Photo Essay: Surviving with a smile

Published: September 22, 2010
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A girl with grey eyes stares in to the lens PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD

A shy girl smiles as aid is distributed in the school where her family has temporarily taken shelter PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD A young girl whose family fled their village when Manchar Lake was flooded PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD A passing truck was attacked by desperate flood survivors PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD Children play in a makeshift tent city PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD There is pain at the camps but there is also love. PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD An injured boy manages to smile for the camera PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD A girl with grey eyes stares in to the lens PHOTO: MEHEK ASAD

I am a traveler. When I was six years old I was flying to the moon in a make-shift cardboard space ship now I travel to Rome, Marakesh and Indonesia in the span of one year.

I try not only to immerse myself in a village, city or country but also its soul.  This week end for the first time in my life, I felt like I experienced the soul of Pakistan. At a camp in Sehwan Sharif for internally displaced persons (IDP) I witnessed need, desperation, anguish and pain but also laughter, smiles and gratitude.

In the West we associate the word poverty with Africa. Poverty is something we see on TV – it’s a soap opera made in a studio somewhere. At the moment, that studio happens to be Pakistan. My first exposure to this poverty was a riot which halted our van after a three hour journey to Sehwan. Men, women and children were scrambling onto a large relief truck. It was only after watching the chaos for a few minutes that I realized that the first handful of people were now at the bottom of the mass of desperation.

After the aid had been pillaged their attention turned to us. We were their next source of relief and it was getting harder to escape that area without presenting the goods. When we finally reached the camp after another few hours, word had already spread. Hundreds of people swarmed around us, thrusting ID cards, papers and malnourished children into our hands. Urdu not being my first language, and obviously not speaking Sindhi, I used the only medium I knew how to communicate. I started taking pictures. As soon as I looked through my lens I saw a different world. I did not see tears, anguish or desperation. I saw laughter, smiles and harmony. More laughter than in the streets of Karachi. We just need to look for it.

If you turn left at the riots, the violence and devastation you will unearth an innate desire to survive. A desire that is not cunning, devious or deceitful but pure, unpolluted and chaste. Through the lens of my camera I experienced the soul of Pakistan.

These are the people of our future. If they can manage to smile, so can we.

Are you a photographer, artist or graphic designer? If you are a visual story teller and would like to be featured on The Express Tribune Blogs write to us at [email protected]

mehek.asad

Mehek Asad

A medical student at the University of Manchester

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • rana

    Lovely photos. Nonesnse text.Recommend

  • Abdullah

    How the editors at this newspaper allow such nonsense to be published is beyond me. What was the purpose of this article?

    Let’s see…

    When I was six years old I was flying to the moon in a make-shift cardboard space ship now I travel to Rome, Marakesh and Indonesia in the span of one year.

    Really? Flying to the moon? Lame. Plus, Rome and Marakesh are cities and Indonesia is a country. Why would anyone bunch them into the same group? I was taught not to do this in grade school. Additionally, travelling to three countries in one year on planes is not a big deal. Certainly nothing to be proud of because you’re increasing your carbon footprint.

    In the West we associate the word poverty with Africa. Poverty is something we see on TV – it’s a soap opera made in a studio somewhere.

    This is reality…and live footage of poverty in Africa on most news channels (if the writer has seen any) is not prepared in studios.

    It was only after watching the chaos for a few minutes that I realized that the first handful of people were now at the bottom of the mass of desperation.

    What does this mean?

    I did not see tears, anguish or desperation. I saw laughter, smiles and harmony. More laughter than in the streets of Karachi. We just need to look for it.

    You did not see tears, anguish or desperation because you ignored it and probably asked them to smile for you. As for laughter on the streets of Karachi. Contact me next time and I will show you similar poverty in Karachi in the form of street children who are abused and molested and ignored by us who sit in their air conditioned cars at traffic lights. You won’t have to make the 3 hour journey to Sehvan Sharif

    If you turn left at the riots, the violence and devastation you will unearth an innate desire to survive. A desire that is not cunning, devious or deceitful but pure, unpolluted and chaste.

    What? Turn left? Then straight ahead?

    The photographs were also sub-standard. No composition, no originality. Anyone with a decent DSLR can take these photos.

    I want my 5 minutes back! Very disappointing. Recommend

  • Suzie

    Abdullah, I think it was clear what the purpose of this article was about it was about the spirit of adventure and trying to gain a real understanding of another culture whilst travelling. I think your comments are a bit childish to be honest and yes this may not be a essay prize but I don’t think it was written to be one and I found it interesting to read from the point of view of experiencing another culture and what it means to travel.

    I think it is important to understand that there is no such thing as one culture but many cultures filled with different understandings and sometimes contradictory understandings. Some understandings that you may not agree with or found as your own personal experience of visiting these places yourself. I think that is the beauty of travelling. It does not make your own understandings of these places false neither does it make hers false.

    What makes you so angry about this article and these photographs? Because she has showed photographs of children with smiles on their faces? Ofcourse as a reader we are aware that anguish, pain and suffering exist but it would be narrow minded to think that people can’t laugh and smile in the same breath. This is what makes these people human. I am sick of poverty stricken malnourished people being reduced and objectified almost as one dimensional people who can only experience sadness and despair. Or that these two contradictories experiences can’t exist at the same time. This is called human spirit, it is universal and it exists everywhere.

    Everyone wants to say ‘I KNOW POVERTY’, ‘THIS IS REAL POVERTY’ and ‘I’ll SHOW YOU REAL POVERTY”. Are her experiences not equally valid? Then we could see some more photographs of gaunt looking miserable children which look like everyone other gaunt looking miserable child experiencing poverty. I think what the author here may be trying to talk about when she mentions poverty being like a soap opera and made in a studio is the how we have become hugely desensitised to images of poverty, suffering and starvation…another reporter standing in a dusty village somewhere in Africa….a different reporter, standing in a dusty village with a crying child somewhere in…[switches channel]. What people need to show is that they are just like us? That those people ‘out there’ are the same, they laugh, they cry, they smile, they weep, they play and these may all be happening whilst there are riots. People want to see human beings and what you would prefer her show is molested and abused children….well maybe the next student on summer break with an SLR can do that next week! Recommend

  • omerk

    Suzie, please don’t feed the troll. Recommend

  • D S Abbas

    Each photograph speaks volumes. Excellent article, I particularly loved the concluding paragraphs.Recommend

  • http://academicwritingblog.com Dave

    Well, the pictures are worth a 1000 words. Kudos to the author.Recommend