Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goodness in the World

On Friday, July 28th, my father and I were invited for yet another dawat—a formal invitation for dinner. This dawat was by Americans.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve heard of “Dr. Luke” and how he has saved thousands of lives. Dr. Luke is a famous doctor at the Bach Christian Hospital, a missionary hospital located in Qalanadarabad, my town. I, too, was born there. The hospital was established in 1956. Dr. Luke’s father was among the many who established the hospital with the vision of helping the poor. Dr. Luke, from Norfolk, Virginia, has dedicated over 36 years of his life to this hospital. It is no wonder that my entire village and town know him. And he, too, knows all the townspeople. I have forever wanted to meet this famous doctor.

Our dawat on Friday was at Dr. Luke’s house, located within and behind the hospital. It was wonderful to meet him and his wife, Nancy, both of whom were very hospitable—no pun intended—to us. I took this opportunity to interview Dr. Luke because I find his story fascinating. These folks, who could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars in America decided to live in Pakistan, in my town, helping the poor. Their gesture is highly commendable and very respected. What they are doing is truly inspiring.

I learned that their four sons all grew up here. How cool is that? Imagine goras (white people) speaking Urdu. How weird is that? It’s like seeing apples grow in the ground instead of trees. Strange no? I’m not ignorant; I know we live in a globalized world, it definitely feels out of context. I never imagined East meeting the West in this way. It was so beautiful to see Dr. Luke and Dr. Nancy wear salwar-kameez, speak Urdu, and adopt the Pakistani culture. If only more people understood my culture the way that the doctors of the Bach Christian hospital do. If only the perception that Americans have of Pakistan were not negative.

I had a great time with Dr. Luke and Dr. Nancy. They are the definition of what goodness means in the world. It is people like Dr. Luke and Dr. Nancy who are helping bridge the gap of misunderstanding between those who are less educated. Given the relations between America and Pakistan, Islamophobia in the West, and general fear of the “other” in the world, it is important to be open-minded so that we can all live peacefully. I was and still am impressed by the continued efforts of the Bach Christian Hospital doctors and nurses. A simply ‘thank you’ is just not enough.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Over Burdened

I have about 30+ stories waiting for me to edit them. It's a daunting pile. The challenge now is how to edit English grammar and content accuracy of my students' articles while trying to maintain their writing style. This weekend looks busy. If I am awake until 2 a.m. every night, I'm already too busy. This is the final stretch, and it requires my full effort. It's getting more stressful and exciting by the day, and the radar swings in the direction depending on my mood, hah.

The father of one of my female students owns a printing business. How convenient! We have decided to get our newspaper printed from his workshop. Today, I chose the paper quality, gave him the tabloid size, and asked him to give us price rates for various quantity amounts ranging from 300 to 500 copies. The man was very cooperative and I appreciated his patience as I carefully made my decisions.

My students are wiling to put in the extra hours, and so am I. Ramadan starts next week, and so does school for my students. Summer vacation for my kids is over. However, since the newspaper still needs to be completed, this means we will be meeting after school to do layout. And I have already warned my students: there is no sleeping in journalism. In other words, if we need to stay the whole night at school finishing up layout, so be it. Dinner on me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


On Tuesday, July 26th, I had a very frustrating day at school. Everything was going well until 11 a.m., the time when my girls class ends and break begins. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the principals of the three sections, Ms. Ayesha (my internship coordinator), and her grandmother, the founder of the school, have a meeting. So before 11:30 a.m., I join them—it’s a nice way to catch up and talk with them.

Long story short, a particular teacher at the boys section misunderstood the directions of the boys section principal, and as a result of his lack of attention, I missed my entire class for boys that day. The principal asked him to bring the entire class to the interview with the president of private schools in Abbottabad. Instead, the teacher brought only two students. The principal required that I be present for the interview even though I did not want to. To make matters worse, the interview was only supposed to last about 20 to 30 minutes. It took 90 minutes. So, here I was: in an interview with a guy who went off tangent on every question, with only two of my students, while the rest of my class waited for me at the boys section, doing nothing.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal to me except for the fact that we have so little time left to produce our newspaper. Every minute is valuable for these kids, and we cannot afford to lose any time. That was a second time in a row that the boys have not had an opportunity to type their articles—and it was because of this teacher. I was frustrated and upset at this, and I felt that aggravated that no one sympathized with my view, especially this teacher who I think is purposefully trying to sabotage my program.

