Discover Christmas at the Airport

I'’m in Heathrow working on expensive wireless time supplied by British Telecommunications (or BT for short). I scanned terminal 4 for an electrical outlet and spotted one. I set down with my Starbucks (thank you Globalization :) and proceeded to dole out my MasterCard number for this internet time.

I was looking around absently at one point and realized that right in front of me is a glass display of some festive lingerie. Around the top of the display reads the enigmatic phrase: "“Discover Christmas at the Airport."

Christmas -– I had pleasantly forgotten about its imminent commercial approach in Pakistan. Suddenly I emerge from the 4-mile long line at the intra-terminal security check and there are red things and tinsel and large posters announcing that it is now time to BUY!! because Christmas is coming. Starbucks is now red and green and peppermint and gingerbread syrups (the drinks they enhance, actually)emphasizedsised. And red thongs are on display with Christmas tree ornaments under halogen lights.

Outside the sun is setting through the London smog and lighting the vast side panels of the 747-400 located directly outside my window. I thought it was a mountain again and snapped a few.

Anyway. here I am, back in the "free world"”.

Yesterday I bought V. S. Naipaul'’s "“Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey" – written just after the Iranian revolution based on travels to 4 Moslem nations to try to understand the revolutionary aspect of Islam and– what it is that unites (and divides) Moslems to create space for themselves in the world. A world that the "“free world"” wishes would smarten up, see the light, start consuming like civilized people and relegate religion to personal spirituality or simply dispense with it all together.

My week in Islamabad was perfect for debriefing after my two months in Gilgit (which, on reflection, appear as the blink of an eye). And a topic that came up more than once (almost in every significant conversation I had over the week) was: is it possible for development workers to see beyond their ethno-centric paradigm? In other words, is it possible for me to stop thinking of development (at a core, sub-conscious level) as "“them"” moving in my direction?

This dilemma was highlighted in conversation I had just last night with an American working on dispersing a huge amount of money from USAID to reconstruct heath care and educational facilities in three areas of Pakistan hardest hit by the October 05 earthquake. He recounted a conversation with a highly educated Pakistani working in Geneva. In Geneva, his children are getting a fine education in a local school. He realizes, that even at the ages of 10 and 12 they are learning to think much more critically than he did in all his years of post-secondary education in Pakistan. So he is reluctant to bring them back to Pakistan (though torn at the same time because he knows that they will likely be hard-pressed to return to Pakistan in the long run if they complete their secondary education in Switzerland). My American friend expressed dismay at the vast amount of human capital that is "“going to waste"” because of the deficient education system in Pakistan. And there our conversation came to an awkward pause. What do we say? What can be done? The scale of the problem is too large. The prospects for a solution seem grim. "“They"” will continue to suffer because they are not being educated like "us".

Now, I personally agree that a liberal education emphasizing critical thinking and analysis is extremely valuable. And I can see the disadvantages of an education based on rote and a command structure where the teacher is "“above" the student and can'’t be questioned. But is the answer simply to export "our" system to Pakistan? My friend and I didn't assume this to be so. And it doesn't seem like many other answers are being suggested.

Development in Pakistan is ethno-centric, politically motivated, inefficiently distributed and makes only small differences to the vast majority of Pakistanis. Of course that'’s a blanket statement, made by disproportionately inexperienced person (me). But this appears to be so.

I could go on, but I realize this post is drawing out. Comment if you will. Again'– I certainly donÂ't know the answers to these questions.

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