In the Land of Opportunity

Travelogue of my visit to the U.S

Chapter I

What is the one thing common among a  Christian Interfaith activist, a girl from Chitral working as part of a social enterprise, a Hazara activist from Quetta, a rock-climber business student from Mirpur AJK, a street theater activist from Lahore, a Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) graduate working for ‘Teach for Pakistan’ in Karachi, a slum child working for human rights, a radio journalist from FATA, a woman rights activist working at a shelter home in Lahore, a youth activist working for Drug-Free world in Northern Areas, a blogger advocating progressive thought in the Urdu reading community, a madrassa drop-out lawyer from Jhang working at LUMS, a micro-finance professional providing micro-loans to women in Azad Kashmir, a youth leadership trainer from Quetta and a doctor debunking conspiracy theories? Apparently, nothing. In reality, this diverse group was selected as the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan (ELP) by the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
From 250 applicants, almost all of them doing great work in their respective areas, 15 people were selected to visit the United States for 3 weeks, between 27th October and 17th November, 2012. The initiative named ELP was a pilot program to give youth ambassadors of Pakistan a chance to interact with community leaders and political leaders in the United States.
Pakistan is a country with a significant youth bulge, more than half of Pakistan’s population is under 35 years of age. There is tremendous potential for youth engagement and development in Pakistan, a fact not lost on development experts and agencies working in the country. The ELP initiative aimed at recognizing and supporting a group of youth involved in varied projects, with the goal of betterment and progress of the society.
It started in the month of April, 2012. Applications were sought for the program from Pakistanis between the ages of 18 and 30, who had never visited the U.S before and were fluent in English. The program was financed by Carnegie Corporation of New York and the U.S Embassy in Islamabad. Last date of Submission was 1st May, 2012. The shortlisted candidates were then interviewed via telephone/Skype and in person, over the course of a month. Final selection was revealed in the second week of July. Fellows were directed to apply for a U.S Visa and interviews for the Visa application were conducted. Out of 15 fellows, 9 got their visas at least one week before the final date for departure to the U.S. Three fellows (including myself) got the visa on the very last day. Detailed Instructions regarding the travel, luggage and weather conditions were passed on by Meridian International, the organization tasked with handling the logistics of our visit. A pre-departure briefing was held in Islamabad by staffers of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. We had a very candid discussion about our visit and what to expect when we reach the U.S. I was personally impressed by the ‘open-ness’ of the diplomats, a trait acutely lacking in Pakistan’s civil servants (who insist on keeping the British tradition of ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ alive and thriving).
We met each other for the first time at Islamabad’s International Airport (as some fellows couldn’t attend the briefing earlier that day due to travel schedule issues). We boarded Etihad Airway’s flight to Abu Dhabi and from there to JFK Airport in New York. The first flight took around 3 hours and the next spanned 14 hours.
It was a tough journey because of its longevity and the fact that we were travelling on the first day of Eid-ul-Azha. The upside of the long voyage was the ample opportunity to bond with other fellows and share life stories. Cabin crew and their service were impeccable, making our lives easier in surviving those 14 hours. It was a relief when we landed at the airport safely. The JFK airport wasn’t as ‘majestic’ as the name suggested (there was a certain bias too, as we were coming from Abu Dhabi Airport, which is a marvel). My heart sank in despair upon witnessing the endless queue at the airport for immigration. After 18 hours of travel, that was exactly the sort of thing I did not want to see, reminding me of the age-old adage, ‘worst possible things at worst possible times’. It took us another hour to get past immigration and to gather on the other side of the airport. A 45-minute bus ride later, we arrived at Park Central Hotel, which was to be our abode for the next week. We were received at the Hotel Lobby by Mr. Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, along with Ms. Huma Haque, assistant director at the same organization.
After introductions and a group photo, we went to the streets of New York and had dinner from a cart titled ‘The Halal Guys‘. Afterwards, some of us went to the super-famous ‘Times Square’ located 3 blocks down our street. Despite all the exhaustion and sleeplessness, it was a worthwhile trip to Times Square.
Our first day started with an introductory session with Mr Sean Callaghan and Ms Shikha Bhatnagar. We received information packages about our stay in New York and checks for per diem expenses.
Afterwards, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and got a private tour of the Islamic Galleries. It was fascinating to watch Islamic historical treasures being showcased in a country not found in the good books of most Muslims. A lot of historical misconceptions created by indoctrination and revisionism were also cleared upon viewing the rich Islamic history artifacts. We were informed that it was one of the most visited parts of the Museum in the last year. We had plans for dinner at a South Indian Restaurant after the Museum visit but due to the incoming Hurricane ‘Sandy’, it was closed and we ended up having dinner at a driver restaurant.

