Author Archive

Live,Love,Learn

June 5, 2008

I just received some bad news that my former colleague passed on,from cancer and I am devastated.

Thinking about how precious and short life is am caught daydreaming in a leadership seminar.The HR Manager decides to start with the days lesson;Life is short.She introduces the day with 3 key questions which I’d love for you to take a look at your life and ponder over them.

Live – How do I live?

Love – How do I know love?

Learn – What do I need to learn or unlearn?

Life is short,you have to be ready to change.

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Food or Money?

June 5, 2008

I was on my way home the other day and just as we stopped at the traffic lights,it is very common in Pakistan that some young boys looking for money will clean your windscreen in exchange for some few coins.Most of them are homeless and others just trying to earn a living to support their big families by toiling hard.

This young man approached our car and the driver gave him a nod that he could go ahead and clean the windscreen.After he was done and was waiting for his payment and I being very curious to see how much he would get for this job turned out interesting or funny I thought at the time.The driver spoke some words in Urdu and handed the guy some peanuts that he had been eating.The man gladly nodded and went away looking for more cars to clean.The driver later told me that the man had indicated that he is doing that coz he was hungry and since the driver did not have any coins the man accepted the peanuts as payment.

This made me think of the current food crisis and about giving aid to the developing world.What does the poor man at the village need?food or money?Not a very easy answer to give. I read an article of a relief organisation in Kenya which was targeting the school going children and giving them free lunch in school and most of the children would save this food and take it home to share it with the other children.Same case as giving an adult money to buy food;at that instance there are so many competing needs and the money may be channeled into other uses.

Giving money to the suppliers of food in the villages only enhances the hoarding of food and hence the food prices shoot up and what was to be a noble venture becomes a white elephant.The money is in the wrong hands and the poor starve to death.Looking at Kenya and Ethiopia;it is hard to explain that some areas which had recorded bounty harvests were the worst hit by drought and they suffered.Why is this so?The poor farmer in the village will want to sell when everybody else is selling and hence the prices are low.Some few months later the same farmer will go to the market and will want to buy the same commodity which is now at a higher price since it is a scarce commodity.He will actually be paying more for the same produce he sold.

There are many interventions and divergent views on what can be done to save the situation.At the end of the day whether food or money goes out;the poor need the basic calories to create a better tomorrow which is full of hope.

 

Arranged Marriages

April 13, 2008

Sophia Magadalena was only five when she was betrothed to the heir to the throne of Sweden and she was brought up to be Queen of Sweden; a marriage arranged by the parliament.

Although viewed as not a modern day practice we still have many countries practicing arranged marriages for example; India, Japan and Pakistan.

I have met many couples who had arranged marriages and my concern was: do people really fall in love then? Does physical attraction play a big role when they first meet? The first perspective was from a man who called it more stable as involving the whole family in the marriage means that the parents consent to the girl and he will always have people to settle any disputes as they arise. After all they are the ones who found her and deemed her fit for the marriage.

The lady’s view is also more about security; especially in cases where the physical attraction will not count. The man will accept the lady even if she is not so good looking, fat, and all in these sort of cases then the lady will marry and lead a normal life as opposed to the love marriages where the lady maybe turned down by the man. The lady is also in charge of paying the dowry so they will cater for the wedding, jewelry, clothing and wedding gifts which may include furniture.

In this community also the chances of meeting with the opposite sex are minimal. If for example a girl is going out shopping she will have a male escort who will be a family member. I asked my friend; so if a guy is attracted how do they get together? the guy will actually pass her his number incognito and they will start chatting on the phone.

I then think both arranged and love marriages have their pros and cons. Love marriages also don’t always end up happily ever after. For me would be kind of strange to just meet this stranger on my wedding day and then commit to a lifetime.

Pain by Zain

March 12, 2008
Zain Ahmed Khan, 14 year old passed away a few months back due to cancer. Zain had written a poem sometime when he was fighting with this fatal disease. His father found it while cleaning his desk.
PAIN BY ZAIN
The pain that I got is unbearable,
But I don’t care coz it’s repairable,
I don’t act as am feeble
coz acting like this is fearful,
And thus it makes me tearful,
But I want myself to be careful,
I want myself to be strong.
As strong as a diamond,
coz I have to face this pain,
and I want to fight it like a fighter plane.
Zain Ahmed Khan,
14 years,
City School
(Pain)

My day with a MicroLoan Officer

February 7, 2008

Am on my way to one of the clients centre meetings to discuss health insurance. The streets of Lahore are very busy and all the cars are hooting; everybody is in a hurry and some cars have occupied the footpath and there is no space even for pedestrians to walk as the shop corridors are also lined up with food stalls and donkey carts displaying their wares.

As we approach the branch; it’s nothing close to what I had in mind; the dusty wall displays the signboard and we make our way through a narrow lane to get to the office. The offices and staff are very simple and also simple dressing is encouraged due to the nature of the clients they work with.I am introduced to Imran, a loan officer who will take us to his centre meeting; not far from the office. Each of the loan officers will normally attend 3 meetings in a day which translates to reaching 75 clients every day per loan officer. A typical branch will have serviced 375 clients for the day.

We arrive at the client’s house; a one roomed house; most of the clients live in one or two roomed house with an average family size of seven due to the kinship system. The furniture has been moved to the side and the women are seated on the mat on the floor and we join them. A typical centre comprises 25 women who are further broken down into groups of five which are led by group leaders and the lager group by a centre manager.

