I would like to have Hillary Clinton over to my farmhouse in New England. I would serve her tea spiced with cardamoms, whole wheat chappatis brushed with butter, dipped in yoghurt and spiced lentils, and rice pilaf with layers of chicken and saffron. The aromas would transport us to my other world, Pakistan, where I was raised and which is now the epicenter of so much strife. Hillary is a woman I admire, who has demonstrated such courage. But how does she feel really? I know she has travelled all over Pakistan and the region, but not the way I travel when I am there.
So I would tell her this story:
The truck was packed with 40 riders on top of sacks of flour, wheat and rice. All were armed. I was bundled into an enveloping chador (veil), sitting next to Wali Ahmed, a tribal elder who had been a friend of my family for generations. The truck was headed south to the port city of Karachi. Wali was in search of his brother Saeed. I was allowed to travel in the cab of the truck because I had offered to talk with the authorities and help in the search. Wali found me - a Pakistani woman educated in the US - a fascinating friend, but an unlikely ally. Desperation makes for strange partners! I had known him and his family since I was a child. His wife had come to me and begged me to help, and I could not refuse.
When loved ones disappear it throws the whole structure of a family out of kilter. I could afford to travel by plane, but I wanted to experience the life of people who are not as privileged as I am.
Some men were cleaning their guns; others were chewing tobacco. Strangers were discussing the political situation. One said, "First we were struggling against the Russians and now we are struggling against ourselves."
Wali listened and felt the bitterness rise in his throat. All these foreigners had come into Afghanistan and destroyed the land. He looked at the peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains, stained with the colors of the dawn. Even the sky bleeds for us, he thought. The eagles were taking wing. He sent a fervent prayer heavenward.
From the East and the West, from Kabul to Peshawar from Persia and China, this stretch of road was uneven and full of ruts. The noise was deafening: engines accelerating, animals braying, men shouting, whistles… The chaotic stream was stopped often by police barricades. The whole place felt like a trap. Perhaps the police would discover that Wali was going to find his brother, who was taken by the Americans. They would stop him and chase him and make him disappear as Saeed had disappeared.
Then Wali remembered the holy man's prediction and took heart. All he had to do was to cross the Arabian Sea. Saeed was across its vast expanse and he, Wali, had proof that Saeed was an innocent bystander not a criminal...Saeed had never even heard of Al Qaeda.
I went with Wali to the U.S. embassy, where we met with many people -- lawyers, concerned human right activists, NGOs.... The story and the search go on, stretching over months and years, and are laced with despair and the optimism that the family will someday be reunited...
So I would like to sit quietly at brunch and ask Hillary if peaceful means and really listening to the stories of human experience could inform policy. Can cultural diplomacy partnered with other necessary plans moderate the suffering? Can the power of the spirit drive meaningful change? I will tell you after we have had this delicious brunch!
Samina Quraeshi is the Gardner Fellow/Visiting Artist at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University where she is preparing a book, exhibition, Symposia and concerts that illuminate the mystical dimensions of Islam. She and her husband Richard are principals at Shepard/Quraeshi Associates, Inc, a design and architecture firm. She has lectured from Alaska to Moscow on the importance of art and culture as a strategic resource for change and learning, on the cultural aspects of Pakistan and Islam and the role of women. Learn more about Samina at www.saminaquraeshi.com