Saturday, February 2, 2008

Experience of a Singaporean in Pakistan

Zafirah is an NUS graduate who was in the AIESEC national team in 2005-2006 as President. She has been doing an AIESEC internship in Karachi, the ex-capital of Pakistan and here she shares some of her experiences and opinions about Pakistani culture. It is a good read, especially for Pakistanis.

Hey everyone!

Hope you're all doing well. Here in Pakistan it's business as usual. I "visited" Singapore last week for a wedding, and have now returned to Karachi. It's a long email here, recapping thoughts and sharing experiences. So read on only if you have time!

It's been eventful in the past 5 months, and having it peaceful like now, it's quite strange I must say. In Karachi we've had the floods in July/August, the first Benazir assasination attempt, the Karachi Express train derailed, the state of emergency imposed by Musharraf, the assasination of Benazir, post Benazir fiasco, and now upcoming elections. Quite exciting times indeed!

Truth be told, I can now understand why most Pakistani's have become numb to political developments in the country. I still remember when the state of emergency was declared. Us interns were so worried, yet the Pakistani AIESECers shrugged it off as no big deal. Today, we read the newspapers and nothing surprises us anymore. The worst seems to have already happened, one of Pakistan's most influential political leader was killed and no particular group has been identified as being responsible for her death.

And now with elections around the corner, everyone is looking forward for it to be OVER. It doesn't matter who wins, as long as there is somebody! Because then there is certainty and with certainty, whether good or bad will bring stability because people know what to expect and how to deal with the circumstances.

Anyway, politics aside...

I was once asked about how women are treated here in Pakistan. And I am being totally frank here, (albeit with a bit of humour) the women are loved, respected, but sometimes overprotected. Being a woman I am entitled to priviledges that men never enjoy. For example:

1) In bargaining for the rickshaw, all I need is a tilt of the head and pleading eyes and the drivers just sigh..... and give in to my asking price! :)

2) If I were driving, I would always get my way on the roads. ALWAYS, no questions asked!

3) If in the elevator, men would squeeze themselves like sardines into the corners to allow me to get on, and even then still give me lots of breathing room!

Generally, living alone in Pakistan as a woman is really quite safe. However in career development, it is still evolving. Mindsets are being challenged within less educated families as it is not accepted for a daughter to be working, what more developing a career? Making an independent, individualistic choice by the daughter is virtually unheard of. From my interactions with young ladies here who have finished their education, from both better-off families and poor families, these ladies have limited options. This is because what they want to do in their own future is determined by their family's approval. e.g. getting married, starting a family.

Of course there are ladies who are given the opportunity to develop their own talents, pursue their chosen careers, and not protected from making their own mistakes and learning from them. However these cases are rare, from what I observe, looking at the number of women entrusted with top management positions.

As a trainee, we can observe, question and hopefully inspire positive change in this environment we are in. Through daily interactions, conversations, and leading by example. Which brings me to my point! (Yes, this long email has a purpose, especially for those that might be considering but haven't decided on exchange yet!)

Through the AIESEC experience, we hope to develop change agents with entrepreneurial, socially responsible, active learner, etc.. characteristics. Which seems like a lot of fluff for me when I was a new member! And I never really understood how effective it really is, until NOW! Exchange is and should remain the most integral part, because it just makes everything fall into place.

Being here in Pakistan has challenged me, changed me, made me realise even more what I am capable of, what I need to do, what my life purposes are, and how I can get there.

For those that are applying for exchange I wish you all the best and may you realise your potential even more!

For those that are still thinking about going for exchange.... I'd say just go for it! Don't let the opportunity pass because there may not be a next time later on...

For those undecided where to go for exchange.... Come to Pakistan! What you see on TV is just a tiny fraction of life events here, and if I can survive for this long, so can you. I believe we have a few development traineeships and management traineeships available. If you're interested, drop me a mail :)

All the best!

Zafirah Mohamed

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