The loan officer will start by recording attendance and if quorum is achieved will have a discussion on a general topic and then will manually record their payments and wind up.
The clients are excited as there is a foreigner who has come to visit them and after a long fight which started because we have turned down a glass of juice which did not go down well with them and we ask about how the loans have empowered them.

This particular centre is from the second largest muslim sect and women are not allowed to work. One woman even emphasized that their men have sworn that the families would rather die of hunger than have their women working and fending for the family. So all the women here have accessed the loans and given the money to their husbands for business. Most of them would want to run a business but they would be viewed as almost next to prostitutes if they will go out of their homes and interact with men.

Back in my room in the evening and am wondering how do you help such women with such drive and zeal to move forward but are held back by their culture? The women are happy that even though they still have cultural restrictions and are still fighting for women’s rights; they have a social identity; they belong to a certain group. They are happy that they can now afford to by nice clothes and attend weddings and other social gatherings. They can finally become normal members of society; and it finally dawns on me that the social exclusion aspect plays major role in the definition of poverty.

Kenya;My beloved Country

February 1, 2008

December 10, 1964  Oslo, Norway 

 Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (Excerpt)

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.

“the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression”

January 31st,2008 Lahore,Pakistan

Just watching the developments in my home country Kenya from Pakistan and I fail to understand why the trail of destruction has to continue.My Kenyan friend based in Karachi actually wrote home and told them that he felt much safer here in Pakistan.

 When will the destruction end and the healing begin?

Why do we have to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?

I pity not those who have a choice to watch the fighting through the media lens at the comfort of their home and continue to call for more actions!I pity those that have had their mud house burnt and are now living in the local school.I pity those whose dear one was burnt to death while seeking refuge in the church!I pity that one whose shop was burnt to the ground after toiling hard for 30 years to build it!

I still believe that we shall overcome.

Lost without translation

January 6, 2008

When I read Seth Godin’s “All marketers are liars” one attribute of good storytelling is authenticity.

The stories need to be real so as to appeal to the consumers and yet am grappling with this issue myself.

Am working in a community in Pakistan where the national language is Urdu,which means in all my field visits I have an interpreter with me who is my third ear.I sort of get confused at times because I will laugh at a joke only after everyone has laughed and my colleague will then interpret it for me.She also gets caught up in it all since she took up english a few years ago;sometimes not finding the correct english words or just shrugging it off as not important for me to know.

I then think that the authenticity of the story is lost in between;the culture gets eroded and the real meaning gets distorted as I retell their story. This is maybe the reason that in as much as most of the muslims do not understand Arabic;they still pray in Arabic to maintain the original message.

A voice silenced

December 30, 2007

I get home and as my norm I switch on the TV to watch CNN news since all the papers in the office are in Urdu and its only evening time when I can catch up with whats happening in the world.

I expected to watch news about Kenya elections but am in shock as I watch what had happened after Bhutto’s party meeting near Islamabad.20 People have died and she is hurt and in hospital in a critical condition.The CNN news correspondent is interviewing Nawaz Shariff and he poses a question to him: What if Bhutto dies?

Everything else happens too fast because just after 15 minutes they announce her death and the whole of Pakistan is filled with anger and rage.She had just come back home in October and she was so determined to become PM for the third time.She once said that the Gandhi family and the Bhutto families were cursed;because they all die in the struggle.

The next hours are horrible not knowing what will happen next.The Government issued a 3 day mourning period and beacuse of the chaos many people have to stay indoors.I guess this will be my most memorable time in Pakistan;to be here to witness it all and am also sharing in their pain and loss and just pray for peace within the coming weeks as they make decisions about elections.

“We are prepared to sacrifice ourselves but we are not ready to sacrifice our great nation”some of her last words and her promise if her party came into power was to be focused on the 5E’s: Education,Energy,Environment,Empowerment and Equality.

Her legacy lives on;Pakistan must strive to achieve democracy.

Live,Love,Learn and Laugh

December 24, 2007

Yesterday I watched the movie Last holiday;Queen Latifah who is misdiagnosed as suffering from a rare disease and the doctor tells her she has only 3 weeks to live.She had been working in a retail store for 10 years just keeping her head down and hustling and when she raised her head up; her life had passed her by.So she clears her lifes savings and ventures into her world of “possibilites”which included all the things she had ever dreamt of doing nd after all this they become “realities”

This reminded me about a workshop we had in the office which started with a video on Life is short. The main questions paused:

Love – how do I know love?

Live – how do I live?

Learn – what do I need to learn or unlearn?

Legacy – what will I be remembered for?

After this fellowship I will make certain changes to my life because it is too short: I will live,love,learn and ;laugh more

Of donkey carts, rickshaws and porsches

December 17, 2007

We are driving up the main street in Lahore and we stop at the red light and just like Trish, I have become a peeper coz thats the only way to see different things.I look around and am amazed at the different kinds of lifestyles existing side by side.The road has all kinds of transportation, for example right now around me there is a donkey cart,motorbike,rickshaw,horse carriage,am in a toyota, and then there is a Mercedes ML.This is quite amazing and we are stuck right in front of a porsche showroom.

Driving down the road I want to stop and buy dinner and as I drop off at KFC (still getting used to the spicy food here) I gaze across the stree where men have small tables and lamps selling cheap food.They will close at 1 am my driver tells me and yet they compete with KFC,Mc Donalds,Subway and Pizza hut across the street.

I attended a wedding ceremony of a well-to-do family and am sure most of them have never seen the slums right next to them.Good food and fine wine flowed and we danced the night away. The next morning I was humbled to visit business premises of microfinance clients and all of them this was their house.They are struggling to get a good life.

The question; will equality ever exist?and if so what is equality?