of purpose. When a little education is transformed into becoming a lifelong learner that strives to find a place in their own environment that provides for their family and themselves.  When a little health attention and love from the doctors and staff that can provide the preemptive measures of long term illness and pain that could prevent an individual from effectively living in this society.

Rukhsana foundation is a transformational organization that is continually seeking not only to server but is operating in a mindset of constant and never ending improvement. It is not operating on the status quo, or comparing itself to how it matched up with what others are doing. It is not settling for under the circumstances we are operating above average so we are doing a great job. Rukhsana Foundation is an organization that is doing what it can, and letting God do the rest while constantly desiring to honor God by always striving to be better every day.

Rukhsana Foundation is helping to transform what others see as an eyesore, something worn and worthless into a living, educated and healthy person, through the daily love of the staff, family, and friends of Rukhsana.