As I sit on my flight back from Costa Rica – I was in San Jose for a three day conference; no beaches, volcanoes or coffee plantations, unfortunately – reading tweets about the enquiry commission (useless, dead in the water before it is even formed, if you ask me) that Prime Minister Sharif has asked to be formulated to review, among other things (many other things!), the revelations in the Panama Papers about his family’s offshore wealth, I thought about the conversation I had over lunch earlier in the week with two colleagues from Brazil about the political situation there.
Similar issues, in many ways, to ours: a large population, majority of whom are young people; enormous potential, but a corrupt leadership. Not as corrupt as ours (that’s not easy for anyone to achieve!) but stifling the country, nonetheless, and frustrating the middle class. Hanging on to power despite having lost moral authority and the support of the majority of their population.
But the reaction of the Brazilian people has been very different from ours. Credit to them for seeing that corruption is damaging the future of their children and they have to actuality do something to protect that. Hence, mass protests on the streets of Sao Paolo, in which it sounded like both of them – affluent professionals with young families and endless opportunities – had actually participated in at least once. It’s for our kids, they said.
They explained that they understood the journey is just starting. Once the president is impeached, the vice president takes over, who is also under investigation. Next in line is the chairman of the Senate, who is under investigation, too. Next, the leader of the lower house, who is also being being probed. But despite knowing that one corrupt leader may well be replaced by another, Brazilians are committed to keep fighting each one, one step at a time, until they have clean leadership, knowing it could take ten, even twenty years.
Because they realize that the alternative is that, ten years from now, they will have lost even more ground and corruption will be even deeper entrenched and even harder to fight. So, they’re out fighting now. Because you have to start somewhere, at some time. If you don’t, you’re stuck with corruption forever.
Another interesting perspective on corruption from one of them was about kickbacks and commissions. Think about a $100 million contract, he said. For a $5 million commission, they are making poor investments that cost state institutions $100 million right away and then probably three times that over the years in subsidies and bail outs. Metro, Nandipur, Orange Train, and all the other “mega-projects” the Sharif brothers are proudly advertising as Pakistan’s development, raced through my mind as he said that.
Lessons to be learned, for sure.
On another, somewhat more light hearted note, while we’re on the subject of conversations with colleagues over meals, we were chatting about language and culture while waiting for dinner to be served one night, and I was telling them about Urdu.
One of the Latin American colleagues asked how we say “Cheers!” – or “Salud!” as they’d say in Spanish – when having a drink with friends, in my language. I was stumped. I had no idea!
Perhaps the word “Cheers!” doesn’t translate. I suppose, there’s culturally no need for it. Drinking with friends isn’t really something anyone does very much across the vast majority of Pakistan. Maybe even across the rest of the Urdu speaking world.
Unless it’s tea you’re drinking. But what do you say before you get ready to sip that brew as you sit with friends to enjoy a cup of chai? I don’t really know. It isn’t “Cheers!”, that I’m pretty sure of.
And as I thought about that, I realized I didn’t know if there were even Urdu words for wine, beer or spirits. Maybe I’m wrong and there are some words but they’re so obscure and rarely used, they’re not in most of our vocabularies. After all, how often do you ever need to order a nice Sauvignon Blanc in Urdu? It’s all just “sharaab” to us.
And those who partake in the guilty pleasure, simply “sharaabis“. Judgemental lot that we are. Oh, well. Cheers, everyone!