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Von Pinnon: Visiting Pakistani journalist became a friend and teacher

Forum Editor Matthew Von Pinnon, left, stands with visiting journalist Masroor Afzal Pasha of Pakistan on Nov. 4 in Von Pinnon's office. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The Forum newsroom recently said goodbye to a visiting journalist from Pakistan whom we now call a friend.

Masroor Afzal Pasha, who went simply by Pasha while here, spent three weeks with us as part of an exchange program through the International Center for Journalists.

The fellowship is meant to improve journalists' understanding of different cultures and people to help improve reporting practices on both ends. After all, journalists are influential in either helping or hurting people's understanding of the world around them.

Pasha writes for the Daily Dunya newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and one of the larger cities in the world, with 20 million people in its metropolitan area.

When he arrived in Fargo on a chilly October weekend, he called me with concern while looking out a window in his downtown hotel room:

"Is there a problem?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" I said.

"Where have the people gone? Is there a danger?" he inquired, to which I said there was no danger and people were probably home watching football.

It was the first of many cultural realizations for both of us.

Pasha is used to congestion. Traffic jams lasting hours are not uncommon in Karachi's densest areas.

It's also regularly hot and humid where Pasha lives on the coast of the Arabian Sea, a little different than weather here in October and early November.

Pasha was just one of two dozen Pakistani journalists visiting U.S. newsrooms as part of this program.

Much to my surprise, Pasha said the other visiting journalists, mostly placed in major U.S. markets, were most curious of his experience because it was least like home.

While here, Pasha shadowed reporters, photographers and editors as they went about their business, was guest for an evening with a retired journalism professor and his wife, sat down with U.S. senators and Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, and interviewed the mother of an area soldier killed at war in Afghanistan, kindly arranged by folks at the North Dakota National Guard.

He took in a Fargo Force hockey game and a Concordia football game, both of which he found new and fascinating (field hockey and cricket are the major sports in Pakistan).

He also met and wrote stories for The Forum and back home on people from his region who now called the Red River Valley home. Pasha said he learned most of them came here with no intention of staying long, but then liked it and did.

By the time Pasha left for home, he too said he had fallen in love with Fargo-Moorhead's friendly folks.

On Halloween, Pasha was at our home, experiencing the very strange tradition of people dressing in costume and trick-or-treating.

That night, we all had a good talk as the kids goofed around and counted their loot on the living room floor. Pasha showed us on Facebook pictures of his wife and three young boys, two of which nearly mirror the ages of our two girls.

He wants what we want for our children's future: a safe place for them to grow and flourish.

We didn't know much about Pakistan before Pasha arrived, and what we thought we knew was mostly wrong. We know a little more now, and so does he about us.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579, or on Twitter at @inforumed

Matthew Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum.

(701) 241-5579