Off to Brazil

10May11

I am honoured, humbled, delighted and excited to share that I am off to Brazil – yay! One of four Pakistanis invited by the Embassy of Brazil in Islamabad, I should be heading to one of the most spectacular destinations in the world by the end of this week. Did I mention that I was excited? 🙂

As reported in The News, the trip is in ‘keeping with the resolve to further cultural exchanges between Pakistan and Brazil.’ My traveling companions are Noshi Qadir (Tanzara Gallery, Islamabad), Arsalan Ahmad Khan (Event Manager, Islamabad)  and Kamiar Rokni (designer, Lahore). The visit lasts nine days, and covers three cities — Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.

Some of you may know that I was in Islamabad over the weekend. It was to attend a dinner hosted by the Ambassador of Brazil, Alfredo Leoni, to bid us bon voyage.  Much fun was had! Judging by the incredible hospitality of our host and the wonderful João Carlos Belloc, the trip should be a great experience.

Our itinerary is packed with visits to art galleries, museums and theaters. I’m planning to take lots of pictures, and to keep a journal that you can follow here on my blog if you’re interested in the sort of writing I did after my Delhi trip, a personal visit. With all that, I suspect that I may still find a bit of time to do some Gawaahi-ing. Please do keep the submissions coming!

For now, if I may be allowed a moment of chhichhorpana/cheapnass, I’ve got Duran Duran’s Rio in my head. 🙂


I’ll be running a journalism workshop at The Second Floor (T2F). There are five sessions starting on Saturday, the 2nd of April. If you’re interested in learning the basics of broadcast journalism, or if you are a citizen journalist striving to meet professional standards, you may want to look into this. Thanks!


At Gawaahi.com, we urge you to speak out. Speak out against injustice, religious bigotry, violence against women, fascism and any number of problems that are increasingly visible here in Pakistan. At the end of a video showing how government school girls — not potential Taliban terrorist boys in training at madrassas — were parroting the meaning of Pakistan to be La’ilaha’ill’Allah, the words *made popular by the brutal dictator, General Zia UlHaq, we suggested you ask for more attention to this country’s education system. For Pakistan cannot mean La’ilaha’ill’Allah as it is not the exclusive domain of a Muslim majority.

Through the gifted blogger, Mehreen Kasana’s animated post, My body, my country, we hoped you would discover the need for parents and guardians to speak candidly to children about the realities of molestation. And you did, as proved by our anonymous contributor who wrote that after seeing the site, she felt inspired to speak out, not only to tell her story, but also, to spread the word on pedophilia.

But there is something else that I would like to encourage you to do, and that is to step up. We too have a collective responsibility to bear in the state of Pakistan today. Yes, it is true that there has been a concerted depoliticization campaign of the people of this country. Yes, it is a fact that years of repeated military rule followed by weak, powerless democracies (for we all know where the real power lies) have made us feel our voices and actions are irrelevant. Yes, there can be no denial that there is much that is wrong, and it feels too overwhelming to change as an individual.

But I am an individual. You are an individual. Together we are much more. We complain that we do not have icons. I say we do. Our s/heroes are the ones who came out on the streets through the decades. The reason you and I do not believe in our voices is because we are not reminded every day of those who stepped up. Their achievements, the blows they bore by the authorities are not shared with us in our history books, on our television sets and in our daily lives. They may have endured violence, but there is no passivity in being struck again and again, in being arrested, but not wavering in the face of oppression. I speak of Asma Jehangir, Benazir Bhutto and the countless women and men who spoke, wrote and acted. They believed in themselves, in this country, in hope, in the possibility of potentiality and in us.

Let us also believe in ourselves, and in a future that will not be ours, and does not deserve to be ours if we do not fight for it. I would never be one to undermine the importance of the written word, but there is a time to write, to speak, and then, there is the time to act. The time for us to act is now.

Please step up with me. Do not think it will not make a difference. It will. There are precedents for it, and we must have the will to set new precedents, or let me reiterate — there will be nothing left for us to fight.

I ask you to step up with me on March 12. Join the letter campaign to the Government and Judiciary against religious intolerance on Saturday, March 12 from 11am to 7pm. I hope to see you then.

The mass letter signing campaign is TODAY Saturday March 12 at Jehangir Kothari Parade opposite Park Towers, Clifton, Karachi from 11am to 7pm. Please be there!

*This post was modified on March 10, 2011.


This story has been cross-posted in my website, http://gawaahi.com. If you haven’t seen it yet, please go over and have a look.

Gawaahi.com was conceived at a wedding. I know how that sounds, but it’s true. Sana Saleem had just returned from Islamabad where she had trained to record digital stories. I had returned from Bonn, Germany where I had participated in an inspiring conference hosted by Deutsche Welle — the annual Global Media Forum. At the event I had met the creators of crowd-sourced websites, and was enchanted by the idea. Sana and I got to talking, and thought we have to do something like that here in Pakistan. We wanted to do stories, and create a site that sought submissions of digital stories, but we didn’t want it to be news-based.  A bit of her training, a pinch of my experience and that’s Gawaahi.com.

