Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: July, 2011

Still in Prison

There are a few new developments regarding our dear friends stuck in prison here in Pakistan. Some of them are a little hard for me to understand because they are high legal things. I’ll do my best.

The Barnett’s lawyer and a representative from the Canadian High Commission met with a judge yesterday to discuss the case. Now they are waiting for the investigation officer to create a charge sheet. This is the next step in the process and leads to getting our friends in front of a judge. They hope the charge sheet will be completed by the end of the week. So, from my perspective, things are moving forward nicely.

In other news, the lawyer has recommended that we foreigners in Karachi adopt a hands-off approach to the situation. He’s asked us to no longer seek meetings or drop things off in person because of the potentially bad publicity it could bring to the case. Since I was able to see Hillary last week and Jodi was able to see Nate, we’re pretty much fine with this.

So now what?

Hard to say. I have been out of my element since arriving here. Karachi is a city I have never understood. I’m so thankful for friends in this town who, though they don’t know my friends as well as I do, have bent over backwards to help and help and help again. I don’t think I could have been able to pull off a tenth of all the amazing things they’ve done in this situation. And now that we’re being told to lay low and back off, I’m at a bit of a loss for what to do. Ruth is ill, so we may stay in the city until some of her medical tests are done. Or we may visit my in-laws for a couple days while Jodi and her new husband hold our place here in Karachi. Regardless, it’s good to know that the whole situation is moving forward and there is a whole bundle of hope at the end of the tunnel.

I’m encouraged and I feel optimistic. Everyone involved in this has been stellar. The lawyer, the friends in Karachi, the Canadian government, all you lovely people in Canada. I felt encouraged for the first time this week this morning. Just a settled sense that things were going to be okay eventually. Everything will be alright in the end. So if it isn’t alright, it’s not the end.

My Friends are in Prison in Pakistan


     Well now…

     It’s been an interesting time so far. For any of you who do not know what’s going on, I’ll start from the beginning.

     I arrived in Pakistan at the beginning of this week, eager to visit my family, in-laws and friends. During the very first night, my dear friends, Nathaniel and Hillary Barnett, were arrested by the Pakistani police.

     They had seen that their visa was going to expire a few weeks before their flight out of Pakistan. They sent their applications to to the government just like they had been told. But the application took much longer than they were led to believe and their visa expired while the process was still ongoing. Nate was arrested in the streets near their home in Karachi. Hillary was picked up at my in-laws house in Sanghar as they were busily preparing for a wedding.

     They are now in a federal penitentiary.

     They have a very good lawyer. His hope is that they can get the government to release them into house arrest until their flight, which is booked for the end of this month.

     Why is this happening? To throw people in prison for such a small thing is not common. Some people suggest that the current political is making things worse. Or maybe a few over-zealous police officers or magistrates have made it worse. It’s anyone’s guess. The result is the same.

     What can you do? You can do more than you think. I was just thinking of a neat passage uttered by the prophet Isaiah.

“You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.”

     I’d like to propose Operation No Rest. The first aspect of it is for those of you who pray. Just like Isaiah told his people to give God no rest until he restored Jerusalem, give your God no rest until he moves and takes his people out of prison.
     The second aspect is for those of you who are Canadian citizens. The lawyer has said one of the best things you can do on that side of the ocean is to contact ever MP and government official you can and tell them what’s going on and what you’d like them to do about it. And then to do it again. And again. And again until it becomes clear that the only way you’ll leave them alone is if they get mobilized and get our people out of prison.

     What are their conditions like? I was able to see Hillary yesterday. She’s in the women’s section of the prison and has not been able to communicate with her husband at all. Food and clothing are an issue but some friends and I are taking care of that for them both, making deliveries daily. She is strong and in reasonably good spirits. Her only real complaint is that she does not know what is happening to her husband. I hope to be able to see him in a few days.