We
were forewarned about an impending Hurricane named Sandy in Islamabad and in New York, upon arrival. In a true Pakistani spirit, we didn’t think much of it, until the wolf actually arrived one day. The proposed dinner was the first casualty-it didn’t stop there. Our plans for the next 3 days were shelved and we were advised to stay in our hotels. We were lucky to be located in the upper part of Manhattan, where minimal damage took place apart from a crane dangling dangerously from a nearby building. We got ample opportunity to see firsthand the disaster management efforts being done on the local government level, state level and federal level. United States has a fairly decentralized  federal government system with states having ample rights and federal government having minimum powers. Disaster-preparedness is key to handling any major disaster and that aspect was excellently handled by the government officials. Mayor Bloomberg, himself from an engineering background, rose to the occasion and kept inhabitants of the city well-informed of the dangers and rescue measures. The subway system was shut down, public parks were closed and roads where debris was falling were cordoned off.  Even the best-laid plans are not foolproof and nature is a beast that can’t be tamed. Thus, more than 50 lives were lost due to the storm and the economic loss was in amount of billions of dollars. If, God Forbid, similar disaster had taken place in Pakistan, it is unimaginable as to how much its human and economic cost would have been.

Chapter II

APOCALYPSE

Following the cancellation of our plans for 3 days due to Sandy, something had to be done to occupy the fellows. It would’ve been cruel to restrict 15 youth leaders of Pakistan in hotel rooms doing nothing for 3 days. To compensate for this unexpected change in plans, Mr. Shuja Nawaz, an eminent scholar with respect to US-Pakistan relations, talked to us about the work Atlantic Council’s South Asia Division has been doing regarding the relations between India and Pakistan. There are some focal points, which have caused dispute since Partition, including Security, Water and Kashmir. There was an intense question-answer session following the talk and we got elaborate answers to most of our queries.
It was Monday, 29th October, and Hurricane Sandy was at its strongest. Every Television channel was showing various areas that were either in Danger or were being affected by Sandy. We had to post-pone any outdoor activities due to gales and intermittent rain. Some of us (including myself) spent that time getting over our Jet Lag and getting used to the new Sleep-Wake Cycle. Before that time, I had seen apocalyptic scenes only in Hollywood films. The empty streets of New York, with crazy winds and torrential rain was only short of a man carrying a dog to complete a scene from Post-Apocalyptic Movies. Denizens of New York were seen scurrying to their homes carrying food and water supplies in preparation of the shut down due to Sandy. We also stocked up some snacks and water, in case of emergency situation. In that torrid time, the dry fruit cache gifted by our fellow from Quetta, proved to be a blessing.
For me, the biggest tragedy due to Sandy was the closure of Central Park (and the Subway system, to some extent). I had been able to visit the scenic Park briefly, located 4 blocks from our hotel, on the first day. I did not know at that time that it was to be my only visit to Central Park. In the following days, I went there daily, to return without getting a chance to actually enter the place. It was closed for public, during and after Hurricane Sandy. Visiting Central Park evoked strong feelings of both joy and regret in me. Joy, because of the natural beauty that has been preserved in the middle of a jungle of Concrete, and regret because we don’t have anything comparable to Central Park back home. I have lived in Lahore for considerable amount of time and the public parks there are in dilapidated condition.
On Tuesday, 30th October, we had another talk session with Mr. Shuja Nawaz focusing on US-Pakistan relationship. It is a tricky topic that was handled carefully by Mr. Shuja. That session became a harbinger for our discussions in the following weeks with various policy makers. My favorite moment during that meeting was an anecdote regarding wisdom of Chinese Leadership, that was mentioned by Mr. Shuja. It is said that Zhou Enlai, China’s post-revolution Prime Minister was asked about his opinion on the French Revolution(that occurred in 1789). His reply was “It’s too early to judge”.
It was followed by a visit to Columbia University Campus, Alma Mater of both Mr. Shuja and Ms Shikha Bhatnagar. We were originally scheduled to visit NBC Studio in Rockefeller Center and Carnegie Corporation of New York. Due to congested traffic on the roads of New York, we reached Columbia by the time of Lunch. We took 3 separate Taxis and one of the Taxi drivers refused to charge any fare because he was Pakistani and we were students from Pakistan.!! It was decided to have lunch before visiting the campus.
Due to lack of multiple options, we decided to visit a Japanese Cuisine restaurant located nearby. I had never eaten at a Japanese restaurant before and I found the taste of the food to be really good. The portions were quite big though, leading to a lot of leftover food when we finished. We also crossed the “Seinfeld” restaurant that day, located near the Columbia University campus. It got dark by the time we reached Columbia University’s campus. Columbia University, is an American private Ivy League research university located in New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country’s nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution. The university was founded in 1754 as King’s College by royal charter of George II of Great Britain(whose statue is still present in front of the Admin Block). We also got to see one of the original versions of “The Thinker” statue at the Campus.

