Uncovering Pakistan’s Hidden Jewels – Cynthia Ritchie’s Journey
By Cynthia Ritchie
As an adventure traveler, I love taking paths lesser known. For me, the journey is more important than the destination.
To be immersed in a world of yellow and red fragrant masala spices piled into small mountainous displays along the food streets; seeing women wrapped in colourful panels of scarves and flowing tunics; me slowly picking out words of the regional languages, and watching a smile emerge from a local when we both realize we finally understand one another… to me, this is a fascinating life abroad. More specifically, this is another facet of life in Pakistan.
(Above) Cynthia at Taxila, Punjab, an active archaeological dig site, with the lead Professor Dr. Ashraf Khan and his students from Quaid-i-Azam University. According to the University, women comprise of over 60% of archaeological students at the college level and over 80% at the graduate level. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this ancient Buddhist Monastery dates back to approximately 6th century BCE.
So why is this important? Why Pakistan? This isn’t only about Pakistan. It’s more about our global community and how we are seeing one another. We need a perception reality check.
Every day we are bombarded with evil acts, on TV and online – so much so that we now find it cathartic to balance our negative media exposure with clips of puppies and cats doing funny things and adorable babies laughing. And while I also enjoy these clips, I realized we run the risk of losing our humanity by not actually going out and exploring our world. We should be curious and concerned; we should be asking questions of others and their cultures and their faiths and why they do what they do; all of which means taking chances and thinking critically. It’s called experiential learning – and it’s an essential part of our well-rounded development as humans at the micro and macro levels.
If we don’t share positive human experiences as equally as we do the heinous crimes committed, I fear we will be become a self-fulfilling prophesy: imagining the world is a bad place, and all are bad people; so we stockpile guns, hide in our homes and await the apocalypse, because we’ve actually begun to think that some of us are superior to others. One side is ‘evil’ the other side is ‘good’, but both sides are determined to exterminate the other.
Remember the classic ‘Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes’ experiment conducted by teacher and activist, Jane Elliott.
In a classroom setting, Jane tells a group of children with blue eyes they are superior to the children with brown eyes, and the children begin behaving accordingly. After some time Jane switches the experiment, telling the children with brown eyes they are, in fact, superior. And only a small number of the children question Jane and her truthfulness at that point. In contemporary society, the media is Jane and the viewers are the children.
My grandmother used to say: there is a bad apple in every bunch, and there is a naughty child in every class. But do we throw away the entire bunch of fruit? Do we punish, discourage and constantly remind the whole class how naughty the child is? No. We separate the good from the bad, otherwise the bad risks contaminating the good.
Attention is one of the greatest reinforcers. The vast majority of media is focusing on what a small percentage of dangerous people are doing. And while there is no doubt these dangerous individuals and groups should be neutralized, we also need a more balanced media to show some good. Otherwise the media is reinforcing the dangerous behavior and, as viewers, we are complicit in this reinforcement by contributing to increased ratings.
So this is why I do what I do: there is beauty and inspiration in the world, and we (or at least I) need to go out into the world, to find it and be reminded of it.
From Pakistan to America and beyond, we have just as much in common as differences. There are challenges in every society and there are inspirational stories in every society.
Friends have called me the ‘female Indiana Jones’- and I suppose it’s because I love uncovering lesser known facets of civilization: from ancient artifacts to new technologies developed by young entrepreneurs, to the girls and women who defy convention and the men and communities who support them.
These are the positive stories of the Pakistan I know, which is representative of a world I’d like to believe in. This doesn’t mean there aren’t serious challenges in the country- there are. But since there is already so much coverage of the negative, I’d like to share some of the hidden jewels of Pakistan- treasures that were there all along, they just need to be uncovered.
(Above) Cynthia with female commandos of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, in Nowshera training facility. Amongst this group of women are a Christian and single mother. All volunteer for this posting; living together, training together. They are a true team and have the full support of the Commandant, senior male officers, as well as their families. Despite the language challenges, we trained together on this day, trusting in one another and providing encouragement during the more rigorous exercises.
(Above) Cynthia with female fighter pilots of the Pakistan Air Force, at Mianwali Air Force Base. These women defy convention- electing to remain single while serving their country. Their male colleagues treat them as equals. Some of the women had challenges explaining to their parents the life path they wanted- but they were determined, and ultimately succeeded.
(Above) Young female boxers in a club in Lyari, Sindh, prepare to give Cynthia boxing lessons. Lyari has historically been known as one of the poorest and most violent areas in the country. The founder, a former professional boxer himself, wanted the local girls to be able to defend themselves, to have confidence as equals in society. The men who founded and support this club and the young girls all defied convention- as boxing is not a sport traditionally taught to girls. Eventually the community came to together to support the idea; the club is currently undergoing an upgrade with monies from the girls’ families and community.