     How are they being treated? Well, actually. The prison officials are kind and know that if Canadian citizens are mistreated there will be a lot of problems for them. They are guarded and protected. Which, to be honest, is a lot more than can be said for many of the others in that prison.

     My family and I plan to live in Karachi until this matter is resolved. I’ll be trying to get more information and keep you updated as best as I can. Hopefully daily.

Why I Rock at Airports

I’m sitting by gate 173 at Pearson right now. Stress-free. I’m always stress-free at airports. I think most people get nervous here. But I love it. The airport is a place that I basically have figured out. I zip through lines and security with ease. So, to pass the time, I figured I’d share my little list of things that make air travel easy.

  • Show up early. The lounge is a comfortable place. Boredom is better than panic. Show up early.
  • Smile. Most nervous people are cranky, irritable people. And that’s a shame. It’s also a time-killer. When I first arrive and go to check my luggage I make a point of greeting the clerk with a wild smile and a hearty ‘good morning.’ And you know what happens when I do that? They smile back. And that’s something special because that poor guy has been standing there for hours listening to cranky, nervous passengers complain about their oversized luggage and how they don’t want an aisle seat. A ridiculously cheerful face will smooth the entire experience more than you would believe.
  • Pack light. The security desk is the next stress-point for most people. I see people taking off shoes and belts and emptying pockets full of coins and pens and keys and God knows what else. And then they still set off the machine and you can see the panic in their eyes as they try to remove more and more from their person. You know what’s in my pockets? Nothing. I’ve no use for coins and my keys are clipped to my carry-on. I don’t wear a belt. I have flip-flops instead of shoes. The only things in my carry-on are things that I’m actually going to use in the airports and on the plane. Seriously, security guards smile when they see me. And it’s great to see them smile.
  • Satchels. I get mocked for my satchel. But when I see poor people fumbling with boarding passes and passports and ID and all those other things you think you need, I shake my head. A satchel is amazingly useful at an airport. My pockets are empty and my passes and passports are close at hand.
  • Relax. So much stress is self-inflicted. Airports are an adventure. Enjoy yourself. Take in the sites. Write a blog. I enjoy looking out the massive windows at the technicians preparing the planes.

That’s really all it takes. Lots of smiles. Little possessions. Almost seems like a good model for life, doesn’t it?

See you on the other side!

Albums that Deserve to be on Repeat

I always approach the subject of music … cautiously.

For one, I know next to nothing about it. Though not for lack of trying, really. I learned to play guitar, but without a chord sheet in front of me I’m useless. And don’t you dare ask me to tune the thing. Music doesn’t flow from me. I get it and I appreciate it. But it will never come from me.

Also, there is always an element of judgement that comes in when people talk about their favorite music. Claiming to like, say, Justin Bieber will get you either ridiculed or praised depending on where you happen to say it. So deep in the part of my brain that is still insecure and self-conscious, I fear judgement if my preferred musics are not cool enough for whatever crowd I’m talking to.

But some music is special. Some music has that neat ability to reach inside my creative centre and stroke it gently to life. And I want to share those albums that do that.

1) Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog – Joss Whedon

If you have not seen Joss Whedon’s classic short film, you are missing out. On life. Seriously. It’s a mere fortyish minutes long and it deserves to be watched. You can find the entire show on Youtube. It’s witty, zany and full of fun. It’s a creative masterpiece. Go watch it. Seriously, don’t finish reading this blog until you’ve seen it. It’s better than this blog. And so is its soundtrack.

2) Siren Song of the Counter Culture – Rise Against

A fellow can get used to anything. Even screaming. Rise Against has been a favorite since I first heard them in Pakistan. Their anger-charged music touches something primal and pure. That righteous dissatisfaction with a screwed-up system. I was seriously sad when I found out they are coming to Toronto the day I fly to Pakistan.

3) Introspection – pjt

I went to school with this guy. Isn’t that cool? This whole album is great. All the songs cry out for freedom and authenticity. “I don’t believe it’s right / to let others define your life / I can do anything I’m interested in / And I’m interested in all that I can do.”

