With ‘Super’ People

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PDP’s youth activist Javaid Trali spent 30 days in the US under State Department funded International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP). He says Americans impressed him more than America

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People are the real driving force behind every nation’s prosperity and growth; policies and their implementation come later.  People determine which way a country would go – backward or forward. Nothing shall impress any one about anything unless we look at its basics. Foundations are important, rest is detail. It is true in case of a mansion or a country.

During my trip to US, nothing impressed me the most but its people. Wide range of discussions and interactions with the people of different opinion and thought gave me a new insight about working of the country, the only super-power. If US is dictating terms to the world it is only because its people have made it capable to challenge anything. America is a powerful nation because of its people.

Listening to them made me understand how concerned they are about their nation, its problems and issues. Not at a single interaction I saw them boasting about their successes, but they would always make an honest opinion about functioning of their system and its flaws.

At the societal and governmental level, the US is facing a number of challenges. The rosy picture we carry about America is not totally true. There is poverty too. One comes across homeless and jobless people. Even beggars can be seen on footpaths with placards asking for help. People are seen sleeping under bridges. Their citizenry too undergoes hardships at different levels. They are finding it hard to fight racism, which is eating its vitals. Drug and liquor addiction is common. Use of guns both licensed and unlicensed has turned out to a big menace and is the most debated issue. Gender bias and violence against women is not endemic to our society only.

Deepening economic disparity has made people frustrated. The gap between the rich and poor has widened.  People with whom I interacted were honest in detailing all this. But they also said: “We will overcome this.”

How cultured, meticulous, refined and disciplined the people can be, I started realizing it when I landed at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Nervous, I was anticipating hassles at the airport given the huge security threat the country claims it has, but it turned out to be a totally different story.

After checking my passport and other travel documents, the immigration desk lady greeted me with ‘happy birthday’. No questions, she allowed me to go. That was sweet and surprising; given the system we have in place back home.

Out of airport, the weather was beautiful. The freshness of early morning breeze added to the ecstasy. Our liaison escorted us to the domestic terminal for flying us to Washington DC.

Washington was my first stop where I started the actual interaction with the people during my visits to various places of historical and political importance. Aesthetically built, the city is calm and beautiful. No traffic mess, no honking on roads, no chocked streets, Washington DC is a green and pollution free.  From commoners to officials and the people manning NGOs, every interaction was a learning experience.

On my first official day, I toured the whole city. It surprised me to see the White House, the office and residence of the US president open for everyone. People in large number, both local and foreigners, come and click photos and spend some time amid lush green environs there. Same is the case with Capitol Hill, seat of US Congress. The reason for keeping open such sensitive places for general public, I think, is to remain connected with the people unlike us, who will humiliate people by asking them to sit in long queues bracing heat and rain outside the civil secretariat.

Two meetings, one each with Dr Frederic Grare, Senior Associate, Carnegic Endowment for International Peace and Sanjay Puri, Chairman and founder USINPAC, were significant and interesting. Dr Grare is keeping a close eye over Kashmir and Indo-Pak politics. He has been visiting Kashmir in the past and knows everyone in political establishment here. He spoke high of veteran Kashmiri leader, Abdul Gani Lone. Given the interaction with him all I could conclude is that Kashmir is an issue per se but does not interest anybody now at the global level. He suggested us to strengthen our institutions of governance and move forward.

Puri is an influential Indo-American who lives in Virginia. His organization USINPAC is the voice of over 3.2 million Indian Americans and works on issues that concern the society. He assured full support from powerful Indian diaspora in certain key areas like education, skill development for youth, global warming, solid waste management in Kashmir.

In Cleveland, Ohio – my second destination, I specifically learned about constituent outreach, women in politics, transparency and accountability in government. These topics were discussed in detail with prominent officials, academicians, politicians and community based volunteer organizations. Here I got an opportunity to volunteer alongside the residents of Cleveland at a local food bank— Greater Cleveland Food Bank. The food bank is the largest hunger relief organization in Northeast Ohio, having provided 45 million meals in 2014 to hungry people locally. Later I visited many other states as well and observed many aspects of American social, economic, political, cultural and educational institutions and practices.

More and more people I met and interacted with, I found them brutally honest, extremely hardworking, punctual and highly helpful. The smiling faces will greet you everywhere, be it on roads, offices or hotel elevators. Americans love to work hard; it is their culture, I believe. Their love and concern for humanity, animals and environment is exemplary. Most of them have divided their time between working for themselves and the community. American spirit of volunteerism is proverbial.

Americans are born honest. They are genuine. They won’t cheat you but will guide and help you out even at the cost of their own time.They value time but when it comes to helping others and working for the community they don’t care. If you ask any passerby about any address, he will get his cell-phone out and GPS it to help you out.

The people won’t mind doing any sort of job. Part-time jobs are common as it has become necessary given the high cost of living. An iphone technician is a driver during his free time. An extremely intelligent and academically sound little girl and the only child of her rich parents, who is in tenth standard at school surprised me when she informed that she in her part-time cleans utensils and wipes off tables at a restaurant. When asked what she does with this money, her reply was more astonishing, “I buy books of my interest with it.” This is deliberately allowed only to prepare the children for life and developing skills of self-reliance and independence in them; and no social stigma is attached to it.

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Similarly, a 75-year-old lady, who lost her husband few years back and lives a lonely life now, cleans her beautiful house, cooks food, buys grocery, manages the garden in the backyards of her house, drives her own car and works with an NGO as a volunteer.

There is no concept of having peon in any office, private or public. And, also no helpers are hired to work at homes otherwise a norm and status symbol here. Americans love to do their own work by themselves.

Raising funds for community welfare and giving charity is also a common practice. Instead of waiting for the government, people raise enough funds for any civic initiative.

Giving tips at restaurants and hotels to waiters and baristas is a tradition. Not giving tips is a grave insult. Even bad service gets a tip. Actually, these types of workers are underpaid and to ensure their economic stability and value their time the people find it a duty to give them tips.

Americans not erecting walls around their houses was somewhat baffling for me. The lawns have to be kept open and some portion of it is used to build cycle tracks.

 (Author is associated with the Youth Wing of J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP))

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