Our
last stop was at the beautiful Gothic Church, Cathedral of St John the Divine. It is the fourth largest Christian church in the world. After a large fire on December 18, 2001, it was closed for repairs and reopened in November 2008. It remains unfinished, with construction and restoration a continuing process. We encountered a shady “guide” there who told about the history of the church mixed with an unhealthy dose of Conspiracy Theories.

Chapter III

THE CROSSROADS OF THE WORLD


If New York City were a human being; Times Square would undoubtedly be its heart. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of the United States and is featured routinely in Hollywood movies. Times Square is the brightly illuminated hub of the Broadway theater district, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections, and a major center of the world’s entertainment industry. According to a survey done in 2011, Times Square is the world’s most visited tourist attraction, bringing in over 39 million visitors annually. Its most famous attraction is the New Year Celebration that is attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Since our first night, Times Square was a permanent fixture in our To-Do list. It felt so full of energy and the cheerfulness was infectious. Tourists from all over the world swarmed the place and were constantly taking pictures of anything and everything. We sat on the staircase present there and also participated in the live webcam sessions that are a major attraction for the place. There were added attractions on the Halloween night, i.e. the night of 31st October, 2012.
Our group finally got the dinner that we were supposed to have in an Indian restaurant earlier but had to be post-poned due to Sandy. Earlier in the day, we went up to the office of Open Society Foundation where we had a meeting with Mr. Richter, Associate Director, OSF, and Dr Faisal Bari, senior advisor for Pakistan with the Central Eurasia Project. For the uninitiated, Open Society Foundation is a grant making operation started by George Soros, aimed to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform. The name “Open Society” comes from the work of Philosopher, Karl Popper, who wrote a book titled ‘Open Society and Its Enemies’. During the meeting, we learnt about various initiatives funded by OSF globally and in Pakistan. It was a unique experience, having an up-close view of the work being done by OSF, and how lives of so many people are being affected by virtue of one person realizing that he owed something to the rest of the world.
After the OSF visit, there was an aborted trip to Columbia University for a talk on linguistics titled “From Sacred Sound to Sacred Book: Writing, Scripture, Literature and the History of the Book in North India” by Tyler Williams. There was terrible traffic jam in New York City and we couldn’t reach Columbia in time. We ended up visiting two bookshops and a walk towards the Indian restaurant where we had dinner. It was my first taste of South Indian food and we enjoyed the admirable company of Mr. and Mrs.Shuja Nawaz during the dinner. We learnt about the re-scheduled meetings and what to expect in the next two and a half weeks. We also discovered that on the way back from Columbia, two of the fellows got a chance to visit an unofficial campaign office set up by Obama’s supporters in the Upper West Side of the city and they discussed community mobilization and US electoral system.
It was Halloween night and despite the fact that most of celebrations had been post-poned in the wake of Sandy, New York City had a different vibe that night. Some of us ventured to Times Square and found costumed people all around us.Halloween is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or All Saints). There was no trick-or-treating for us, as most of us were past that kind of age. Even then, there was enough to be cheerful about.
To paraphrase that noted journalist, novelist and New Yorker extraordinaire – Pete Hamill – to know New York you have to walk its streets. I took this advice to heart and spent most of my spare time walking around town. It was a welcome change for me as I love walking but most cities in Pakistan (with the notable exceptions of Islamabad and Wah Cantt) are not walker-friendly. I was not the only one to indulge in this activity and was joined by other fellows as we wandered around New York City, exploring it in all its glory.
On 1st November, 2012, we went to Queens area of New York [New York City has five boroughs or Union Councils, namely Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Bronx and Queens] to meet with Mr. Udai Tambar at ‘South Asian Youth Action’. South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!) is a secular youth development organization dedicated to South Asian youth. Its mission is to create opportunities for South Asian youth to realize their fullest potential. Since inception in 1996, SAYA has brought comprehensive youth development and after-school programs to nearly 7,700 youth across New York City, and an average of 600 youth each academic year. It was a chance for the young leaders of Pakistan to observe working of a grass-root level organization and community participation in action. It was a delightful session with Fellows asking Mr. Udai questions about the experiences at SAYA, about successes and overall impact on the society. We received souvenirs from there as well and talked to some of the volunteers working there.
Our Next Stop was the office of United Nations Organization (UNO) in Queens. We were supposed to go the “original” UN building but it was affected by flooding and thus the operations were being run from a different building, the one which we ended up visiting. Our contact person there was Mr. Salim Avan, Chief Knowledge Officer. We discussed history and work of the United Nations, role of UN Peacekeeping Missions, the “actual” powers of UN, UN Operations in Pakistan and various other topics related to the United Nations Organization. Mr.Avan mentioned some very interesting statistics, including
  1. Only 33% of total Peacekeeping missions by the UN have been successful.
  2. The Most Veto-ed about topic at the UN Security Council is the Israel/Palestine conflict.
  3. In the last decade of last century(1990s), about 200,000 people were dying each month due to conflicts. In the previous decade(2000-2010), the number is 28,000 deaths per month due to conflicts around the world.