After the exhaustive interview, I went back to the girls section—where the meeting carried on—and complained to the principals and Ms. Ayesha. After understanding the situation at hand, they were all on my side, and sympathized. Even though this did not make up for the lost class time, it did provide some comfort. I walked out of the office that day, nearly tear-eyed.

What I learned from Tuesday’s scenario is that in life, you have to roll with the punches. Not everything in life will be perfect. Not everything will go as we want. We will meet different types of personalities wherever we go in life. We may not always appreciate someone else’s way of doing things. When an issue arises, the real test is not the details of what went wrong, but how we dealt with the situation. In retrospect, it would have been better had I consulted the teacher directly before going to his authorities. Although the teacher got yelled at for his faults, he did apologize to me. I have forgiven and I have forgotten. After all, there is something bigger to worry about right now! Tick tock, tick tock.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Hi everyone. I'm sorry for falling off the map. This past week has been a whirlwind! I'm behind on a few blog entries, but I hope to post them up tonight. Hope you are all doing great!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The "Doing" Begins

Our Dawn field trip marked the end of my teaching journalism. It is now time for students to put everything they’ve learned to use. They will now be practicing journalism.

On Monday, July 18th, I announced staff positions. The boys and girls section each have one editor in chief, managing editor, and one editor per section (news, opinions, features, people, entertainment, and sports). We also have one classroom and one newspaper photographer in each staff. This means everything times two. Boy, will the staff box be humongous!

In the next three weeks, these students will be working hard to write articles about their school. They have learned how to write each type of article; how to interview; how to take good quotes; when and where to use quantitative data; how to write interesting ledes and nut grafs; and how to take evocative photos. The students know what good layout looks like, how to write eye-catching headlines and interesting captions. They know the advantages, and sometimes the risks, involved in practicing ethical journalism. And now is their chance to roll back their sleeves and tie their shoes. This is their moment. This is it. And I’ll be there to help them along the way. An exciting three weeks await us.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Breaking the Tradition: Faisal Mosque

When I was in Lahore in June, I visited the Badshahi Mosque, the second largest mosque in Pakistan. After the Dawn field trip, I visited the first largest mosque in Pakistan (and all of South Asia!): the Faisal Mosque. Situated against the picturesque Margalla Hills (the westernmost foothills of the Himalayas), this beautiful Musjid was a gift from Saudi King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz to Pakistan. As you can see, the mosque is untraditional in that it does not feature a dome. It was architected by Vedat Dalokay of Turkey, whose design won an international competition in 1969. When completed in 1986, the mosque was criticized its ‘modern’ look. Though we didn’t stay for long at the Faisal Mosque, I was blown away by its never-ending beauty. Enjoy the pictures!

Waking up to 'Dawn'

On Friday, July 15th, I woke up a little after the crack of dawn.

I took my students to one of Dawn newspaper’s bureaus located in Islamabad. Dawn is the oldest and one of the few English newspapers in Pakistan. It has four bureaus – Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, and Islamabad – conveniently one in each state. Dawn is headquartered in Karachi, which means all the main news coverage is done there and then sent to other bureaus. And of the four bureaus, only Peshawar does not have its own printing press; its newspapers are also printed in Islamabad.

Overall, the trip was very educational and enjoyable. I learned a lot and the students learned a lot. The purpose of this trip was to allow my students to see firsthand how a newspaper is produced. Through discussion with a journalist and an editor, students gained a new perspective on the responsibilities, hardships, and rewards of committing to journalism. My students had pre-planned questions to ask Ms. Arifa Noor, an editor of the Islamabad metro section. After her short introduction about Dawn’s history and establishment, my students eagerly raised their hands and asked questions. Why is journalism important in your opinion? Why is free press vital for Pakistan’s survival? Saleem Shahzad was a journalist who was killed for telling the truth; should death be a compromise for such a service? What other publications does Dawn produce? Is Dawn censored? Have you ever been bribed?

My favorite part of the trip has to be learning about and seeing the printing press. It’s one thing to produce a newspaper behind a computer screen, but entirely another to see hard work come to life with help of top-notch machinery. It was fascinating to learn about how the very paper we hold in our hands comes into being. In the States, I have been fortunate enough to visit and tour the newsrooms of The Washington Post and The New York Times. But never have I seen a real printing press live and in action. It was such a beautiful sight. So systematic. So sophisticated. So wonderful.

