Sunday, September 11, 2011

Learning Beyond Borders

Pakistan is the most troubled country as far as I know from international media resources. From terrorism, extremism, lack of women’s rights, child labor, and lack of education to general civic apathy towards all of these concerns. It is a cauldron of conflict and troubles. It has been in focus since the US chose Pakistan to fight it’s proxy war with the USSR. I never realized what this meant for the rest of the world in terms of being aware and informed of other countries until I met a 19 year old illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

The country itself at least for me was obscure and under no threat from anywhere. However, my recent encounter with Peter, who I met a few weeks ago changed my perception. My conversation with him was shocking at first. Here are bits of that conversation:

Peter: Where are you from?

Peter: Where is it?
It is in Asia, next to India.

Peter: Is it far?

Peter: How did you come to America?
I came here to work (I thought he wanted to know my visa status).

Peter: No, how did you cross the border.
I came in an airplane.

Peter: (Shocked) Why?
Because Pakistan is faraway and there is a sea. (By this time I was uncomfortable because I did not know how to explain and he had no understanding of even basic geography)

Peter: You use a phone?
Yes. (I thought if I showed some pictures from Pakistan, it may help him) Do you want to see pictures from Pakistan?

Peter: Yes. (He looked at the pictures and said it is beautiful and that he would like to see snow some day. So I told him he can go to other places in California where it snows. He looked shocked to hear that too, and asked) It snows in US?

I tried explaining to him as best as I could, but I don’t know if I succeeded much. 

I moved on in a dazed state and realized that the rest of the world is as messed up as my home country, if not more. I have often met people in Pakistan who are unaware of the outside world. I shouldn't look down on them because they never had the same opportunities as I did to go to school or study and read. What they know is limited in terms of geography, politics and general knowledge. Just like my knowledge about Guatemala is limited, because we only know what corporate media feeds us with.

This conversation has made me realize that I am as ignorant of the current or past political conditions of Guatemala as Peter is ignorant of basic geography. The education system in Guatemala is perhaps far bleak than in Pakistan. But what I worry about now is the level of awareness among the world in general; including the privileged ones like me, who live in a bubble. A bubble of information created by the owners of the news corporations, who feed us what they want, and which we consume without questioning.

Here are a few links I am currently reading to change and try to find out things beyond what I am supposed to know.

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