Tales from development hell

Published: May 10, 2012

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

I have just graduated from the kind of university that guarantees a good rishta but armed with a degree that my parents warned me about. It is time to go back home and become a difference-maker since my student visa only allows me to work for three months in the US. Enough time has been spent in the college library to enable me to bluff my way through an interview by name-checking Paul Collier and William Russell Easterly. Sure, the international development organisation that hired me isn’t too much like my sophomore-year coop but even if I am not changing the world, at least, I am not harming it, right? And I will totally be the rebel in the office by going to work in flip-flops every day.

The first year is a slog. No one told me that learning a foreign language would be a job requirement. Sure, the rhythm and cadences of this language are similar to English but I never realised any written or spoken dialect could have so many adverbs. There is enhancement everywhere. I spend a lot of my time on enhancing my facilitation skills. I write a report on livelihood-enhancement programmes and my awareness is enhanced through workshops and training sessions.

My goals in life are slowly changing. I am no longer the Yogi Bear who will take a dump in the Bretton Woods I. Instead, I am now writing reports that will instruct people more important than me, or as I like to call it, promoting knowledge-enhancement. These reports will eventually trickle their way down and make Pakistan an MIC, or a middle-income country. I am doing my bit by buying MIC products — those that are made in China.

All my kind work and good deeds pay off and I am offered a lucrative post at an international lending institute. My 18-year-old version would have called me a sell-out but that’s okay because Bob Dylan once appeared in a Gap advertisement. I am going to the belly of the beast as an insurgent, not as an embed. My first proposal is an instant chart-topper on the Hot 100 USAID countdown. I want $25 million to be spent on an extension of the Gomal Zam Dam in South Waziristan. The extra electricity this will generate should be enough to ensure that there are no power outages during the Champions League final. It may even irrigate the pot plant I am growing in my cupboard. Some busybody newspaper editorialist wonders how many people this project will displace and how many rivers in the area will dry up. I tell him I do not have the exact figures at hand but it does not matter since everyone there is a part of the Taliban and the rivers will be refilled with the tears of those bearded fanatics’ kids.

Despite my paradigm-shifting work in sustainability, I still feel the occasional pang of existential regret. Now well into my 40s, I take a leap of faith and quit my job after hearing an inspirational TED talk by Jacqueline Novogratz. I am now my own man, a free agent beholden to nobody. I am an independent development consultant, being paid $400 an hour to suggest drones will be far more effective if their delivery systems launch bombs and action figures of Captain America.

I ease myself to sleep in the company of a cocktail mixed with flavoured vodka from the US embassy supplies. Yet another day has gone by, where I have stuck it to ‘The Man’. And to think mommy told me I would never enhance myself if I majored in sociology.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • kashif
    May 10, 2012 - 12:34AM

    Self indulgent crap.

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  • Falcon
    May 10, 2012 - 12:37AM

    funny indeed…

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  • IlmanaFasih
    May 10, 2012 - 1:37AM

    Bravo! You are a true ‘changemaker’ :p

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  • Mansoor
    May 10, 2012 - 2:14AM

    good god man, listening to TED is a punishment, unbearable hahah

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  • You Said It
    May 10, 2012 - 6:20AM

    Great take on “independent development consultant”. Similar article needed on “freelance journalist”.

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  • A Peshawary
    May 10, 2012 - 10:58AM

    you reminded me of “Mirza Ghalib Ke Khatoot”. Chears
    A Peshawary

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  • RS
    May 10, 2012 - 11:55AM

    Fantastic stuff. It’s as if some has just narrated my past, present and future to us “development types.”Recommend

  • Tch tch
    May 10, 2012 - 12:07PM

    lol Somewhere a “Independent Consultant” cried himself to sleep. Brilliant..

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  • gv
    May 10, 2012 - 1:19PM

    Brilliant!!!!!

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  • Big Rizvi
    May 10, 2012 - 4:37PM

    Awesome article, awesome humor! I wish stuff like this was here more often.

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  • Fatima Mohsin
    May 10, 2012 - 8:53PM

    I’m all for ironic humor, but I must say your timing is a little off-putting considering the brutal murders, kidnapping and increasing insecurity of those that have devoted their lives to humanitarian assistance and development in Pakistan

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  • Iram
    May 25, 2012 - 9:43AM

    Depressing. The first three paras seem to be taken out of my life.

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