|Warm greeting from a stranger in Islamabad|
Lately we seem increasingly willing to dismiss entire nations, cultures, and religions, forgetting, at our peril, that no country is ever more nor less than the sum of its people. Heroes and despots come and go; economies rise and fall; political ideologies blossom and fester; natural resources are exploited and exhausted; but the citizenry endures. And in my experience, in over 50 countries, the overwhelming majority of people are not only innocent, but kind, warm, generous, curious, and profoundly hospitable. Maybe we should return the favor.
In light of recent moves to make the USA significantly less of a welcome mat to the world, I want to share a few stories and photos of people in "bad" places who've surprised me with their goodness. I'd like to see folks visit a country before they bomb it or ban it--or at least heed those who have.
|Custom-made suit for less than $100|
In Hunza, Pakistan, my backpack needed some TLC. This fellow happily made repairs for me, and then refused to let me pay him. I don't know where to get such work done at home for any price.
|Free Ramadan dinner in Istanbul|
|Schoolboys in Ayun, Pakistan|
|Proud soccer fan in Gilgit, Pakistan|
I saw this boy and itched to have his picture, but couldn't stop. When I wandered back to find him, he was inside a shop watching soccer with his father, so I asked his father if I could take the boy's picture. He got up, ushered the boy out into the street, and, wearing a face of immense pride, offered that most elegant of all human gestures, placing a hand over his heart, as if to say, "Please, it would be my honor."
|Methuselah? Santa Claus? Chitral, Pakistan|
I love this picture because this old man has such a sweet expression. I also love it because when I asked if I could take his picture, he gave the slightest and yet most eager of nods. Generally young folks are more willing to be photographed, and the elderly can be guarded, but this fellow had clearly been waiting and hoping, as I wandered around the mosque and snapped shots of the younger folks, that I'd include him too.
|Young fellows eager for a photo in Gilgit, Pakistan|
I should write a whole other post about mosques, but the dozen or more I visited in Pakistan were anything but breeding grounds for terrorism. Men came to chat, to nap, to escape the heat, to drink or wash in clean water, to have picnics or family reunions, to play games, to meet friends. They were community centers of the sort all too many American communities have lost. And they brought back acute memories of my childhood, when the best part of going to church was neither Sunday school nor the service, but the social time afterward, when the kids got to run semi-wild while the grownups chatted over coffee and cakes.
|Foreigners drawing attention in Skardu, Pakistan|
In many parts of the world, crossing the border is a bigger deal for the guards than the visitors. This is not because there aren't dangers--most frontier towns are hotbeds of smuggling, money laundering, drug trafficking, abductions, and other crimes. Yet the immigrations and customs officers are often itching with curiosity to observe and converse with foreigners. Once when I crossed into Bolivia the officer spent what felt like forever leafing through my passport--not because he suspected me of anything, but because he'd never seen such visa stamps, or maybe any American passport. In Uganda they opened the border post just for my overland group, and when the electricity failed, they checked us through by candlelight.
People keep saying that they're not against refugees, they're just for security. I hope so. And I hope they'll join me in doing something to help people in troubled areas of the world. One excellent way is by making a Kiva loan, and targeting it to "conflict zones" or "refugees/displaced persons." Poverty doesn't discriminate, and neither does Kiva; their intrepid Fellows do good work even in "bad" countries.
We've been hearing a lot about the "bad guys" lately. Maybe it's time we start focusing on the good people.
|Happiness is a cool hat: Skardu, Pakistan|