The PEI Fest or film festival 13-16 July is now open. We went to see a movie/documentary this evening entitled, GIRL UNBOUND, by director Erin Heidenreich, it is the actual story of a young woman who is the Pakistan Squash champion. Squash was introduced in India during the British occupation, Officers played the game. Today, Pakistan is one of the great producers of Squash World Champions a game that has become a passion for many. It is also the story of her family who is from Waziristan, a province of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan and within it, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with its Capital Peshawar. In the mountainous area the Taliban is active, the Taliban is clearly described here as a criminal mafia like organization who extort money from people by using terror and murder, it is not a religious movement at all.
The girl squash champion is Maria Torpakai Wazir now 26 yrs old, lives between Toronto and Peshawar. A story of courage and the story of her family who support her against grave and dangerous odds and constant death threats by the Taliban against her father and other members of her family. Her faith in Islam and belief that through prayers good will come, hard work will be rewarded, acceptance of what is written, Fate, are the tenets that allow her to continue despite the threats. A very human documentary and a touching one, it is easy to relate to what she is experiencing and what she is striving for as an athlete. Her father supports her at great personal risk and so does her mother a school principal, she too is a target because she is a teacher, something the Taliban hate. Her sister is an elected Official in the Parliament of Pakistan, Ayesha Gulalai, she too is a target of the Taliban. Educated women and men who resist the Taliban are a threat to the goals of this criminal organization.
This movie brought back memories of my life in that part of the world, watching the images, the people, their reactions to daily situations, how they dealt with hardships and uncertainty, the tribal culture, much of which is totally unknown to us here, we really have no concept of living under such conditions. Though Pakistan has a developed democratic system and healthy debate within civil society, a sophisticated society, it also has pockets of backwardness in Tribal Areas where poverty is endemic.
The images of the city traffic, people, markets, contrasting Peshawar a provincial Capital with Islamabad the Countries Capital, built as of 1960, modern and sophisticated is quite intriguing.
In the documentary the director Heidenreich also touched upon the fact that this is a Muslim family and we see Maria and her family at prayer, we also hear her speak of how they view their faith and how it guides them in their life. You get the gentle approach to Islam with its core message on leading a good life and doing good works, being respectful of others. A message we almost never hears from the Media today and the tired cliche we constantly get from our Politicians here at home to sell the idea of fear and division. Pakistan is an ancient culture it has some beautiful mosques, the architecture is stunning and in Islamabad there is also many modern buildings like the Faisal Mosque.
In the documentary you hear the call to prayers from Minarets, I became quite use to them, 5 times a day from early dawn to early evening. I could recite them by heart in Arabic, having heard them so many times.
God is Great
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
God is Great
La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God
General view of Cairo from the Citadel
It also brought back to mind, the point made over and over again in this documentary, that the key to end the misery in countries like Pakistan and elsewhere is education.
Education is key, something I observed for years in the Middle-East and elsewhere. When you have a young population, all those countries have a large majority of people under 25 yrs of age, opportunities must exist for them to grow. Frustrations at the lack of any future will only engender conflict and spawn despair and terrorist groups.
Maria Torpakai says it herself, as she looks at Waziristan, look at the children, they cannot read nor write, live in small villages isolated from the outside world, they know nothing of the world, they have no future and no opportunities, they will fall victim to the violence of the Taliban with the false promises and lies all based on terror. If the children are educated and shown a better future with opportunities, the Taliban will no longer be able to control them and will fade away. The director of the film Erin Heidenreich, an American from NYC, I had a chance after the movie to congratulate her on this documentary, which is not preachy but simply presents the story of this family and their struggle in Pakistan.
Also present was the son of Robert Redford, Jamie who was here with his wife, a very nice person, discreet and approachable.