Dawn said that they order their newsprint from Russia and ink from Germany. Did you know that only four colors are used to print a newspaper? Cyan (a shade of blue), magenta, yellow, and key black are enough to make all other colors we see in pictures. EUREKA! So that’s what “CMYK” stands for in PhotoShop and InDesign!

Logistically, I was disappointed with how things were managed. First, the trip was scheduled to promptly depart at 8 a.m. from school, but we did not leave until 8:45 a.m. due to last-minute administrative tasks. Secondly, the schedule I had created for the trip was not followed. I realize that makes me sound anal and inflexible, but actually that’s not the case. It’s completely the opposite. The agenda I had planned—by the hour!—already accounted for the give-and-take moments on the trip, thus making it a very flexible schedule. Simply, we were to depart school at 8 a.m., reach Islamabad by 11 or 11:30 a.m. (it’s about a 3-hour drive from Abbottabad to the capital), have an hour lunch break, and arrive at the Dawn office by 1 p.m.—the time they expected us. We would talk with journalists and tour Dawn until 3 p.m. and then sight see until 4:30 p.m. This would bring us back by 8 p.m. as planned.

I was disappointed and quite agitated when the principal simply demanded us to return by 7 p.m. This meant leaving Islamabad by 3:30 p.m.—an impossibility because after visiting Dawn, I had planned, in my schedule, time to sight-see. Of all the wonderful places to visit and see in our capital, I wanted to at least visit Faisal Musjid. In the end, the dice rolled in my favor. We were done with Dawn by 3:30 p.m. and visited Faisal Mosque. I was stubborn—and why shouldn’t I be? After all, I organized the trip and I should be in charge. Although things didn’t go exactly as planned, it was a wonderful trip regardless.

We were super late on our way back due to a car accident. We reached school shortly after dust.

Visit to Radio Pakistan

Today I took my girls to Radio Pakistan Abbottabad—a local branch of Radio Pakistan which is headquartered in Islamabad. The station was conveniently 5 minutes away by car from the Girls Section. At the station, we were welcomed by one of the program ladies, Ms. Nadia Bano and an engineering director, Bhakkar Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed showed us the studio, the booth, and the control room.

In the studio, where the program readers sit, there was a two-person table with two microphones on it. This set-up was similar to what I had seen at NPR when I participated in the Washington Urban Journalism Workshops as a junior and senior in high school. Mr. Ahmed explained to us how a radio a show is produced; what the big white boxes on the wall were; and what the job of an engineer was in the control room.

Radio Pakistan is censored by the government and therefore is not free press media.
A radio show starts with lots of rambling of people in interviews. Then sound control engineers edit everything that was recorded and choose the best sound bites. Once a preliminary program is finalized, a new set of editors edit the show before sending it to government officials to approve. Once it is stamped OK, the show is aired. The process of producing a radio show is much different than producing a newspaper, and it was interesting to learn about a censored media outlet. There is one advantage that radios have over newspapers: it reaches a larger audience because illiterates can obtain news by simply listening to the radio.

The white boxes that had holes in them are filled with wool and beaten glass to absorb the sound and prevent an echo. In normal places like homes, usually there are things like curtains or furniture that absorb sound waves and thus do not produce a echo. Therefore in an empty room like the radio studio, the white boxes serve that purpose. How interesting!

The staff at Radio Pakistan Abbottabad was very hospitable to us. They even did a show on us—to be aired on Saturday at 2 p.m. Wicked cool! They served us Mountain Dew as well, a refreshing taste we all appreciated in the heat.

Before leaving, we met with the director, who welcomed us into his office and gave us an opportunity to ask him questions. When silence fell, he filled it with, “You want to see my kids? Let me show you their photos.” At first, I thought, “How odd. Who whips out photos of their kids to show strangers?” The director explained each photo, one by one, and passed it around. His three, adorable, and innocent kids—one girl and two boys—were standing with important government officials, receiving trophies for their accomplishments, smiling with their parents.

For one of the photos, I said, “Your son is so adorable! In this photo, what grade is he in?”

“He was in first grade when he won that award.”

“Wow, mashAllah, what grade is he in now?” I asked, so impressed with the little boy.

