Getting my hands dirty in Islamabad

Published: March 3, 2011

It was my friend who started picking up the trash on our way back.

Freak weather and climate change, have made for some beautiful Sundays in Islamabad. Yesterday was one of them. So, a friend and I decided to make the best of it by hitting one of the picturesque trails – the perfect antidote to the bureaucratic air that otherwise prevails the environs of the capital.

The atmosphere was quite festive. What a blessing it is to walk in the woods, I had thought to myself. The tribulations of the week were shaken off almost magically as we trudged along the trail taking in the scenery. Nature’s palette was especially vibrant that day.

Bronze and gold leaves shaded the path covered with burnt orange berries.

Our commute with nature was disturbed when we spotted a chocolate wrapper entangled in the bramble, a juice box carelessly strewn among the berries and dozens of empty mineral water bottles on the grass next to the path.

When I noticed the litter, I shook my head in disapproval. But my friend started picking the trash up. When her hands were now full of garbage I joked at the unhygienic nature of the activity.

My friend laughed and said:

“This is the problem. We are happy to live in a swamp, as long as our hands are washed. How sensible!”

The statement had the desired effect and I proceeded to vigorously collect the garbage. We deposited it in a trash can at the end of the trail.

The authorities had provided trash can, if only we had the civic sense to use it.

Cleaning up Pakistan

My friend’s statement stayed with me throughout the day. It made me think of our overall attitude. Is it enough to not litter, without feeling the responsibility to do our bit to clean?

Can we be happy living in a swamp as long as we have clean hands? How long can we tolerate a bad public education system, conveniently opting for private education?

How long can we not raise a voice against the mismanagement of energy sector, so long as the generator at our home/office is working? How long can we turn a blind eye to lack of health facilities, as long we can approach the best doctors in their private clinics?

The list is long and the clean hands are an illusion. The question is are we willing to pick up the trash – even if it means getting our hands a little dirty?

Shirin Gul

Shirin Gul

A development professional teaching culture and research at a local university in Islamabad.

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

  • Khurram

    This is the problem. We are happy to live in a swamp, as long as our hands are washed. How sensible!”

    Very well said…I hope every body start doing a little bit on there part, and the result will be astoshing…Recommend

  • Hafsa Farooq Maan

    If only a program could be undertaken to create awareness or a punishment for such behavior, whichever works best. I wonder what holds people back in other parts of the world?Recommend

  • parvez

    Great write up. It’s too late for the older generation to learn by themselves (they are the ones responsible for the mess) but the schools can teach the 4 to 8 year old as the teacher is looked upon as a role model and in turn the children will teach their parents and may be we may see some improvement.Recommend

  • ashok sai

    Be careful when picking up something from the garbage it may be a grenade, clean the society from terrorists first, rest will automatically taken care.Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    And when the same Pakistanis who threw the chocolate and juice box will go abroad, they will not dare to do such thing!! Thats the worst part!!Recommend

  • Asif Kabani

    Dear Shirin

    Good to read your article, Keep it up.

    Send me your updates where are you working now days.

    My email is [email protected]


  • Maleeha Shah

    Some thought! Way to go! Recommend

  • Humaira

    Well thought out and very well written piece. Shirin has taken the initiative and I second that; it is us who are responsible for the mess around us. It is time to wake up and put our act together and start working towards change.Recommend

  • Shamaila

    I agree 100%. It’s our country and our home, if we will not take care of it how can we expect others to respect us and help us take care of our home land. Instead of waiting for others to do it we must take an intititive and i’m sure others will do it too or at least won’t throw garbage on roads/parks etc. next time. Well written and great message:)Recommend

  • F.K

    If everyone would do their own little bit in Pakistan there
    would be no trash no issues and no one hungry either.
    would have been heartening if someone lent a hand to you two
    but all in good time I suppose!! very well articulated. :) look forward to more Recommend

  • Humaira

    @Hafsa Farooq Maan:

    I agree with you that any change process requires understanding the social behavior. This is particularly important in the privates sphere of individuals and households (outside the domain of environmental activism and social corporate responsibly). There are multiple factors that influence attitudes and beliefs that lead to environmentally significant behavior. People usually relate to a problem in a context and respond according to the level of threat to their well being. This awareness can be triggered in a number of ways, and the media role is very important here, specially in Pakistan’s context, where education and awareness levels are very low. Recommend

  • Hira Hur

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading!Recommend

  • cyra

    short and sweet…very interesting read Shirin..:)Recommend

  • Kashif

    @ Hafsa Farooq Maan

    I agree with you totally. We have not tried to implement what the west had done years ago..”fine” and “Danda” on littering. Unless there is a deterrent, some people dont have the capacity to understand. It all boils down to lack of education and care for others and our environment. Nowadays, you can’t even ask a guy to pick up his trash or litter, he’ll ask you to mind your business or come for a fist fight.
    The other similar change that we adopted from the West and had a positive effect to some extent is the Strict fine imposition by the Trafffic police.
    This really needs to be kept in one of the topmost agenda. What is there to lose?Recommend

  • Saman

    Good one Shirin, look forward to reading more!Recommend