In praise of common Americans
KARACHI, Pakistan: Greg Mortenson is an American and, like our philanthropist Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, likes to spend his time with the underprivileged and poor without discrimination, according to the Dawn article by Safia Siddiqui on 22 November.
He represents the common man in America who is humble, kind, generous and good at heart.
He came to Pakistan to scale K2, the second highest mountain in the world, but had to abandon the climb near the top to rescue his friend below. He lost his way during the descent and wandered to a remote village, where the villagers nursed him back to health.
His hosts told him that the first cup of tea is offered to strangers, the second cup is offered to friends and those who are offered a third cup become family. For family, he was told, Pakistanis would lay down their lives.
Moved by their hospitality, he decided to open a girls’ school in that small village. He wrote 580 letters to celebrities in the United States but only received $100.
However, shortly after, he received $623 in pennies from school children in Wisconsin, inspiring him to go ahead with his plan.
Today, he has more than 120 schools to his name in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan where he has been captured by the Taliban and investigated by the United States government, both wanting to know why he is educating people in Pakistan.
I had the opportunity to spend about three months in the United States in 2007. I had the chance to interact with common people at the plant where I worked, in workshops that I visited, in offices, stores and on the streets.
Most were polite, courteous, understanding, hospitable and open. Many times while traveling, I would say prayers at busy airports and malls without being stared at.
Common Americans know very little about things outside their country; some don’t even want to know what exists outside their city. For example, we wanted to take a 60-year-old specialist from Baton Rouge to Philadelphia for a business meeting. To our surprise, we discovered that he had never been on an airplane or gone outside Baton Rouge. He had not even seen New Orleans, which was just 70 miles away.
And the wife of a friend once asked me at the dinner table one evening: “Do you have coke in Pakistan?”
Similarly, while traveling with me from London, a charming, retired schoolteacher from Houston was astonished when she heard that my daughter often talks about Oprah Winfrey. She was shocked that Pakistanis know about Oprah, especially female students.
One event that left a great impression on me happened at a gas station. We were having our car filled when a smartly dressed middle-aged man approached me and asked for a dollar. He confessed that he had just come out of jail and wanted to call his friend.
I had a five-dollar bill that I gave him. When he saw us pulling out of the gas station, he came running after the car, shouting that he wanted to return the balance, four dollars. Such were the ethics of this ex-convict in the United States.
I made many friends there, one of whom is Ken Jafferson, a source for useful engineering tips. I call him whenever I am stuck on a project. During one of my calls, I happened to catch him while he was attending a funeral.
He came out, listened to me patiently, asked couple of questions and then gave me a great solution. Only later did he tell me that he was attending a funeral.
These are real and common Americans.
Greg Mortenson is one of them. He does not share the agenda of the US government. He came as a mountaineer to conquer K2 but ended up conquering our hearts. He has won many awards, including the Sitara-i-Pakistan, the third-highest honor awarded by the Pakistani government. May he also win the Nobel Peace Prize that he has been nominated for.