The funniest person I’ve met in my life is not a Pakistani, neither an Indian nor an American. He is (surprisingly for me) an Afghan. The most poignant person I’ve met in my life is not a Pakistani, neither a British, nor a Bengali. He is (surprisingly for me again) an Afghan.
I spent the third week of June with 11 Afghan and 10 Pakistani journalists. Though we had gathered to understand our Western neighbor, I also saw a different side of my Pakistani fellows as never seen before.
Hailing from all four corners of the two countries, we, journalists, returned home with positive images, changed perceptions, unforgettable memories and most important of all: new friends.
Everyone had a unique story to tell, an idiosyncratic account of their lives and pied explanations and expectations, but some left an impression on my mind.
The funny side
I am grateful to Atif Fakirzada of Mediothek for letting us return home in “one piece”.
The frequency of his jokes, comical allegory and the his unique way of connecting the dots that raised a wave of laughter across the boardroom were exceptional. While some would laugh to tears, other would hold tight to their ribs.
He killed the preconceived notion, which at least I had about Afghans, that they are rigid and serious and rarely laugh, on the very first day he had arrived. Stereotype number one, gone there and then.
The emotional side
When Bismillah Jan, a Pashtun Afghan, said in his self-introduction speech on the first day that he cried if he hurt someone or vice-versa, most of us speculated he was making up. But then, I came to know that he actually cried after finding out about the recent death of one of the participant’s father. When he laughed, he would lay down on the floor, simultaneously avoiding Cem, one of the moderators, who would try to capture the moment in his camera.
Once Bismillah Jan went missing. We looked for him everywhere and later found him praying at the back of one of the notice boards.
The way he hugged my husband, when I introduced him to the group on the last day, and called him “Afghanistan’s son-in-law”, was one of the most respectful ways we both had been treated.
Contrary to the perception the world has about Pashtuns, and specifically Afghan Pashtuns, as being “harsh” and “uncompassionate”, Bismillah Jan showed us their new side. Stereotype two, removed there and then.
The assiduous side
When Malik Faisal Moonzajer from Sare Pol in Afghanistan told us that he was accepted at one of the best private universities in Islamabad, it was not less than a surprise for us. When he said it was a scholarship, we were flabbergasted.
He seeks education and refers it to his peers as well. He speaks fluent English and German and understands a little bit of Urdu, too. He belongs to a generation that grew up in war, was deprived of education, health facilities and freedom and held back from interacting with the world.
It was amazing and relieving, simultaneously, to see that he and his fellow colleagues, mostly in their 20s, have not grown into rebels after all. Stereotype three, broken there and then.
The writer is a Sub-editor at The Express Tribune and mostly writes about gender issues and human rights. She is also the 2011 Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Fellow at DW, Bonn.