Jewish Journal

Sean Penn comes to Pakistan

by Mahim Maher

March 24, 2012 | 1:19 am

Sean Penn and US Consul General William J Martin speaking to the people in flood-hit Badin, Pakistan on Friday, March 23, 2012. PHOTO COURTESY MUSHTAQUE RAJPAR

I hear the helicopters flyover overhead and I know that Sean Penn is in one of them. He’s probably being taken to the airport in Karachi, Pakistan right now and then onwards back to the US. Sigh. He’s dreamy.

The Hollywood icon was in Pakistan for Pakistan Day to visit the Badin desert where the floods hit to distribute relief goods. He spent the morning in Karachi at other engagements, meeting people (story embargoed for print).

“What was totally incredulous for us,” said Razaq Khatti, the Badin correspondent for our newsgroup Express, “was that he came in torn jeans, and I looked at his shoes and he didn’t seem like a Hollywood actor at all. He seemed kinda down to earth. His shoes weren’t polished at all. He wasn’t wearing a suit.”

You’ll have to forgive Khatti. I called him up today to chat about what it was like to meet Sean Penn. “You mean Samson,” he clarified.

He had no idea who Sean Penn was. “Look, if he’s famous, then I didn’t really know,” Khatti said. “I was told that he was in some dead man movie. I don’t really watch art movies. I just watch action films… sometimes.”

Khatti did notice one thing. “You know the amount of money they spent coming to Badin, in helicopters, in Land Cruisers, with all those security people, cost more than the actual amount of goods they gave to the flood-hit people.”

In Pakistan, we have a contentious relationship with aid. It has become fraught with controversy and I believe people are so confused by its benefits or disadvantages that it is sometimes difficult to see through clearly.

We’ve held out the begging bowl so many times that, well, it’s made us angry. Mostly, our leaders are to blame. Trade not aid, many people say now.
In any case, Razaq Khatti’s observations need to be factored in at some level, to be fair.

Those of us who are a little more familiar with Sean Penn’s work figured that he probably came to learn about the place. I was impressed by the fact that he declined to speak to the media, saying that he was there to speak to the people of Badin who were hit by rain-caused flooding in 2011. This was the second year of devastation for the province. Many people are still displaced.

I figured that Penn was here to learn about Pakistan, talk to the people and perhaps he will go back and come up with some more ideas on how he can help.
Penn met the Kohli people of Badin. They are a tribe which has been mostly ignored in terms of development. There was only one literate man who could converse with Penn, I was told.

These people wake up in the morning and wonder how they’ll make it to midday, said Khatti. They watch the cars drive up, accept the boxes of aid and watch the cars leave.
I am grateful to Penn for visiting at a time when most Americans don’t think of coming here. I blame our government and myself and other privileged people for not helping the Badin people or less privileged. It is not Sean Penn’s job to come and help us if we don’t help ourselves. I just hope that Mr Penn visits again.

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I am a 33-year-old journalist in Karachi, Pakistan where I work as the city or metropolitan editor for The Express Tribune, a daily national newspaper in English affiliated...

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