Monday, October 31, 2011

Haseen O Jameel - Pakistani Sesame Street

Sesame Street is coming to Pakistan but not as generations of Americans know it.

The TV show has a new cast of local characters led by a vivacious 6-year-old girl named Rani who loves cricket and traditional Pakistani music. Her sidekick, Munna, is a 5-year-old boy obsessed with numbers and banging away on Pakistani bongo drums, or tabla.

The US is bankrolling the initiative with $20 million, hoping it will improve education in a country where one-third of primary school-age children are not in class. Washington also hopes the program will increase tolerance at a time when the influence of radical views is growing.

“One of the key goals of the show in Pakistan is to increase tolerance toward groups like women and ethnic minorities,” said Larry Dolan, who was the head education officer for the US Agency for International Development in Pakistan until very recently.

The show, which started filming last week and will air at the end of November, was jointly developed by Sesame Workshop, the creator of the American series, and Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, a group in the Pakistani city of Lahore that has been staging puppet shows for more than three decades.

The American version of Sesame Street first aired in 1969, and the US government has worked with the company since then to produce shows in about 20 foreign countries, including Muslim nations like Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Perhaps nowhere else are the stakes as high as in Pakistan. The US is worried that growing radicalisation could one day destabilise the nuclear-armed country. Washington has committed to spend $7.5 billion in civilian aid in Pakistan over five years, despite accusations that the country is aiding insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan.

Rani, the new program’s star, sports pigtails and a blue and white school uniform. Her innate curiosity is exemplified by the magnifying glass she often carries and her endless stream of questions. She is captain of the school cricket team and plays the harmonium, an instrument used to perform Qawwali music. (How many girls in rural Pakistan play cricket?!)

The creators chose Rani as the lead character to emphasize the importance of sending girls to school, something that doesn’t often happen in Pakistan’s conservative, male-dominated society, said Faizaan Peerzada, the chief operating officer of Rafi Peer and one of several family members who run the organisation.

“It makes the girl stand equally with the boy, which is very clear,” said Peerzada.

Rani and Munna are joined by Baily the donkey, Haseen O Jameel the crocodile, and Baaji, a spirited woman who serves as a mother figure for the others. (Haseen O Jameel - Beautiful & Handsome Crocodile... :O)

Elmo, the lovable, red, child monster, is the only traditional Sesame Street character on the show, which is called Sim Sim Hamara, or Our Sim Sim.

The action centers around a mock-up of a Pakistani town, complete with houses, a school and Baaji’s dhaba, a small shop and restaurant found in many places in the country. The town also includes a large Banyan tree, known as the wisdom tree in South Asia, in the shade of which the children often play. (Baaji's don't own dhaaba's, it's a guy thing where "men" go to drink chai... more like pub than anything else... I don't think I've ever seen women in dhaabas)

Given the intense ethnic and regional divisions within Pakistan, the creators tried to build a set that was recognisable to Pakistani children but did not stand out as being from one part of the country. For similar reasons, the skin colors of the puppets range from very light brown to orange.

A total of 78 episodes will be aired in Pakistan’s national language, Urdu, over the next three years, as well as 13 in each of the four main regional languages, Baluchi, Pashtu, Punjabi and Sindhi. The shows will appear on Pakistan state television, and the producers hope they will reach 3 million children, 1 million of whom are out of school.

They also plan radio programs and 600 live puppet performances they hope will reach millions more kids and parents.

I think I'm scarred for life :-P

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Work Politics

So I'll interrupt my travelogue to whine a little... Although, for the record (Alhamdulilah), I'm grateful to have a decent job and a pleasant work environment!

Mr. F was promoted and transferred earlier this year and I remained in the original department. He, being pretty senior is privy to all sorts of information (even about my department) and he's buddy-buddy with almost everyone. It's getting a little claustrophobic for me because all my friends/colleagues are also his friends and they're also a little in awe of him (since he's a lot senior) so I can't be as free/open as I like.

Also, Mr. F knows how to handle office politics pretty well and he keeps trying to advise me whereas I like to believe that the world is a fair and happy place, people are genuine and good things will come to those who wait... and I also don't like being told what to do, preferring to "learn by doing".

I'm still without a boss and my CEO can't figure out where to place me since my field is very specialized (Environmental Engineering/CSR/Energy Policy)... Sometimes, I feel like I should've just majored in Economics/Finance like everyone else and become a corporate woman :-P

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Seville and Granada

We left for Seville on Wednesday evening and arrived at the Hotel Rey Alfonso X... Luckily, the receptionist spoke English and was able to guide us. Seville is a lovely town with lots of orange trees, tourists and young people. Restaurants and quaint little shops are open till 8pm (the rest of Europe shuts down at 5pm) and the atmosphere is lively and happening :)

We went to visit the Seville Cathedral and the Real Alcazar.