Silence fell upon the room. Did I ask something wrong? Uh-oh...perhaps I should have kept quiet. Why did I have to say something! What's wrong? Why is there silence?

More silence. This time I could feel it slice my guts.

After a few minutes, a hushed voice spoke up.

“Actually, Mariya, all three of his children died in the earthquake 2005,” said Ms. Nadia.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Lay Down Outside'

Yesterday, we learned about my favorite part of newspaper production: layout. I began the lesson by asking the students whether they knew what the word 'layout' meant. Or if they had never heard of it, what they think it means. One of my students raised his hand and said, "to lay down outside." I cracked up! But in seriousness, I was very proud of my students for breaking down unknown words and trying to make meanings out of the simpler ones. Even though my student used the incorrect "lay" (it should be "lie" in the context that he used it) and was completely off, I was very proud of him for at least trying. It's these moments I'll cherish the most.

We learned about a masthead, headline, byline, sub-headline, captions, and teasers. We also learned what good layout designs look like. I had my students browse through this past year’s copies of the Bowdoin Orient to follow along with the lessons—that was super fun because they ran across things like ‘alcohol transports’ and ‘hook-up culture’ and ‘trustees.’ When they asked about everything that was new to them, I zoned into my story-telling mode. I’m a big talker (if you haven’t met me) and I like to explain everything in detail. (My aunts often criticize me for this because in a gossip-oriented culture of neighborhoods here, being succinct is important.) Anyway, in order to answer each of my students’ questions, I had to tell them what was happening at Bowdoin at the time. Like I said, it was a lot of fun because I love talking about my alma mater! That’s why I’m a tour guide, right? :-)

We’re gonna finish up lessons this week and dive into assigning stories next week. We are also preparing for our field trip to Dawn newspaper on Friday—ahh, only two days away! I’m so very excited for this!! And I know the students are, too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Mamu's Wedding

Sorry to go MIA. Actually, it’s been quite hectic here. I’ve been teaching, attending a wedding, and visiting family relatives – and it’s exhausting! The good news is that my mamu's wedding is over. A traditional Pakistani wedding lasts three days. The first night is called mehndi, the henna ceremony. Separately in their own houses, henna is placed in the bride’s and groom’s hands and then placed on wall paper. This is symbolic of a long-lasting relationship about to form. The bride usually wears green and yellow on mehndi. The second night, called the barat, is the actual wedding day. This is when the groom’s family members go the bride’s home and bring her to her new home (the groom’s house). In Islamic tradition, a nikah is the official prayer and signing of documents by the bride. The nikah is attended only by the bride’s closest family members and the groom’s father, uncles, and cousins. The bride usually wears an elaborate red dress on her barat. Lastly, the walima is the final celebration in which the groom’s family invites the bride’s family for a meal. This day is typically reserve for tons of pictures. The bride usually wears pink or some other light color with jewelry given to her by the groom’s family. Can you see why I am still exhausted??

Anyway, my classes are fantastic. Two full weeks of straight lessons. My students have learned a lot. We’ve covered the definition of journalism; its importance in society; relationship between a free press and democracy; elements of journalism as presented by journalists Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach in their book; how to interview and take down good quotes; how to determine credible sources, especially those from the Internet; the importance of verification of facts and accuracy; and the need for quantitative data in reporting. Last week, we unraveled how to write a news, opinions, feature, review, and sports article. The classes are very demanding and I’m proud of my students for keeping up. Their homework assignments are evident of the time they are investing in my program; they really are taking this opportunity seriously. As their teacher, I am proud to know this. My efforts are making a difference – even if a tiny bit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Two days ago, I missed a family tradition: celebrating the 4th of July at the Washington Monument. Since 1999, the year I moved to the United States, my family has always celebrated America’s Independence to the sounds of the fireworks at the Monument. As I sat by myself in my room on July 4th, I yearend to be with my Mom, sisters, and brother, eating ice-cream or cotton candy—whichever I was in the mood of—seeing the bright colors lighten up the sky, and hearing the patriots should “USA!” I wanted to take pictures in red, white, and blue. This would be the second time I’m missing this tradition.

