Since I last posted, I caught up with family on my father’s side, bought our plane tickets to Lahore (after accidentally buying Aisha a ticket to Islamabad) and visited the Karachi museum where I was looking out for depictions of women around 200-300 BC when my play is set. I’ve come to see that I’ve needed to be here to get closer to the reality of my female characters in a particular time and place. I’m not able to go back 2,000 years to the courtesans quarter in Karniputra (the Punjab area of India and Pakistan today), but understanding the realities of cisgender and transgender women in Pakistan brings me as close as I can get. The question at the heart of my play is ‘what does it mean to be a woman’? and that enquiry is also at the heart of this trip.
On Wednesday we visited 3 villages in Sindh province with Indus Earth Trust an NGO working to alleviate poverty through integrated development. The whole village – men, women, children, goats – attended the meetings to discuss what they would do when IET brings them electricity by means of solar power; how they might best use it to improve life in a sustainable way. I’m told the women are the most important in this, and 70% of the money given to start businesses is in women’s names, because when women control the money, the benefit is soon felt by the whole community. There is much discussion in these meetings, with men and women, and much laughter.
The children giggled at my pigeon Urdu and sang happy birthday with me and looked with interest at pictures we took of them, and at an Observer magazine I had in my bag. It’s difficult to explain how I felt, being with them – perhaps it doesn’t make sense to say that i felt love for them, but I did, I do.
In Humzo Shamoo, the poorest of the 3 villages, my uncle (CEO of Indus Earth) told me that one of the things they really want is furniture for their school. He asked if I could help with that, and I said yes! We went to look at the school, where part of the wall had fallen in, and saw the building had become so unsafe that the villagers had begun to build another, smaller building with their own money – half the size of my son’s classroom. When the children were asked ‘who wants to go to school?’, all of them raised their hands. I’m told more girls than boys attend school in these areas – they are much more interested and motivated.
Some encounters change you. I promised them them that I would raise the money to buy school furniture (they sit 2 to a desk), a desk for the teacher, 2 table fans and repairs to the school building. All that will cost about £1,200. I can do that. I will.
It’s late as I’m writing this, almost midnight. The wifi is intermittent because we are near a VIP house which employs signal jammers as a security measure, and now that I’ve got a decent signal, I want to make the most of it. Tomorrow we have a meeting with Bindya, the head of the transgender community in Karachi. Aisha has been practising with different camera lenses to prepare for possible light conditions and I’ve found someone to be our interpreter and driver – he’s a student friend of the daughter of the wife of my mother’s cousin. I don’t know what to expect tomorrow, or who or where we will meet, but after 2 very brief conversations with B (my urdu and her english don’t allow for more) I already like her.
[for more pics of our trip, visit Aisha’s tumblr page]