Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: pakistan

Letting Conditions Go

I’m reading a book called The Poisonwood Bible about a missionary who takes his wife and daughters to the Congo in the late 50s. It gets so familiar that it jars me. I like to think that my missionary philosophy was a direct response to his. He wanted to show Africa the power of American Evangelicalism. I wanted to see some kind of Sindhi Evangelicalism take root. We called it Incarnational Ministry, and Paul’s commitment to “become all things to all people” was my modus operandi.

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It made me a gentler missionary than Nathan Price, I suppose. And it allowed me to see some beauty in Pakistan and her cultures. But I was still a fundamentalist, so I couldn’t see the value of any faith here, except insofar as it accorded with the core of my own.

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So despite my desi dress and family and lifestyle, I was still set apart–in Sindh but not of it. I suppose I took it as a badge of honour at the time. But my constant dissatisfaction with the way my neighbours worshipped and viewed the world built a wall around me, and they could sense it.

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I’ve come to embrace a new mantra since then, borrowed from a Christian ska band: Freedom means love without condition. I still can’t say that I am of Sindh, but I can embrace my family and friends here with a kind of abandon I wasn’t able to before. I’m thankful for that much.

Picnic

We went for a picnic in Noni’s village. I haven’t seen them for eight years. The children all grew up. The adults haven’t changed much. I was showered with hugs and wet kisses. I didn’t realized how much I’d missed them.

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Ruth’s Maasi–mother’s sister

It’s not the same village they were in when I lived here. Apparently there was a quarrel with the landlord and they had to move.

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Ruth’s Maaser–mother’s sister’s brother

We found Ambo in the fields, planting cotton with his wife and kids. We crossed through on raised paths and sat in a little copse of trees. There were little green mangos already growing on one. We peeled some, and ate them with salt.

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Ambo tells me cotton is one of the best things to plant, because it grows all year round. He asked if we planted cotton in Canada. I said I was pretty sure we don’t. A few more relatives took a break from fieldwork to join us.

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I didn’t eat much, but I laughed a lot. I wondered why I hadn’t had a picnic in the field back when I lived here. Then someone started smoking hash, and I remembered that missionaries don’t often get invited where there’s hash in the air.

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I wonder what it would be like to live here now that I no longer believe I’m on God’s great mission to ‘fix’ everything.

It’s been one week since I left my home.

Took a plane and went to Pakistan alone. My wife and kids must be missing me, and I still haven’t blogged at all about my journey.

Don’t blame me, it’s been a whirlwind.

I took a day in Karachi to rest and draw up energy. Considering how I feel now, it was a good choice. IMG_0081.JPG

Saddar is the only part of Karachi I know well, so I picked a hotel there. But it’s changed. What used to be an eternal excavation site has grown up into a mall. There’s a cinema and a Dunkin’ Donuts and everything–donut was a bit stale, but the coffee was great. I would have seen a movie but the one I wanted to watch started at 10:30 and I wasn’t looking forward to walking back to my hotel after midnight in Saddar.

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No Dunkin’ Donuts in Sanghar, of course. That’s where I’ll be spending most of my time, hanging with my in-laws. I haven’t been taking the best pictures because it’s been busy enough just sitting and eating and smiling with everyone.

Guest Post – News from i117

Hello friends!

It’s that time of year again–no, not Halloween. Widow’s Christmas Party!

In all the busyness of life it’s easy to forget about the hardships of people on the other side of the world. All the little things that make life in Canada comfortable and ‘safe’ tend to clutter up our attention. It is hard to keep the poor in mind when our hands are so full with work and school and kids and Halloween parties and whatever else we fill our lives with. Our goodies distract us.

Our widow friends have started to ask if the gathering is on for this year. I want to say ‘yes!’ And I want you to be a part of that ‘yes!’

With $600 we could throw a great party for these marginalized people of Sindh. Like each year, we will feed them, give them gifts of much-needed supplies and clothing, and share the love of Jesus. It’s a small sum of money that can be turned into a huge sum of love.

If you’d like to take part, go to i117’s Paypal site. Or message me through Facebook or e-mail.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, … For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
– Matthew 25:34-35

Hey Ruth, I guess you’ve arrived.

Must have been a long flight, eh? It’ll be worth it. And even if the trip over was really bad, I bet you earned a couple cool stories, at least.

Avatar1Asha and I had a good day. You know that Golden Avatar record I love that everyone else hates? It turns out Asha loves it, too. And without the baby to worry about, we can crank the volume pretty loud. I hope the neighbours don’t mind 70s Jazz Rock / Fusion.

It’s about 5:30am in Karachi. I hope you and Joe and Dev are asleep. I hope it’s a great sleep that drains away the stress of travel. I think travel mostly feels like a burden when we’re obsessed with the place we’re getting to. We forget that wherever we are is a pretty good place.

There’s a long drive ahead of you when you wake up. I bet it’ll be a crowded one, too. I remember going down that long highway between Karachi and the Interior. I always wanted to stop the car and get out for a little walk in the wide and rocky emptiness. But we were so concerned with getting to point B that we figured nothing along the way would be interesting.

You’ve got a lot of wonderful plans for wonderful things to see while you’re there. I hope you don’t forget that there are wonderful things to see no matter where you are. On a highway to Hyderabad. In a slummy hostel in Saddar. Everywhere you look.

I have arrived–I am home.

My destination is in each step.

