Pakistani doctors without borders

2“Many doctors go there to show off their luxury cars, their gold watches, and their wives accompany them to show off their designer clothes and jewelry. And, yes, it’s a big match-making place as well, where lots of ‘aunties’, interested in your profile, offer to help you find a suitable girl.”
This was the response I got from a friend when I told him I was going to the 39th annual convention of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) August 3 to 7 in Washington. My friend’s sarcastic smile and assessment were not far from the truth but certainly did not do justice to the whole picture. Indeed it was a social event, but there was substance to the meeting. People talked about politics, as well as uplifting social projects, particularly improvement in the health sector, and peace in Pakistan.

The three-day event was held at the Gaylord Resort Hotel. While most participants stayed at the hotel, I stayed with a friend and commuted to the meeting daily. As I was skeptical about the meeting being interesting, I had a Plan B for a short vacation. It turned out, however, that the event was so exciting that I completely forgot about my backup plan.

I met many old classmates, as well as seniors and juniors from medical school, and colleagues from other professional organizations. Once at the dinner table I sat next to the principal of Allama Iqbal Medical College and was pleasantly surprised to find the hierarchical difference from medical school days were eliminated. We were now colleagues. I had other informal and pleasant discussions with the deans of Nishtar and Shifa Medical colleges.

14054216_10154404805716092_4424693882426357655_nIt was an extravagant, well-managed event, like the wedding of close friends, in which there was good food, entertainment and enjoyable company. Anwar Maqsood, Salman Ahmad, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Reema and many familiar faces from the entertainment industry were in the hallways and speaking at different medical school alumni meetings. The Friday Times’ own consulting editor Raza Rumi helped me meet Fahmida Riaz, who had just arrived from Pakistan to participate in a mushaira. She wanted a snack and coffee before her appearance. During that hour-long meeting in a quiet corner of a café in the hotel, I came to know a person I had admired for years. She talked about her new work and old struggles in an intimate discussion in what was the best thing that happened to me during the APPNA meeting.

Khizr Khan, the “Gold Star Father” (the designation of a parent who has lost a child in war), who had earlier spoken to great acclaim at the Democratic National Convention, was the keynote speaker. He received immense applause from the audience when he talked about the love and support he received from all over America after his feud with Donald Trump. His comments in support of the Constitution’s “Fourteenth Amendment” about the equal protection of a citizen’s life, liberty and property, rights guaranteed to Muslims in the United States, charged the audience with excitement. Imam Zahid Shakir, a prominent Muslim scholar, who recently led the funeral prayers for Muhammad Ali, was present for an interfaith dialogue and prayer for peace and tolerance in the US. Saud Anwar, a Pakistani physician, who was trained at Yale and became the mayor of a town in Connecticut, and Baber Cheema who has been a powerful voice for interfaith work in the large city of Louisville, both talked about the role Muslims play in American life, countering the politics of Islamophobia.

While there was much live entertainment, most of it did not meet the high standards of the rest of the meeting. Salman Ahmad, one of Pakistan’s great musicians, is not blessed with the best of voices. It was disappointing to listen to him singing. Fareha Pervez and Raheem Shah are from a past generation of singers and do not represent the current pop music scene in Pakistan. Sunidhi Chauhan, was a blast but seemed unsuitable14142040_10154404820026092_653876518568052854_n for a Pakistani cultural night. Good food and fun company made up for these shortcomings.

The APPNA meeting was an enjoyable event that highlighted how Muslim professionals are involved in American society and contributing to the country’s well-being. In addition, it provided an enormous opportunity to meet like-minded physicians who had come from across Pakistan and, like me, had been given a great opportunity to support many social projects for Pakistan as well as in the United States. I am counting the days to the next APPNA meeting in Orlando.

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