Journey to Pakistan – Meeting People Where They Are

Journey to Pakistan – Meeting People Where They Are
Sep, 03, 2013  
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I started studying the Pakistan culture, language and dress a few months before we left. I went on the internet, interviewed anyone who knew anything, hopefully dusted off my language skills and started shopping. So many people told me not to worry about it and that no one would care one way or the other. But I cared. The philosophy of “meet people where they are” in business extends to culture. Although I knew I would be accepted as I was, the gesture of respect for the places I travel and the effort toward a deeper understanding are important elements of not only building, but sustaining relationships.


As a guest of Pakistan, we were not disappointed. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, we were shown the utmost kindness, service and support. The TiE Islamabad team and everyone that surrounded them were the pinnacle of organization, professionalism and hospitality. Throughout the next 12 days, they helped us navigate and acclimate, and educated us on the breadth and depth of the country, both historically and culturally. As anticipated, they did accept us, just as we were. At the same time, they, and everyone we encountered, appreciated the small efforts and gestures to meet them where they were, as a country and a culture.


I received validating comments all along the way that reassured me that my attempts at dress, language and custom were appreciated. The comment made the first day, said with some surprise, that I already dressed like a Pakistani with my long dress and dupatta (scarf), and the face of the guard taking my departure ticket as we left the country lighting up when I murmured “shukriya” (thank you), made me feel my efforts were not in vain. There were plenty of people in jeans, slacks and shirts, and I was told multiple times that I could have dressed however I liked. Most people said “thank you” instead of “shukriya” to one another and knew nearly flawless English. Still, they smiled with acknowledgement and appreciation as I perfected my salam alaikum/walekam assalam, adopted the phrase “InshAllah” and bought and wore my first kameez and (real) dupattas.


The short term effort we can put into learning more about a single person or an entire culture can make all the difference in the quality, depth and sustainability of a relationship. We did not go into Pakistan as the StartUp Cup to make speeches, hope someone listened and leave. We went to Pakistan to make a difference, build relationships and join their journey toward growing a stronger economy in their country. I know they would have taken me as I am, but I also know the seemingly minor gesture to meet them where they are strengthened our bond in where we are now going together.


We think we know people. We’ve read their bio. We’ve worked with them for years. We see them in the community. We’re their Facebook “friend”. But when “I’m going to Pakistan” enters the conversation, I found out how much I didn’t know about the people in my life.


As all trips abroad are tentative and subject to change, I was cautious to talk too much or over prepare everyone for my departure. Still, some conversations with family, clients and volunteer commitments had to take place. These conversations opened doors to thoughts, experiences and perspectives. And, the more conversations I had, the more affirmation I gained about our interconnected world and how disconnected we are from it at times.


One of my first inspiring moments was with a fellow Board member. I knew he had done some inspiring work in Romania (it was in his bio), but when I mentioned going to Pakistan, he smiled and said, “I’d like to talk to you about that.” We spent a wonderful morning on the deck of a local coffee shop where he told me about his experiences around the world, including Pakistan. His insights into the country and culture affirmed my commitment to go, and his advice gave me grounding in own perspective. But, above all, I had an opportunity to find out more about him and be reminded of the depths of people and their experiences that, in the hustle and bustle of our lives and work, we don’t take time to ask about.


Another surprise encounter was when I went home and a woman I grew up knowing came forward with all kinds of insights and even clothes for me to take on my trip! Again, I “know” her, I follow what she is doing, where she is working, her health and how she is doing, but still had no idea where her experiences had taken her. I learned about a very best girlfriend whose world experiences I follow closely and lean on her as my travel adviser, but found that I didn’t know her specific field of economic study until we had lunch with another world traveler. I learned that a woman in my Zumba class is married to a man from Pakistan… and the list of connections and inspiring conversations goes on.


We think we “know” people, then we have a conversation. My work gives me all forms of opportunity to ask questions of my clients to help them explore and find their answers. They are often seemingly obscure questions about life, family and perspectives, but they always lead to a better understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish and how they’re going to get there. I’m so grateful for the phrase, “I’m going to Pakistan” and the opportunity it gave me to do this for myself and get to know about the people I live, work and share a community with. To have deeper conversations with those whom I share my life.



StartUp Cup Karachi 9.1.13

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