    It was an overwhelming experience listening and discussing the above mentioned topics with a serving UN Official and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience. On returning to the hotel, some of the fellows decided to visit the observation deck at Rockefeller Center. Later, I and another fellow decided to visit Grand Central Station as well. The day ended with us walking back from Grand Central, via Times Square. It was a fitting end to an enthralling day.

    Chapter IV

    EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
    For any civilization and people to rise and dominate, certain landmarks have to be constructed which serve as a constant reminder of what they have achieved and how they are dominant. This trend runs throughout History, from Pyramids to the Sphinx, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Colossus of Rhodes, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Alhambra, Chichen Itza and Machu Pichu. In the last few hundred years, monuments of sprawling empires have included the Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Red Square and Statue of Liberty. One building that truly deserves to be counted in the list is the Empire State Building. Constructed during the height of the darkest economic depression of the 21st century, it symbolized not only a proud nation but also a resilient one. Empire State building, a 102-story skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan was completed in 1931 and held the record of the Tallest Building in the world for almost 40 years. The Empire State Building is generally thought of as an American cultural icon. It is designed in the distinctive Art Deco style and has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The building and its street floor interior are designated landmarks of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and confirmed by the New York City Board of Estimate. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 2007, it was ranked number one on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture according to the AIA.
    On the morning of 2nd November, 2012, me and another fellow planned to visit Greenwich Village, reputedly the cultural hub of New York City. We reached the area early in the morning and were disappointed to find that the after-effects of Sandy still persisted in the area. Most shops were closed due to absence of electricity, a scene reminiscent of load-shedding in Pakistan. We even found a shop owner using candles to keep his store well-lit and open. We found a statue of Mahatama Gandhi there among other things. While walking towards a building that we found interesting, we found ourselves at a distance of about ten streets from the Empire State Building. There was no scheduled visit of the great building and a consensus among fellows had developed that visiting Rockefeller building was enough. We double-checked time and ran towards the building, in an attempt to visit it and then be in time for the scheduled meetings of the day. We were lucky to be among the first batch of tourists to reach the observation deck of Empire State building that day and it was a marvelous experience. It felt like standing on top of the world, with the sprawling city of New York under your feet. We took abundant pictures, from all possible angles, of the scenery underneath. I couldn’t help but repeat the lyrics of the song “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, as my feelings at that time could be accurately predicted by that song.

