Should I Care if I Wasn’t There?

The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina recently passed, and it has been in the news a lot these days. There have been stories following up with people, highlighting the state of Louisiana and the aftermath of one of the worst Hurricanes in United States history. Hurricane Katrina was notorious, not only because of the damage sustained, but because of the government’s delay in getting help to the people who were stranded and whose homes were destroyed. People had to live in airports for several days, even weeks before emergency assistance came to the state.

Or so I heard. When Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 I was living in Pakistan at the time. I had just gotten engaged and my wedding preps were in full swing. I was living in a village where the electricity went out at 7:30pm sharp every night and we didn’t have a TV either. Occasionally, my grandfather would get a newspaper, but they were in Urdu and I didn’t know how to read it. The first time I actually read an English newspaper was when my relatives came from England and they had brought newspapers with them from the airplane. That’s when I learned of the bombings in England on 7/7/05. Other than that- I had no idea.

After I got married and people would come see me, I always got asked the same question “We heard there were a lot of hurricanes in America, is it where you live?” And I literally sat there confused because I had no idea what was going on. I would just say no because if something happened in New York, we would’ve known because my grandmother would’ve found out. But I had no idea the severity of the hurricanes that ripped through America that month. And it wasn’t only Louisiana; apparently other states were affected too. But here I was living in my little bubble as a happy, bright newlywed and that side of the world became forgotten to me. Whenever I did have access to a TV, I didn’t really watch the news. I eventually heard vaguely there was a Hurricane in Louisiana but knowing all the details that I know now? Wasn’t even a thought at that time.

A similar situation happened to me when 9/11 occurred. I was in Pakistan at that time as well. I was living in the city with my grandmother so we had access to a TV. When the towers were hit, we watched a news report from New York being streamed live on a Pakistani news channel. We knew a plane had hit a tower; however the electricity went out all night and we had no idea what was going on. My grandmother, uncle and I had no idea the towers fell until 24 hours later. When I returned to New York in October of 2001, I noticed my dad had an American flag on his car. In fact, driving down the expressway, I saw every single car had an American flag on it and I didn’t get it. Suddenly everyone was patriotic? It wasn’t until I actually watched the footage in full and heard first story accounts from people around me did I finally understand what really happened and why there was this sense of “American pride”.

Living in Pakistan when these events occurred made me feel detached from what really happened. I’ve never really understood Hurricane Katrina and it’s impact honestly- and I probably never will. Because I wasn’t in the country and I wasn’t watching the events unfold, it didn’t become “my problem”. And I’m sure that happens to a lot of people regarding all the issues in the Middle East and in South East Asia. Because we aren’t there to witness the suffering, the heartache and the death first hand it becomes insignificant for us. It’s not entirely our fault because the news outlets we watch decide on what they want to report. But I know I have to constantly remember there is a world outside of mine and everywhere people are suffering. While I may not have been in the U.S. when those events occurred, I was in Pakistan seeing a lot of poverty. I’m sure there are some people who don’t realize how many poor people really do live in Pakistan either.

Tools like social media have allowed us to share our experiences though and I’m really grateful for that. We have people tweeting, recording and uploading live events from all corners of the world showing us how people are living and how help is being received. The realities are grim and the responses have become greater. Just recently a photo of a refugee man selling pens went viral and thousands and thousands of dollars were raised for him and his daughter!

I wish social media was that big in 2005, though. At that time, MySpace had just formed and no one had smart phones. Now, there’s no excuse for anyone to not think a world issue isn’t “their problem”. Our knowledge on said issues have expanded alongside the media and it’s important to be aware. My family in England and Pakistan now know more about what’s going in America and we know more about what’s going on there too. I’m more up to date with current events than I was 10 years ago and I am grateful for this progression.

And while those are commemorating 10 years of heartache and economical downfalls of the aftermath of this natural disaster, I can only read the news reports and try to understand what really happened. Because the only way I can ever be compassionate is if I understand, someway, somehow.

Author’s note: This post is in no way political based. My intention is not to discuss whether the media in the West is biased and all that. It’s just to share how not being aware of current events really makes a person detached from certain situations. I kindly ask you refrain from making political comments.

By: @mir_mah2 (MW Contributor)

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