Inside the Cathedral

Hammam at the Real Alcazar

Our next stop was Granada... The Al Hambra was on my "list of places to visit before I turn 30" and Alhamdulilah, this came true (thank you Allah Mian and dear Mr. F for making it happen!). The architectural details and the amount of work that must have gone into perfecting each and every tile and carving is amazing... A must-visit for anyone who's remotely interested in structural art and architecture... I wish I could be there alone though... minus the annoying tourists with their cameras, just being able to revel in the beauty and glory of the place!


Carvings of ayats from the Quran

A roof at Al-Hambra

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Three Ages of Man and Death

The Three Ages of Man and Death was a painting I saw at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and it still haunts me... It basically shows a baby sleeping, a young woman in the prime of her youth and an old woman trying to expose her as death (the skeletal old man carrying an hour glass) leads her away...

I'm already dreading old age and I hope and pray I'll be gone before I'm dependent on others to take care of me... and I pray God grants me full possession of my faculties. Imagine how frightening it would be, to not be able to recognize your brother or sister or forget where you live or how to eat a sandwich!

Other really interesting/disturbing paintings were Magdalena Ventura (The Bearded Woman) and The Birth of the Milky Way by Rubens... Rubens painted a lot of nekkid women and men with leaves on their private parts... my fifth grade humor kicked in and I sat on the one of the benches at the Museum and giggled until I was in hysterics and tears botched up my face... yes, I'm weird!

Monday, October 17, 2011


We flew Iberian Airlines from Cologne to Madrid... they didn't even serve water or peanuts!!

Madrid Barajas Airport is a beautiful building and I was transported back to my Structures and the Urban Environment class with Professor David Billington where we'd studied Terminal 4 as an example of structural art...

The taxi driver played Santana in the car... Hola Spain!

We arrived at our hotel around midnight. I went straight to bed but Mr. F went out to get dinner.

The hotel breakfast was really good! They had everything from samosas and miso soup to gourmet yogurt and nutella :) After breakfast, Mr. F took me sight-seeing (he'd been to Madrid before). We visited a lot of historic monuments and took pictures around the Plaza de Sol, met up with Mr. F's friend Arturo for lunch and had Spanish tortillas for dinner. So Spanish tortillas are made with egg instead of corn (which is the Mexican staple) and it's basically a thick potato omelette... I think I prefer the Tex-Mex version :-p. We also had tapas and cold soup which were kinda icky :p

The following day, I took the train to Toledo (Mr. F had to attend the conference). It's a beautiful city with history all around! I only had energy to visit the castle and fortress with lots of towers and turrets and then I sat on the steps catching my breath and nursing my water bottle... I guess I look Spanish because people kept speaking to me in Spanish and asking for directions... lol!

Dinner was fun. I went as "the spouse" but I had to make do with a nice shirt and a jacket as I hadn't really brought formal wear with me... the other ladies were wearing cocktail dresses and diamonds. At our table were Jaffer from Jordan and his wife Lubna and Doug and Brenda from Chicago and a couple of Qatari guys who didn't talk much. I was easily the youngest person there but I guess I'm used to it now...

Dinner was followed by a Flamenco show. The music was good but the dancers were amateurs and the costumes were rather tacky. I think Aishwarya Rai did a better job in Udi :-p

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Euro Trip Part I

I left for Dusseldorf on 30th September and daddy dearest dropped me off at the airport... Packing was quite a hassle since there was no electricity and I had to use my cell phone torch to locate items and fold my clothes :-p


My legs are aching and I'm really tired but Alhamdulilah, the trip was fantastic. Abbu dear, thanks for the best present EVER! Felt like a princess in business class though a little intimidated by all the suited-up business men :p. Flight was on time and I made it to Dubai, Terminal 4 in good time. It was super busy though because a lot of connecting flights leave around the same time and the place was packed with Desis. I couldn't even use the bathroom because of the long waiting lines! I watched Monte Carlo, The Trip and Something Borrowed and ate 2 breakfasts and a lunch. Emirates food is ok... (Etihad is much better!)

Mr. F was there at the airport waiting for me... he was wearing a violet shirt with a bright green hoodie and yellow shoes.. I almost didn't recognize him! We took the train from Dusseldorf to Cologne and checked into our hotel City Hotel Europa which is decent although the room itself is tiny!

Since it was early evening, we walked around and then took the train to Frechen for dinner where I had pizza and Mr. F had donor kabab. We had breakfast at the hotel where I loaded up on baked beans and granola. Around 11 am, our former German boss, Dr. H came over and brought his son Oliver and girlfriend-in-law Clarissa and they showed us around Old Cologne and took us out for lunch... we went to see the Colonium and went inside the Dom cathedral which is the main monument of Cologne, then we walked and walked and walked. Had grilled salmon with lemon sauce fresh from the River Rhine... yummy! In the afternoon, Dr. H took us to see the mines and power plant... also passed a wind farm and some sheep and horse farms. Now we're back at the hotel, totally drained with no energy! Tomorrow there's a marathon, so Cologne is packed with tourists. Weather's been gorgeous so far... nice and sunny with just the right amount of chill... more tomorrow!