    Following
    the visit of Empire State Building, we left off for our hotel and encountered the ‘Fashion Walk of Fame’ and ‘The Garment Worker’ Statue near Times Square. We also witnessed live recording of the ABC channel morning show ‘Good Morning America’. Our first official destination that day was supposed to be the office of ‘The New York Times’. As a novice writer, I felt elated at this amazing opportunity. The New York Times, after all, is the largest local metropolitan newspaper in the United States, has won 108 Pulitzer Prizes in its history and its website is the most popular American newspaper website. A news item/Op-Ed in the NY Times means the issue is important and will become part of a larger debate. Our contact person at the NY Times was Mr. Douglas Schorzman, Assistant Foreign Editor at NYT. We got a guided tour of the News Section at the beautiful New York Times Building, designed to reflect the Open-ness practiced at the paper. After the guided tour, we settled in a room with Mr. Schorzman and peppered him with questions regarding NYT and specifically about Pakistan. It was not a one-way street and we ourselves had to answer Mr., Schorzman’s questions about things in Pakistan from our perspective.Susan Chira, assistant managing editor for news of The New York Times also joined us for almost an hour.

    All
    the fellows thoroughly enjoyed the session and the opportunity to be part of such dialogue. While on our way out, we had a chance encounter with Mr. Nicholas Kristoff, Pulitzer-Prize winning Writer for The New York Times.
    Our last official meeting in New York City was with two Pakistani-Americans success stories. They were Mr. Tariq Farid, Owner and CEO of ‘Edible Arrangements’ and Mr. Omar Gajjal,chief marketing office of Müller Quaker Dairy at PepsiCo. Mr. Tariq regaled us with his inspirational life story and we talked at length about his best business practices and what are the major deficiencies in Pakistan-based Businessmen. It was an informative as well as entertaining session due to the charm and anecdotes of Mr. Tariq Farid.
    It was our last evening in New York City and we still had a lot of sight-seeing to do. Our next stop was Museum of Modern Art, or MoMa, located nearby. There is free entry for four hours on Friday afternoons, an opportunity that we availed. The Minimalist, post-modern art pieces that adorned the Museum were a marvel to look at. At least I did not understand more than half of them, but still, it was a worthwhile visit. The giant helicopter at the entrance and different galleries were thronged by visitors. It was quite surreal and futuristic. After a stroll through the gallery, we returned to our hotel and got ready for one of the treats of New York City that was on offer: A Broadway Show. Half of the group had decided to watch The Lion King while the other half had opted to go for “Newsies”. I was part of the “Newsies” group.

    It was my first experience of witnessing a Broadway show and the memory of that would always remain with me. It felt amazing just sitting in the theatre, waiting for actors to appear on stage. We were handed the program books and asked not to take any pictures. What unraveled in front of us for the next one and a half hour was pure magic. Dialog delivery, synchronization, movement of props, acting quality, every single aspect was exceptional. It was better than watching a movie. It was a fitting end to a wonderful week spent in the great city of New York. Next morning we left for Washington, DC.

