At 1 pm today, Meera (our office cook) starts to ferry large metal dishes of curry, paper bags of roti and little side dishes of chutney up to my room. (My desk is the largest open space in the office where we host events, lunches.)
10 minutes later, a stream of mustached men file in my door. I get up from my computer, greet them.
"Hello, I am Dr. Hassani." Firm handshake.
"Hello, I am Dr. Dharker." Another firm handshake…
…and on and on. 8 men, 1 woman. All introduce themselves as Dr. such and such.
They are from IRC's Pakistan office and are passing through Kathmandu for a few hours. They're in Nepal to learn about a rural health program similar to one they're implementing in Pakistan's Kashmir and the Northwest Frontier, regions hardest hit by Pakistan's 2005 earthquake.
Since most of our Kathmandu staff are away at meetings and in the field, there are just three of us from Nepal to entertain the 9 of them.
Having JUST read the chapter in "Three Cups of Tea" on Pakistani political history last night, I feel primed to engage them on their country.
I sit next to Raza, a white-haired, smiley man with glasses. He'd lived in Syracuse NY and Michigan many years ago and had traveled to Maine. We talk about Maine foliage and New York sports teams for a few minutes. (He knows far more than me about the latter subject. I nod and smile as he references the Giants and the Mets current star players.)
Then I ask him (and the others in the circle) about their health program. A big part of it, they say, is to introduce the idea of "community participation.”
"This has never existed in Pakistan," Raza says. "It's a new concept."
Perfect segue to ask about what I’ve been reading.
I tell him about my book (he's never heard of it but is interested) and say, smiling, speaking rapidly I'm sure because I'm excited, that I just learned about Pakistani history last night.
"Can I share my impression with you to see if I have it right?" I ask.
He nods, stuffing a piece of naan in his mouth.
I recap what I remember: So first was Bhutto then Sharif then Musharraf. Musharraf took power after the Kargil (sp!?) incident with India. Although Musharraf took the power in a coup, he was more effective than the other ‘democratically elected’ leaders. Under Musharraf, teachers were paid for the first time, money started to filter down to local government. Bhutto and Sharif were elected, but they did not devolve their power in the way Musharraf did.
I am interested to hear his perspective. Last night's reading was the first good news I’d heard about Musharraf. Despite all the bad press about him, it sounds like Musharraf made the most strides in terms of the local participation they’re trying to engender.
Raza nods when I speak. The he says, "YES! Although I am very against Musharraf, definitely some good things came out of his reign - as you say, local bodies started to have power." Raza is not in favor of Bhutto either, "but at least he is elected. He has the legitimacy and that is very important."
30 minutes later (their visit was very short), their leader announces its time for them to leave. They pull out their wallets and hand me their business cards. "You are most welcome to visit us in Pakistan. Please come anytime - we will take care of you."
They shuffle out the door. I sit at my desk, in a daze. I feel energized, connected.
In high school biology, we read about muscles and organs and the respiratory system. Then one day we showed up to our classroom to find dead frogs on our desks.
Last night I read about Pakistanis; the next day, 9 of them come to my office!
Stuff in books is real!