Coming to Colorado

Jul 32014
  • "Denver is similar to Islamabad— the city I have chosen to call home back in Pakistan," said Pakistani journalist Midhat Ali Zaidi. "It’s an urban center, yet in close proximity to the mountains."

Away from home and away from those who had escorted the fellows of the U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism exchange program in Washington, D.C., preparing us for any culture shock we might experience, that is how I began my three-week work placement in Denver.

I have to admit that I felt a sense of disappointment when I learned where I would be working in the United States prior to my departure from Pakistan. I had been expecting to be placed somewhere like New York. But Manhattan is what you think of as America when you are a Pakistani traveling to the United States for the very first time.

And travel I did! After a 24-hour journey to the States and another flight from D.C., I finally landed in Denver, a city nestled at the foot of the mighty Rockies. Though I had done some Google searches on Denver, I was not at all prepared for the spectacular views it had to offer.

Denver is similar to Islamabad – the city I have chosen to call home back in Pakistan. It’s an urban center, yet in close proximity to the mountains. One walk through the downtown area and I was instantly in love with the liveliness of Denver and its mostly young population.

But the reason for sending us on this media placement was not to take leisurely strolls or form opinions about the geography. We were on a mission to learn about American journalism and how local media operate here. What better place to get a taste of true American television than to be in a PBS newsroom!

Beginning with my first day at work with the Monday morning news meeting, we discussed potential local ballot measures coming this fall. The issues ranged from fracking to a potential measure to ban dog euthanasia under certain circumstances.

“What kind of people are they?” I thought to myself, wondering why they weren’t discussing important issues like world terrorism and their country’s role in the global war. Over the course of my stay I would learn that Americans live in a kind of disconnect from the happenings in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Except, of course, for the fact that they, too, receive the bodies of their citizens who are victims of terrorism or the global war being fought against it.

Realities of life can be much the same in America as they are anywhere else in the world. The white-washed façade of an American lifestyle struggles to hide realities like poverty, homelessness and gun violence, which have claimed the lives of many innocent Americans; the pain and grief that these issues cause go side-by-side with human existence.

As I learn more about America and the people that live here, I find them to be the most openly honest and genuinely nice people I have ever come in contact with. Their graciousness and hospitality impress me. At the same time, I see the elderly homeless guy who sits on the sidewalk outside my hotel, never attracting the attention of passersby.

And then I think of all the death and destruction in my own land, much of which can be attributed to the shifts in American foreign policies in the past. This coupled with the greed of our own leaders who have most keenly pimped out our country and people just so they can accumulate more “dollars” in their Swiss bank accounts, has landed the population in a cycle of violence and poverty where they struggle even for the basic amenities of life.

To me, the disparities that exist in both societies are a reflection of how people living in such different lands can suffer in much of the same manner, how government policies might not always be designed to benefit the general populace and how some people can climb the economic and social ladder quickly while others can get stuck in a cycle of poverty. But from what I have observed, there is an undercurrent of hope in the conversations here in Colorado and in the rest of the states, a glimmer of faith in an economy that is trying to get back on its feet. Such hope is what has gone missing from the lives of Pakistanis… maybe this is what we are here to learn and bring back to our society.