Amanda Cauldwell arrived in Pakistan two years back as the Press Attache, US Consulate General of Karachi. In a very short while here, she has involved herself with a number of projects related to women development and empowerment, and in the process made many friends. She also toured the flood affected areas in Sindh to participate in the relief activities. She has a keen interest in art, and loves to attend art exhibitions by the local artists. And she loves our food, which is quite surprising, because usually goras find it too hot to handle!
Recently, the US Consulate held an interactive dialogue on media law, which was moderated by Amanda Cauldwell. Journalists, students from different universities and the US Consul General, William J. Martin shared their views on the importance of freedom of expression. At this occasion, the Urdu version of 'Media Law' by Jane Kirtley was also launched. You! caught up with Amanda on the fringes of this event and she graciously agreed to give an interview.
When we met her at the US Consulate in Karachi, Amanda was decked out in a green shalwar kameez, with a matching duppatta draped casually around her neck, presenting a pretty picture. Her 'desi' outfit was complemented with an equally 'desi' embroidered flip flops. She spoke at length about her activities in Karachi. Here goes...
You! Tell us a little about yourself...
Amanda: I hail from North California, near San Francisco. I am not married and my parents and siblings are settled in Chicago. After acquiring my Masters degree, I worked for some time in a Non Profit Organisation (NGO to us). Before coming to Pakistan, I was working in DC and South America. I am interested in art and have worked in various art centres.
You! The general perception about Pakistan is that it is one of the most dangerous places in the world. How did you feel at being posted to Pakistan?
Amanda: We are allowed to submit preferences if we want to serve somewhere. When it was time for me to be assigned for my new position, Karachi was my number one choice. Karachi is the media and commercial capital, so it made me more excited to come here.
You! What was your first impression of Pakistan?
Amanda: The first thing I noticed at the airport when I arrived was the clothes. I remember thinking to myself that I'd be comfortable here. I love shalwar kameez! I love Pakistani fashion. I love the fabrics here, particularly lawn and cotton, and I love the duppattas. Especially, the silk duppattas! I buy at least one duppatta whenever I go shopping.
You! Any particular shopping centre you are partial to?
Amanda: All shopping centres are my favourite places! I spend a lot of time at shops checking out the array of wonderful fabrics that are available here. I must say the clothes here are way better than the ones I saw in India.
You! Have you tried Pakistani food?
Amanda: Pakistani food is excellent! One of my favourite dishes is chicken karhai and my most favourite food is daal with chapatti. We are lucky to get good Pakistani food here in our compound (US Consul General) also... good food and fresh naans!
You! Don't you find it too spicy?
Amanda: The hotter, the better!
You! Your favourite restaurant?
Amanda: Lal Qilla. I love the food over there.
You! And how have you found the Pakistani people? Did you have any preconceived notions about us before you came here?
Amanda: Recently, I had gone back and my friends in the US asked me about Pakistani people. I told them that I have not seen elsewhere the kind of hospitality and warmth that I get from my Pakistani friends. I would be remiss if I do not say how good my Pakistani colleagues at the Consulate are! I really enjoy working with them, and they are very helpful. Then, since I am the Press Officer, I come across students, journalists, and mid-career professionals. I cannot praise the Pakistani people enough! If an average citizen of Karachi looked at only newspaper reports, he would have a different opinion about the American people. Some of the people I know who have spent some years in the USA, and have come back told me that living in the US changed their negative perception about the American people.
You! In your official capacity, you have participated in many events and activities. Would you like to mention any one in particular that you were happy to be a part of?
Amanda: Some of my favourite memories here have been of women centric activities and dialogues. On International Women's Day, we hosted an event which was a tremendous success. I couldn't have been more honoured to share the stage with such accomplished women. We had Bilquees Edhi, Mehtab Rashdi, Sadiqa Salahuddin and Sheema Kirmani on the panel. Sheema also performed on a poem by Fahmida Riaz! It was wonderful.
I would like to mention one more event: it was the book launch of a Pakistani American author, Sehra Waheed's 'Silent Submission', about her experience in an abusive marriage. She comes to the consulate from time to time. All that Sehra wants is to touch one woman's life in Pakistan - the ability to leave an abusive marriage.
You! Your impressions about women in Pakistan?
Amanda: In big cities where there are universities or centres for education more women have access to education and jobs. However, majority of the people live in countryside. Travel outside Karachi, go to interior Sindh and you will find life is difficult for women over there. I have been to Badin, Tando Allah Yar etc. to deliver supplies to the flood victims. It was a sad experience to see women and children who lost everything in the flood. I have interacted with a few female journalists; I would like to see more women journalists.
You! In your opinion, what is one thing that can change the lot of people in Pakistan?
Amanda: Education. All children should have access to quality education, free of politics. It is important to teach them to read and write so they can make good decisions for their families.
People may have different views - some may think that having clear drinking water, good roads or setting up an infrastructure would do the trick. But, all this can be accomplished if children can grow up into clear thinking individuals.
You! Anything in particular that you like about Pakistanis?
Amanda: I have been struck by the Pakistanis' sense of charity. I visited an SOS Village in Quetta, which is a beautiful place. The children are very well looked after. The orphanage receives private donations and their needs are provided for, they have computer classrooms, even. Here, in Karachi, I have visited Darul Sukoon. Mary McBride, a US singer who came here on the invitation of the US Embassy, performed for the children there. The children really had a good time, and it was a moving experience. Also all Edhi centres are wonderful places.
You! How do you chill out in Karachi?
Amanda: Whenever I have a chance to travel about in Karachi, I happily do so - I love finding out how people live here. I like going to T2F also, as they have good art shows over there. I really like Pakistani art and two of my favourite Pakistani artists are Salma Reza and Shamira Mahpara.