I’ve been teaching for a week and a half now, but it feels like I’ve known these kids forever. The bond I’ve formed with all my students is indescribable. The act of teaching in and of itself is indescribable. When I enter the classroom, all my students stand up and greet me. When they have a question, they stand up straight and then speak. Their every sentence ends with ‘Ma’am’ – “May I drink water, Ma’am?” “Can you explain that again, Ma’am?” “If a journalist is supposed to tell the truth, then what happens if there’s a conflict of interest, Ma’am?” Is this what authority feels like? My students—boys more than girls—crack jokes that make me laugh hysterically. I feel more like their peer than a teacher. I can’t help but feel so fulfilled when they raise their hands and keep answering a question until they get it right. Maybe I was meant to teach after all. Maybe this has been my calling in life and I’ve been blind to it all along.

Sometime in January during my winter break, I had dinner with one of my favorite teachers of all time, Mrs. Joan Reynolds. As we enjoyed our warm food at Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant in Old Town, we went on talking about what we had missed out on each other’s lives. I updated her about my summer 2010 experience teaching English, math and blogging at the Al-Imtiaz Academy, and she shared with me details about her life as a retired English teacher. It was she who told me that I should consider teaching, and what a rewarding profession it was. I didn’t doubt her one bit. I had experienced for myself how fulfilling teaching can be. It is this fulfillment that has brought me back here again; to Al-Imtiaz Academy, to my students, to a country I dearly love.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It's Pakistan, Anything Goes

Every Wednesday and Saturday, students have a current events quiz. They are expected to listen to news every night. Their quiz asks for two headlines in detail; the who, what, where, when, why and how of a story. A good journalist is informed, I taught them. In order to tell the truth about the world, you have to know what's happening in it.

During my daily 20 minutes on the New York Times website, I naturally clicked on the top headline of the day: "Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist." Pakistan, journalism - how relevant I thought. Saleem Shahzad's death raises important questions about free press, democracy, rights of journalists, and the behavior of our government agencies in which we place our trust.

New York Times reported that Pakistani secret intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), administered the attacks on the journalist "in an effort to silence criticism." Can you imagine the outrage in America if CIA had ordered for a journalist to be killed? Just imagine the the riots and protests on Capitol Hill by journalists around the country. Can you imagine the embarrassment? But this isn't America. This is Pakistan. There's no First Amendment to protect such rights. One of my students said in class today, "Teacher, this is Pakistan. Anything and everything goes." How disheartened I was to hear that mainly because I knew he was right. It's frustrating because it's so sad. It's sad that the government can do whatever it likes and the people don't have a voice. It's sad that the people are too scared to speak up for what they believe in. It's said that the rich live off haram money while the poor continue to live in poverty. It's sad that when a journalists reports the truth, he is awarded with death by the very government it is trying to better.

Here's the article. I'm excited to hear your thoughts on this.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Inspiring or discouraging?

Today was my fifth day of teaching and I’m really enjoying myself. Today is Jumm’ah, Friday, so classes were short to allow students to pray the noon prayer. This is a national rule—all schools are supposed to end early on Friday’s as this is an important day of worship for Muslims.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten this so the short classes are definitely throwing me off my syllabus and schedule. I had one hour—very short but enough time—with each class to get through the introduction of journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s book, The Elements of Journalism.

I had each student read aloud a paragraph and tell me its meaning in Urdu. This was my way of checking their comprehension. Of course, vocabulary was the biggest challenge for both of us: I struggled to explain the meaning in such a manner so that my students could understand and my students struggled to grasp the words’ meanings without simply memorizing verbatim the gibberish in the dictionary. I have also found that what I consider to be my everyday-speaking-as-a-normal-person vocabulary is not easily understandable to my students. For example, I had to explain what “obviously,” “commitment,” and “offend” mean. And it was hard.

Based on the feedback I am getting, it seems that the students are also enjoying themselves. Teaching journalism in the worst country for journalists is … well, let’s just say not the easiest task in the world. A good teacher is supposed to inspire its students; sometimes I feel like I’m scaring mine. Very recently, Saleem Shahbaz, a 40-year-old Pakistani journalist was found dead near Islamabad after writing about the links between the Pakistani military and al Qaeda. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the current political situation in Pakistan has made practicing ethical journalism impossible. Reporting the truth has become deadly. The goal of my program and initiative was not to instill fear but rather, educate the youth about the importance of truthful journalism in a society that is in chaos.

My ‘dangerous country’—as the West calls it—needs honest people and it is my hope that these children learn to be honest, if nothing at all, from my program.