Two weeks before I’m scheduled to head to Pakistan, a militant raid on a convoy carrying supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan leaves at least 11 people dead. The news heightens my anxiety as I prepare to leave my family in America to travel half-way around the world to meet with women artisans in Pakistan.
I’ve been invited to travel to the country as an international buyer/consultant. As a fair trade importer of jewelry and women’s accessories from South Africa, I’m familiar with this type of trip. As founder of World Shoppe, a fair trade online marketplace and importer, I work directly with artisans to develop products that would appeal to the Western market.
Last year, the South African Consulate invited me to visit in the hopes that I could develop a long term relationship with several artisans. I was happy to be a part of the international delegation of 19 buyers from the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan. I had never been to the African continent and was excited to learn more about the artisans’ work, styles and how we could work together to aid in the economic development of their country.
As a result of that South Africa trip, I’m now working with two artisan groups. One is a group of 18 artisans from the Western Cape province who make copper and brass jewelry and the other is a group of 50 women, based in the Eastern Cape, who hand knit mohair scarves in their rural homes. I am happy to report that their products are carried in more than two dozen shops throughout the United States and growing every single week as more shops learn of our high design and high quality products.
So, naturally, when the opportunity presented itself to go on a similar trip to Pakistan to work directly with women artisans, I jumped at the chance. I knew Pakistan was in the news regularly because of the war in neighboring Afghanistan and it wasn’t exactly a safe country to visit. But I figured if the trip was being planned by a non-governmental organization, we’d be OK. I filled out the necessary forms and joined a conference call security briefing.
It was during that security briefing call that my heart began to pound. As the traveling mom of two small children, I quickly realized how dangerous this trip would be. I learned online that Pakistan is on the U.S. Embassy’s list of Travel Warnings. That means the U.S. government would find it difficult to help me if I had a problem while traveling in Pakistan.
What had I gotten myself into?
Choosing to go to Pakistan
As I began contemplating whether to cancel the trip, it dawned on me that I’d be gone for just days. But the people living in Pakistan have to deal with this danger on a daily basis. As the child of refugees, I grew up hearing how war affected the lives of my own parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. It made me that much more determined to go and do my best to work with these women.
Nonetheless, I’m not naïve. I also decided to prepare myself and my family even more so for this trip so I can ensure my safety and lessen their fears for my safety while I’m gone.
Since 99.9 percent of the clothes in my closet are inappropriate, I had to buy long, loose-fitting pants and tops that go over my hips with sleeves that go to the wrist. I plan to pack at least two long scarves to cover my head if necessary.
Clothing issues aside, my real dilemma is communication. In a country where we’re wired 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not being in touch is a troubling feeling. I decided I would take my WiFi laptop so I could communicate with my family via email and Facebook (Pakistan lifted the ban on Facebook as of May 31). I rented an international phone through Verizon’s Global Travel Plan package (which I highly recommend) and we will have Pakistani cell phones to communicate with personnel in Pakistan.
Next I called my health insurance company to see if my health insurance coverage in the United States would cover me in Pakistan (it does) and I bought additional medical evacuation insurance for peace of mind. I know which hotels I’ll be staying at and have included the information in a document I’ll leave with my husband in case he can’t reach me via email or cell phone. I have exchanged American dollars for Pakistan Rupees so I’ll have money on hand when I get off the plane.
The Plan for Pakistan
My travel plans, at this point, are taking me to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and then to Karachi, a southern port city. More than 70 percent of supplies for NATO forces are shipped through Karachi, then transported by road to the international forces in Afghanistan. My plans may change at the last minute due to heightened security restrictions. We’ve been advised to play it safe and listen to our security personnel at all times.
Despite all of this pre-trip worrying, I am excited to meet the women, some of whom I have already “met” thanks to Facebook. I have had a chance to see their portfolio of work and it is stunning .
At the end of the day I have to keep reminding myself why I agreed to be part of this trip. Women’s rights are human rights. Every single one of us deserves an opportunity to excel at what we do best.
Throughout the trip, I’ll be updating my Fair Trade TravelingMom blog and you can also follow us on Facebook where I hope to post photos and updates of our trip, the women artisans and life in Pakistan.
This is the first installment of a three-part series on Megy’s trip to Pakistan. Coming soon: her impressions upon arriving in Pakistan.