Pakistan Picaresque

Samia Altaf in The Wilson Quarterly:

Samia Altaf “She’s what?” I heard my companion ask in a ­panic-­stricken tone. “Dead! Oh, my God, do you hear that?” she said to me. “The director of the nursing council is dead.” She stood still for a minute, as if paying her respects. “How did she die?” she said, again turning to the ­fellow.

The man looked offended at our misapprehension. “Late. Mrs. S.,” he said. Ah, Mrs. S. wasn’t dead. She would be ­late.

My companion, a Canadian, was new to this part of the world and understandably confused by the way Urdu, the national language, is translated into English, the “official” language, especially by people who have minimal schooling. Mrs. S. had gone from merely being late to being “the late Mrs. S.” In a way, this slip of the ­tongue—­or of the ear?—was quite symbolic. For in its efforts to make any effective contribution to the changing needs of the health care system, the Pakistan Nursing ­Council—­the federal institution that oversees nursing and all related ­professions—­might as well have been ­dead.

We told the man that we would ­wait.

For the past several weeks, my Canadian colleague and I had been traveling through Pakistan as we prepared recommendations for a technical assistance program funded by the Canadian government. She was the external consultant on this project, and I was the local consultant.

More here.