Monday, February 14, 2011
Living within walls
I am in the unique situation of being a visitor here at the American Embassy in Pakistan. It gives me the opportunity to have a more objective viewpoint than those who are tourists or those who are diplomats. I have the option to step back and look at both opinions.
Governments operate on a basis of protection that is rooted in fear. The fear often comes from the minority who oppose a form of government or religion. The minority in a political group or religion rises up and threatens with physical harm. They control people with physical violence and threats and the people become subservient based on fear. It does not mean that the masses agree with the minority, but they do live in a state of tension - a fear of personal safety versus freedom to rise up against these forces.
When you live in a country where this type of tension is going on and you represent a foreign government that has become involved in one side of the tension, it puts the foreign employees at risk. It is the job of the home government to protect it's citizens who are there to promote good relations, peace, humanitarian aid and evolving government relations. It is understandable that walls are built, razor wire is hung, road blocks are in place and guards with guns are stationed on the walls. We are driven around in cars that are armored, have bullet proof glass and the drivers have had defensive drivers training. Permission must be granted to go outside of the city and in visiting certain areas within the city one must be escorted. I understand this. I appreciate the importance put on the protection and safety of the employees.
But, when I venture out I find myself walking in fear. My mind tells me that a car is going to blow up or that someone is hunting me down with a gun. I forget that it is the minority that has caused need for these protections. When I relax and begin looking around me at the people, I am surprised at the welcome I receive. I have not had one look that has made me feel unsafe. In the dress shop an old woman approached me. She took my hands in hers and patted them with a big smile. She could not speak English, but in her expression I felt welcomed in her country. A young woman struck up a conversation with me sharing some of her knowledge about America. As I was waiting in a Drs. office a woman began talking with me. She works for one of the t.v. stations here and invited me to visit for a tour of the station. We have been invited into homes for meals and women have been willing to take their time to show me around Islamabad. The majority here are warm and welcoming. They do not want tension, they want peace. They want to share their country with me, the foreigner - they welcome me with open arms.
When working with a NGO (non-government organization) protection is based on trust. As you build relationships with the people you are working with they protect you. If they hear rumor of an unsafe situation they warn you and help you get out. There is a risk in trust. You may end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there is also comfort in trust. You do not move about in fear built by walls and regulations.
We don't always have the freedom to choose which model we are going to live under, but if you must live without freedom, it is possible to remember that the majority is welcoming and embrace the opportunities for interaction when possible.