Then came the next step: an idea is great, but it needs support. That came to us first through Jehan Ara, President of P@sha and fairy godmother of Pakistan’s IT industry. The site was started with a Small Grant from the MDG3 Fund as part of an Asia-wide program initiated by APC WSNP, Take Back The Tech!, a collaborative campaign to reclaim information and communication technologies to end violence against women, and Bytes for all, ‘a networked space for citizens in South Asia.’ Our second nudge came from my good friend, Guido Baumhauer, Director of Strategy, Marketing and Distribution at Deutsche Welle and new friend, Nadeem Wahid Siddiqui, DW’s Pakistan representative, also Tobias Grote-Beverborg and a host of others at the German media house. Valerie Khan of theAcid Survivors Foundation Pakistan and Samar Minallah, the documentary filmmaker, entrusted us with their support by sharing their film, Against All Odds.

With all that faith in us, we set to work. When it came to developing the content you see now, and we’ll share with you over the next few weeks, there is no way any of it could have happened without Nofil Naqvi, our Technical Consultant, my not-so-little-anymore brother and ace cameraman/editor. In what’s turning out to be a bit of an Oscar rant, I would like to mention Rabia Garib, Editor-in-Chief of CIO Pakistan, whose brain I picked endlessly with the most naive questions, and she responded patiently every time.

Finally, Mehreen Kasana, Zaina Anwar, Hira Saleem Malik and participants of the Feminist Tech Exchange in Pakistan shared their work with us based on sheer trust.

Phew! To end, if you read our ‘About’ page, you’ll see more about who we are and what we aim to do. Do send your comments, and please send us your stories!

 


In the Keamari Town Camp for flood survivors relocated to Karachi, a woman with grey hair and strong capable hands sweeps the inside of her tent. It may be nothing more than a plastic sheet held down by four pegs, its makeshift doors flapping in the wind, but it is the hearth of her home. For now. Or perhaps forever. Her ever at the very least. Prepubescent girls collect sticks for the fire over which their mothers and elder sisters will cook dinner.

Photo credit: Nofil Naqvi

A man holding a knee-high metal stand that blooms in a bunch of fluorescent fabric flowers waits outside a tent. A camera dangling at his side, this is his mobile studio. He charges ten rupees for a photo, he tells me. A new bride pops out of her tent, a black bindi in the middle of her forehead, plum lipstick on her mouth, her dusky skin powdered and rouged, dressed to be photographed. Are you ready, she asks the photographer, who holds up his flowery prop, indicating he is, as is the studio. I ask her if she will allow me to take her picture. He takes ten rupees; how much will you charge, she asks. When I explain that the picture I take will stay with me, she hides behind a wide smile and her tent, shakes her head, and says that it is not their tradition. Young men in groups saunter about aimlessly, twirling sticks like batons. Older men huddle together talking in tents or on chairs placed in the shade of tents. A small child, only just learning language, sits at a makeshift store, selling packaged popcorn, sweets and candied sesame seeds.

The Keamari flood relief camp is one of many that have become home with daily routines sketched out for the hundreds of thousands of homeless who are unable to return to their villages. Those who have gone back regret it, the menfolk tell me, for their landlords, their feudal masters, are demanding a harvest of rice and wheat promised in exchange for seeds and fertilizer. The harvest that these rich ‘agriculturalists’ know never came to be because of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. Our homes, already made of mud have dissolved into the earth, our fields destroyed, our animals dead or lost — what can we go back to, they ask. They insist that they would rather live in tents than go to that.

As the months have passed many of us have forgotten about the 20 million — a conservative estimate — that were affected. In a report titled ‘Six months into the floods,’ Oxfam has reminded us of the urgent need to continue ‘ a nationally led, pro-poor reconstruction programme,’ after the ‘monsoon floods that began in Pakistan in July 2010 caused a colossal disaster.’ In the Daily Times’ coverage of the story, the paper points out ‘the Pakistan government is due to stop emergency relief operations in most of the flood-affected areas from January 31.’

This would be a catastrophic move for millions of Pakistanis. As UNICEF have revealed in their six-monthly findings, ‘a new humanitarian crisis: child malnutrition’ has developed. This is hardly surprising, you may think. Think again. The UNICEF Deputy Representative in Pakistan, Karen Allen describes the situation as ‘shocking, shockingly bad,’ adding that she hasn’t ‘seen levels of malnutrition this bad since the worst of the famines in Ethiopia, Darfur and Chad.’ I need not add that mass migrations to already overpopulated urban centers, malnutrition, unemployment and extreme poverty are problems that could lead to increased unrest, crime, (food) riots and all kinds of violence.

According to UNICEF,

the crisis is the consequence of a combination of factors, including extreme poverty, poor diet, poor health, exposure to disease and inadequate sanitation and hygiene, as well as a lack of education.’

 

These are all long-term problems, but we should try to reawaken some of the initial spirit that so many Pakistanis here and overseas showed in the immediate aftermath, and keep making any individual contribution we can.