4) Aaja Nachle – Salim and Sulaiman Merchant

This Bollywood gem is about a girl returning to her hometown to convince her conservative neighbours to put on a play. It’s a celebration of the creative spirit and every single song carries that flag. “Stand apart from the crowd / Show us your dreams / Show Me Your Jalwa (glory)”

5) The End is Near – Five Iron Frenzy

These guys were huge with the Christian white kids in the 90s. But don’t hold that against them. They are worthy in their own right and rise above the shameless preaching of a lot of their contemporaries. This is one of their last albums and, I think, their zenith.

6) Last Night on Earth – Noah and the Whale

It was hard to pick only one album for these guys. I’ve only known about them for a little while but I’m seriously in love with them. Their songs touch on every part of humanity, from it’s highest to its lowest.


7) First Love – Emmy the Great

Silky sweet voice and melancholy songs. What could be better? She just came out with a new album, too, though I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet. She lives up to her name.



8) Exodus – Bob Marley

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t love Bob Marley, at least a little. His wild optimism and spirit of Love is infectious.

What songs and albums and artists have inspired you?



Advice for Matt Going to Pakistan

     Do you ever give yourself advice? It’s a good process. Because you’re much more likely to value what you say to yourself than what other people say. That’s just the way things go.

     I’m going to Pakistan on Saturday. It’s been two years. In the scant moments of free time I have while I prepare for the trip, I remember what it was like and I wonder what I need to do to prepare myself for the trip. I drew up a list of advice I am giving myself to make the trip the best it can be. I hope I listen. I should. I’m experienced, after all, having lived completely immersed in rural Pakistani culture for about four years.

  • Chill the hell out! Seriously, Matt. Just freakin’ relax. You get too stressed out over tiny cultural annoyances. Yes, people are going to stand too close to you when they talk. Yes, you are going to get offered more food than you want. Yes, people are going to follow you around when you want to be alone because they are afraid that you might be lonely. Deal with it. The problem doesn’t lie in Pakistan, it lies in you.
  • Remember it’s more complicated than it looks. When you see poor kids on the street, resist the urge to raise your fist at the first rich guy you see. Issues of global poverty, women’s rights, and religious turmoil are as complex as the cultures they are born from. You think you’ll walk in there from your comfy suburb and have the insight to fix it all? Fat chance. Odds are you’ll just try to work against fringe symptoms and end up pissing people off with no real benefit.
  • Go to learn, not to teach. I hate to have to say this, Matt, but someone has to. You are an arrogant S.O.B. I know that you think you have the insight of the gods with which you can smite every root of suffering and injustice. But you don’t. Because, frankly, you’re a bit of an idiot. So stop trying to tell everyone what to do. You’re ignorant and ill-informed. Why don’t you just shut your mouth and take this opportunity to soak in the viable and unique way of looking at the world that Pakistan offers. You cannot put water in a glass that’s already full, after all.
  • Quit being right all the time. Remember all those neat cultural quirks that you hated and took it upon yourself to attack? Quit doing that. You can’t get rid of them and you just piss people off. And, let’s face it, you don’t know what you’re talking about anyway. Like when you used to bitch about having to wear nice shoes to church when you just ended up taking them off at the door? Yeah, don’t do that. You’re not right. Or when you rebuked people for doing their work in a way that you deemed inefficient? Yeah, don’t do that. You’re not right. Because when you try to be right all the time, people get the (accurate) impression that you’re just another white guy coming over to tell the natives how they ought to live. For the love of God, Matt, do not be that guy.
  • Expectations work against you. What? You expected that Pakistan was full of nothing but charming, quaint people who smile all day and sing Bollywood tunes? What? You didn’t expect that there would be a similar ratio of jerk:nice as there in in Canada? What do you really know about Pakistan? After four years, nothing. Say it with me Matt, ‘I know nothing’. Because you don’t. You read books and you lived there, but you know nothing. It takes a lifetime to know and understand a single individual. It would take a thousand years to understand a culture (by which time the culture would have evolved into something totally different anyway). Don’t expect anything. Don’t fall into the deathly trap of thinking in terms of ‘the Pakistani way vs. the Canadian way’. Just roll, friend. Just roll.
  • Eat slowly. Yeah, you remember how long it takes a white stomach to get normal over there. Take it easy, champ.
  • Smile. It’s a cool place filled with cool people. Enjoy them for what they are. Laugh with strangers, dance with friends. Give joy and be willing to receive it when it’s offered to you.
  • Embrace. The people you meet are more like you than you realize. There is not us vs. them. There is only us. If there is a them, it’s God (or aliens, I suppose). That Hindu fellow in the village who cannot read and works in the fields? He’s a man like you. That Muslim woman, all covered up as she floats through the bazaar? She’s a soul like yours. That kid on the street, that angry-faced preacher, that smiling shopkeeper. They are all carriers of the Divine. And so are you. Look around at that strangers and remember that they are not strange. Greet those strangers and call them ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. Rejoice in the things you have in common. Learn from the things that are different.
  • Love. Matt, I realize that your memory isn’t the best. And that’s okay. I love you anyway. So if you manage to forget everything I’m telling you know, just try to remember this last one. Because if you can pull this last one off, you’ll be alright.