    Chapter V

    General, Its Time


    A capital city is the municipality enjoying primary status in a state, country or province as its seat of Government. A capital is typically a city that physically encompasses the offices and meeting places of its respective government and is normally fixed by its law or constitution. The name ‘Washington, DC’ evokes a certain image in one’s mind, of power, of control, of structure, of domination. In modern history, nation states have constructed capitals for themselves, in their own image. Washington DCwas founded in 1791 and named after George Washington, the first President of United States of America. The capital city was designed by a French-born American Architect named Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Washington contains the seats of US Government including the House of Representatives, Congress, Supreme Court and White House.
    After an eventful week in the majestic city of New York, it was time for us to move towards the power centre of the free world. On 3rd November 2012, we boarded a bus that took us from New York City to Washington, DC. During the five hour long journey, we made a pit stop in New Jersey area for refueling and refreshment. It was a pleasant journey, which included impromptu singing sessions by some fellows and an overall merry atmosphere. We reached Washington DC in the afternoon and checked into our rooms. We stayed at a place near Thomas Circle, a major roundabout with a statue of General George Henry Thomas. Major General Thomas was one of the principal commanders in the Western Theater. The statue was erected in Thomas Circle in 1879.The statue is one of seventeen Civil War Monuments located in Washington. Across the statue, one could see the white neoclassical building of National City Christian Church, constructed in 1929-30. It is the national church of the ‘Disciples of Christ’.
    Washington had a much different vibe to that of New York City. There was relative serenity, silence and it was littered with historical monuments. It had a provincial feel compared to the Metropolis of New York. There was lesser traffic, more greenery, the buildings were more exotic. Even the street pattern was totally different. After getting used to the simpler street numbers of New York, we encountered a whole new system. While New York City had five Burroughs, Washington DC was divided along geographical lines into North West (NW), North East (NE), South West (SW) and South East (SE). The axes bounding the quadrants radiate from the U.S Capitol Building. The axes also provide the basis for the naming and numbering systems. Washington DC is surrounded by the states of Virginia and Maryland. Just like Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and its neighboring city Rawalpindi, plenty of people live in Virginia but commute daily to Washington DC for work.
    We got scarce time for rest as we were supposed to go for Dinner at Mr. Shuja Nawaz’s house in Virginia. After another drive of one hour, we reached the beautiful abode of Mr. Shuja and spent a quality evening with distinguished company, amazing food and serene surroundings. We had the honor to meet General James Mattis, current commander of United States Central Command. US CENTCOM is a unified combatant command, initiated in 1983 to oversee countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. We had a candid interaction with the General about issues pertaining Pakistan and major global theatres of war. I asked the General about his nickname/call sign (Chaos) and how it originated. One of the fellows asked for his view on the Iran controversy. We got brief but concise answers to most of our queries. Gen Mattis left early as he had to attend to important engagements. We were bemused by his ADC’s entrance and rendition of “General, Its Time”. It was a scene straight out of a Hollywood film.
    Other notable attendees included Mr.Moeed Yusuf from US Institute of Peace, Dr Fauzia Saeed (Human Rights Activist and visiting scholar at National Endowment for Democracy), Richard Rossow (Director, South Asia at McLarty Associates), Group Captain Haseeb Piracha (Air Attaché at the Pakistan Embassy), Barbara Slavin(Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council), and people from US State Department, WWF-USA, Meridian International and World Bank. As we had spent the day of Eid ul Azha in the flight to New York, this was supposed to be our Eid Dinner, a Pakistani Tradition. Being a book-freak, I was really impressed by Mr. Shuja’s vast book collection and assorted antiques from around the world. It was a surreal evening and culminated in an impromptu birthday celebration followed by some more singing.
    After a bus ride to our hotel, some of us ventured outside to find any late-night snacks. We were terrible disappointed as we didn’t find any shop open nearby. Most shops had closed by 8 p.m. It felt quite odd after a week in New York City-the city that never sleeps-to find a sleeping city.
    Next morning, I accompanied two other fellows to a stroll down 14th NW Street towards the Washington Monument. We saw a colorful gathering of people at the National Mall and walked towards the area. It turned out to be a charity event to raise awareness about women cancers. As a medical practitioner and student of public health, I was overwhelmed by the scale of the event. It was titled “National Race to end Women’s Cancer 2012” and people from all parts of United States had gathered to take part in this event. There was a separate area reserved for Cancer Survivors and their families. Different sponsors including hospitals had set up small camps there to distribute flyers and information packets about the issue of Gynecological Cancers. We went to most of those camps and introduced ourselves as visitors from Pakistan. We were welcomed with open arms. I ended up talking to one of the most interesting people at the venue. His name was William R. Robinson, M.D. He is a gynecological oncologist (Specialist in dealing with cancers found in Women) by training. He, along with five other gynecological oncologists found a band in 2008, called N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease). The name is a very interesting reference to a term used in Oncology. No evidence of disease (NED) is a term that is used when examinations and tests can find no cancer in a patient who has been treated for cancer. NED is the equivalent of remission - having no signs or symptoms of cancer.
    From a Pakistani perspective, this is unprecedented. We don’t have specialist doctors engaging with patients, forming rock bands in the process. This infectious spirit of volunteerism is what makes American Society much more vibrant than Pakistani Society. I had a chat with Dr Robinson about his clinical training, his duty hours, oncology and the band. The fact that hundreds of people from all across the nation had descended upon the capital to support a noble cause overwhelmed me. We acutely lack this kind of spirirt and dedication in Pakistan. I do not contend that people in Pakistan are totally apathetic. A lot of charitable work is being done in Pakistan and our only specialized Cancer Hospital is being run totally on charity, but the spirit of volunteerism is lacking. We encountered different other volunteer organizations during our visit of United States, which was a welcome sight.




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