Have a mindful second day, Ruth. I’ll say Hey again tomorrow.

Hey Ruth

Hey Ruth.

It felt weird right when you and the boys slipped out of sight in the terminal. I looked down at Asha and she looked up at me. She felt it to. We decided the best way to deal with the weirdness was to go home and play video games. I might have fed her chips for dinner. But we had rice for desert, so that balances things out.

The house was quiet when she went to bed. No sounds except the humming of the heater. And the cars going up and down Bloor. And the karaoke party next door. Very quiet for Toronto. I’d be sitting on the floor talking with you right now, if you were here. I’m trying to think of what we’d be talking about. Or would we be finally beating Act II in Diablo? Or sipping wine to scratchy vinyls? Or furiously doing dishes and making lunches for tomorrow so we can collapse in bed sometime before midnight? Whatever we’d be doing, it would have been fun, eh?

I bet you’re beat right now. Urdu meh suffar hai, aur angrezi meh bhi suffer hai, na? Someone at the karaoke party just started belting out A Whole New World. I like the part where Jasmine is getting overwhelmed with the magic carpet right and Aladdin says,

Don’t you dare close your eyes.

Hold your breath, it gets better.

Have a strong first day of your trip, Ruth. I’ll say Hey again tomorrow.

Tea with the landlord

Kunri, Sindh.  2006

Our landlord lives in the flat below us. He invites me over for tea in the evening, after the nap. His place is nicer than ours. I like ours better, though. We have the roof. It’s one of the biggest buildings in Kunri—three storeys. And the high walls on the roof make it look taller, though they do spoil our view.

I sit with my landlord on the charpai. His English is good, and I’m grateful. I’ve only been in Pakistan a year and Urdu still makes me nervous. We talk about all sorts of things. He asks me about my family. He asks me about Canada. Strange, I don’t seem to ask him much.

He brings up religion. They always do here. I’m eager on this subject. I take control. I make my argument. Tight and powerful. I show the weak spot in his (what shall I call it?) cosmology. Proved. Done. QED.

But he doesn’t get it. He has no answer, but he is unconvinced. Seeing that the stakes are raised, he throws his own attack at me. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. Nothing I haven’t thought of before. It doesn’t faze me. I have no answer to give him, though. And the look on his face tells me he thinks he’s won something.

The conversation moves on, I suppose. I hardly notice. If only I’d had more time, I could have told him something clearer. Something that would have helped him see what I see. It’s just so obvious from my side, and I can’t understand why he can’t see it. He’s not an idiot, after all. I wonder, as we shake hands and I turn to go home, if he is thinking something similar about me.

I don’t sleep much that night. It’s hot. My bed is on the roof, nuzzled by winds that have been gentled by the high walls. I stare at the stars and ask my silent God to sow a seed in my landlord’s heart. To crack the hard shell of his delusion.

At least as much as he’s cracked mine.

Teaching in Kunri

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My classroom is small.  A second-storey room with an open window looking out to the fields in the nearby Christian district of Josephabad.  I have eight students in my split grade seven / eight class.  I look at them weakly this morning, because I’m in the middle of a malaria resurgence.  Today we’re trying to talk about history.  The history from their textbook is not the history I learned in school.  We aren’t learning about the First Nations people or the French Revolution.  Our histories are full of strange names like Jinnah, Nauru and Emperor Ackbar of the glorious Mughal Empire.  I ask if they know anything about European history.  One student tells me how much he loves Hitler.  It is hard to fight him and the malaria at the same time

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Morning Commute

I finish my tea and go back to my house.  We eat fried flat breads with last night’s chickpeas.  A bit of yogurt and raw onion to make the taste dance.  More chai.  I adjust my pathan cap and sindhi ajrak and gently carry my bicycle down the narrow stairs.  My wife follows in her burka, with our son.

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My son sits on the bar in front of me.  I screwed a little padded seat there for him.  He grins as he clutches the handlebars.  My wife pulls herself up on the rear rack while I hold the bike balanced.  Then we’re off.  What things can I see while we go through the streets of my town?  The shop we buy our firewood from.  The only honest yogurt vendor in town.  A child defecating by his front door—the same time every day.  I see goats tied to electric poles, red-mouthed paan vendors and little boys running to delivery steaming little tea pots and nearly clean cups.  I see rich men in large cars blocking the roads while I slip easily by them on my three-person bike.  I see yellow rickshaws crammed with schoolchildren and teachers.  I see the natural world of humanity, busied and arbitrary.  There is no difference between this place and the place I was born.

Chai Khana

The Chai KhanaI slip down the dark narrow stairs onto the bright dusty street.  There’s a lot going on.  Our corner of the intersection is the electrician’s part of town.  The shop right by our  door is owned by the guy who put in our line to the communal backup generator.  The shop around the corner is owned by the guy who fixed it when it exploded a day later.  The line, not the generator.

I cross the intersection, lazily dodging a motorbike weaving around a milkman’s donkey cart.  The milkman is bringing milk to the chai khana.  The chai walla smiles and raises his hand to me.  I shake his and sit on the bench, huddled in my chadar against the surprising chill.  Akbar and Faisal are there.  Akbar tells me a story about his village.  I hardly understand a word because he’s spoken Dhadki to me ever since he found out my wife was from a related tribe.  Faisal makes fun of him for it in Sindhi.  The chai walla smiles and hands me my chai on a clean saucer.