A year past, passing thoughts and new experiences

 

Mental block is an interesting thing. On the one hand, you are unable to put words down on paper. On the other hand you have all these wormy thoughts and scattered ideas roaming around inside your head, like fish swimming in a pond. It feels like those dot- to-dot drawings, except the image is never completed while trying to connect the points. After my adventures in Pakistan I went searching for other adventures. I found some interesting lectures, conferences and cultural events.

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I received comments about my blog. Some were genuine, constructive comments, such as the necessity of pictures. As for the slightly salty comments I am told I managed to turn a blog into a reality show. Even though I write about people, it is far from a reality show in writing because that would mean I make things up along the way.  My writings may be unfocused in the sense that I keep them varied instead of continuously exploring the same story further. Nonetheless, in my defense I can say that all I do is critically evaluate development conditions and practices as I have observed from the field, across several countries, supported by a lot of reading. I was unaware that my words had such a visual effect, so I guess I should take it as negatively worded compliment. Another follower said I should keep writing irrespective of the negative comments because one can never please everyone. Nevertheless, on a positive note, any private comment is welcome because it means they have taken time out to read my stories. To my few followers, thank you. I really appreciate your interest.

Moreover, my understanding of international politics may be vague, but I am uncomfortable with the image of victimhood portrayed amongst Muslims in the West. Although, in many cases it is justified, I think this also reflects the difficulties associated with living in the global village the world has become. The minority-majority relationship has always been thorny because humanity is complicated. I have also met English people who work in ghetto-like areas inhabited by ethnic minorities and they literally feel like a foreigner in their own country. Looking at it from their perspective it must be a scary scenario, but I’m sure they get exposed to many interesting people and experiences this way that may be unlikely otherwise.

Regarding the events I attended during the past year, I think promoting fair trade is important. I strongly believe that trade is better than aid. Agricultural producers should get a better price for their products. Wherever I travel I always source local produce because I want to get a the taste of the country I am visiting. I also like the thought of supporting that country’s balance of payment. Financial independence paves way for empowerment and emancipation on so many levels. It is related to improved health and education indicators. However, in my opinion, instead of thinking of fair trade as a one-stop solution, it is one out of many approaches to poverty reduction.

I also attended an arts festival. It took place alongside a conference on Islamic Finance. I met someone who explained Islamic finance to me. In a nutshell it is basically investing in businesses that are only halal. This means you cannot invest in tobacco, pork, alchohol or pornography related businesses.

At one of the panel discussions I attended at the conference, one of the presenters mentioned that the biggest challenge continues to be regularization of Islamic finance. The bonds are still area specific and hence not internationally transferable.

Nevertheless, if a financial method is still discussing issues such as how to increase regularization and non–transferability of bonds after more than a decade, it really is not much different from the muddled field of international development where people are still wondering how to decrease maternal and infant mortality rates in for example southern Sudan, just to mention an example. Moreover, this comparison is quite disconcerting, especially considering that the financial sector is supposed to be more structured and experienced with marketization, regularization and transferability issues. Moreover, how different is Islamic finance practices from regular financial practices, apart from following ethical business practices according to religious business principles? When I raised this concern with someone working in the financial sector, I was told that Islamic finance is really just another way of selling financial services. Nonetheless, it is interesting to observe how faith and finance are used to enter other markets in an otherwise faithless environment. Moreover, the range of businesses exhibiting at the conference was quite impressive, ranging from health and bio-tech, food and beverage, education, engineering and financial services.

Another conference I attended was related to Pakistan and the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals Agenda. It targeted the expatriate Pakistani community, or any organization interested in started developing projects in Pakistan and finding new project partners. It was interesting to discover that although Pakistan fulfills all the requirements for debt relief, somehow her debt repayment is not being cancelled. I always thought the fight for debt relief was the most politically impossible campaign. However it was mentioned in a conversation that it was the most successful, at least compared to the other campaigns aimed at poverty eradication.

The organizations from Pakistan were an eclectic mix. I got to see a few NGO heads in person. I had heard about them when I used to work in Pakistan. As for the expatriate Pakistanis presenting at the conference, it was equally eventful to see and hear these people of significance in person. Being familiar with the quality of NGO heads in Pakistan, I think the selection criteria to qualify for participation at this conference must have been quite high because the education level of all the presenters from Pakistan was unquestionable. I am always keen to know what the policymaking/research focus is regarding Pakistan, particularly from a donor perspective. In this connection, I think the conference was ideal.

On a final note, last year, I had the privilege of many fascinating conversations and interesting encounters of the unexpected kind.  At the art festival held together with the Islamic finance conference, a recurring message was that we are all story-tellers, we just need to find our own medium of expression. To illustrate, a poet-artist at one of the panel discussions I attended, emphasized that we need to care more about others and our future.

It is due to lack of caring there are so many failed relationships, suicides and environmental damage. I agree. We need to care more and to take responsibility not just for ourselves, but be responsible towards others too. I asked the poet-artist in connection with what he said:

“people tell me that I should just keep quiet, keep my head down and not carry the world on my shoulders. It would certainly make my life easier, but if you don’t speak out against oppression or stand up for others, then no one else will, and you are the only one who can do this. What do you do in such a scenario?”

He said:

“tell them… You don’t carry the world on your shoulders, but they can walk along with you and you can walk the path together.”

In this connection, I think events related to fair traide, artfests and Islamic finance, post 2015 millennium development goals agenda, food and nutrition, faith and finance all indicate that we should carry more of the world on our shoulders by holding our leaders accountable. The world can only be as good as we make it. Moreover, we can all do the small things such as accepting that some people are different because they have different experiences. It only requires a little bit of common sense.

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