     See you on the other side.


Canada Day

They say that Canadians are not patriotic. I guess that’s because we get compared to our American neighbours. Have you ever been to an American July 4th celebration? Kinda scary. Like … rabid.

But while I’m not the type to paint my face in the national colours or chant in the streets every time we kill an enemy, I still love Canada. And for lots of reasons.

  • Pluralism. More than any other country I’ve been to, we tolerate each other. Muslim, Hindu, Christian, we generally get along here. You worship trees? Come on over for dinner anyway. You voted for the communist party? I think that’s strange, but let me buy you a beer anywho. The only thing we don’t really tolerate is intolerance, I think. And I can live with that.
  • Spelling. Ah, the blessed letter U. Colour! Favourite! Neighbour! My spell-checker is trying to throw red underlines on all these words, but it just doesn’t understand.
  • Global Rep. We’re so well-liked across the world that Americans are sewing our flag onto their backpacks. I got great comments when I lived in Pakistan. “You American?” “No, Canadian.” “Ah! You don’t hate Muslims!” “No. No I don’t.” The joys of not throwing ourselves into every war.
  • Tim Hortons. Double-doubles and Timbits for everyone!
  • The Land. The Rockies. Temagami. The East Coast. It’s a seriously pretty place we’ve got. And, at least more than most countries, we seem to care about it. Not as much as we should, but we’re getting there.
  • Multiculturalism. Salwar Kameez and Karahi are as Canadian as blue jeans and hamburgers. I delight in the fact that so many different people with different ideas and cultures and backgrounds can get together in a wild country like ours and live in peace. It allows a sheltered white boy like me to learn from the combined cultural democracy of the entire human race, because the entire human race lives next door.
  • Social Benefits. The average Canadian was scratching their head when the Americans were yelling about public health care. Because, seriously, public health care rocks. Whatever abuses of the system there are, as one who has been on the receiving end, I contend they are worth it.
  • Food. What other nation has the guts to get fries, deep-fried in oil, and smother them in cheese curds and gravy? What tastes sweeter than fresh, hot Beaver Tails? Nothing. That’s what.
  • Eh. We actually say it.
  • It’s my place. What can I say? I fell in love with a darker country across the sea. It’s true, Pakistan is my lover. But Canada, Oh Canada, you are my mother. You are my comfortable place. My warm, gentle place. You’ve molded me in wild ways and I wouldn’t trade my Canadianism for anything. When I finally leave you, I’ll be taking you with me. Thanks, Canada.

What do you love about Canada?