In my last two posts I shared stories about lessons I learned from the diverse people I was fortunate enough to encounter on my trip. The stories I want to share in this last and final post however, are not the stories of strangers but rather those of two people who are very close to me. These two people embody the values and morals that have become so important to me over the years. These people are: my grandparents.
The Power of Knowledge
69 years old but still filled with the energy of a 20 year old, my granddad always looked young for his age. Dark brown hair speckled with gray streaks is the only visible sign of his aging. He possesses a calm disposition and a resolute nature. This seemingly tough exterior is softened by a warm smile that never fails to be sincere. A twinkle always fills his eyes as he comes home from work and pretends that he doesn’t have a bag of chocolate ready for my siblings and I to devour. The same twinkle is replaced by a steady focus as he goes to his clinic to treat a new set of patients in the small town of Kasur, Pakistan. It is in Kasur that I spent most of my time during my trip. My grandfather has been running an eye clinic and a hospital in this town for many years. He is respected by the townsfolk and affectionately known as ‘Doctor Saab.’ The way his patients place complete faith in his ability to help them always fascinates me. Living in Pakistan, many poverty-ridden individuals come to my granddad. It can be something as trivial as a bacterial eye infection or as serious as something causing permanent loss of eyesight. Never once did I see my granddad turn away an individual that needed help but couldn’t afford it. As he grows older, he is constantly asked by my mother and my grandmother to slow down and take more rest from his work, but he persists. I always wondered what kept my grandad so committed to his work. When I sat down and asked why, he simply explained, “If I don’t see my patients every day immediately, there is a possibility that some of them could lose their eye sight, and I can’t carry that on my conscience.”
My grandfather’s commitment to his practice stems from a feeling of responsibility for the people in his community. My grandfather’s way of life has instilled in me an important message about the responsibility that comes with gaining knowledge, a sense that if you have acquired a unique skill or valuable knowledge, it is your intrinsic duty as a human being to use it to help those that could benefit from it.
My grandmother is now in extremely old age and unable to be as active as she once was. However in her youth, she was the epitome of an active and enlightened young woman determined to make a difference. After obtaining a Master’s Degree in Education she worked as the principal of a high school in her hometown of Gujrawala, Pakistan. After getting married she left her job but continued her social work by spearheading the creation of a vocational institute for girls that runs till this day. This institution is not-for-profit and teaches girls of all ages valuable skills that help them gain employment and lead better lives. Even in her old age my grandmother passionately monitors the running and progress of this institute while simultaneously running a similar social entrepreneurship venture in her own home without even realizing it. Her house serves as an extension of the vocational institute. The women who come to work for my grandmother, learn how to sew their own clothing, learn how to manage a kitchen, and learn to read both English and Urdu. My grandmother helps any person working for her become empowered to seek employment elsewhere and to continue their education. To her, education is of the utmost importance. Perhaps it is from her that I learned to have a love for learning.
On my last day in Pakistan, I remember feeling excited to return to Canada, but that excitement was overshadowed by an underlying sense of melancholy and strangely, loss. I realized then that I would miss Pakistan, a lot. But, I was grateful for the chance I was given to go back and reconnect with my roots, and to receive a reality check from my usual life in Canada. My trip to Pakistan served as a reminder to stay grateful, stay humble, to treat everyone you meet with respect and compassion, and most of all to be aware of the world around me.
I shared the stories in my last few posts because I realized that Pakistan, and in fact many other countries in that part of the world, are often painted as areas of disparity, turmoil, and hopelessness. Even as a Pakistani myself, when I read the news or hear about stories of suffering from back home, I start to see Pakistan as a place where melancholy and distress is pervasive and hope and progress are elusive. This trip, the people I encountered, and the way that my grandparents lead their lives was a reminder that countries like Pakistan are not crucibles of despair. There are many good people doing good things that hold promise and hope for a brighter future. Whether that hope comes from a little boy on a street corner in Islamabad, two little girls in Kasur that love to read, a young woman in a difficult situation fighting for her rights, an elderly man whose loyalty doesn’t fade with time, or from my grandparents, is insignificant; what matters is that it’s there.
One simply has to look through the darkness painted over this part of the world, to uncover a canvass of vibrant people, stories, and ambitions all adding some light in their own way.