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What happened in Peshawar (did not stay in Peshawar) I went to Peshawar for the Digital Youth Summit 2014. Here's what happened.

travelling from lahore to peshawar to lahoreA bus ride from Lahore to Peshawar, non stop, takes you 6 hours.

Riding the mighty and monotonous Motorway from Lahore to Islamabad, then to Peshawar, I slept most of the time. Well, tried to.

Two guys at the back were talking loudly, in Pashto. I don’t understand the language, but I know the language of a good time, and they were having a good time. They had a small boy who needed to pee. Never thought it would happen, but they actually got the Daewoo bus service to pull over for a quick, 5 minute stop at one of the many restaurants – qiyaam o ta’aam – on the Motorway.

The rest of the 6 hours were spent in that fragile state of sleeping while sitting; you are in and out and in again the laa laa land of non-REM sleep.

At about 4 in the morning, I was in Peshawar. Took out the phone, turned on the GPRS. Had been conserving the battery by keeping “mobile data” off. But now it was needed.

Google Maps told me that my destination in Peshawar was hardly a kilometer away from the Daewoo station. So I knew the conversation that was about to happen.

So there’s me, walking up to the rickshaw driver, one of many hawking outside of the Daewoo station, even at crazy o clock in the morning:

“How much to take me to PC hotel?” I ask.

“Three hundred sir,” says one guy.

“What? Three hundred? It’s only a kilometer away, my friend; will take, what, 5 minutes?” I say.

Fair for the ride was decided to be 150. I haul my bag into the rickshaw. We call rickshaw the “shahee sawaarii”. The ride of kings. Kings hustling a hundred rupee per kilometer. Google maps thank you.

Sidenote: An interesting story.

Pearl Continental Peshawar

Map Hacking gone wrong :)

This little “map hack” worked for me. It seems a lot of us do this. I shared this story with the new friends I made at the conference. That’s when Abbass – more on him below – told us his story. He also used Google Maps to find the distance between the Peshawar bus terminal and PC hotel. But instead of PC Peshawar, he searched for Pearl Continental Peshawar. He got a distance of about 11 kilometers. When he was told by the taxi guy that he will be charged 300 rupees, he said, “I was happy, 300 sounded fair”. But then the taxi ride was over in under a minute and only after he rechecked, he found that some genius has marked Pearl Continental on Google Maps at a small bazaar on the outskirts of Peshawar! The actual hotel location is correct when you search for PC Peshawar, and is completely wrong when you search for Pearl Continental Peshawar! Aah, the vagaries of social media!

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I arrive at the fortress more fortified than Fort Knox; the Pearl Continental, Peshawar. I pay the Ride of Kings, an extra twenty for the tip. The gates open, a guard comes. No Ride of Kings beyond this point, we are told.

The guard leads me through a labyrinth of at least three check posts. They scan everything except my innards. I arrive at the lobby. 4:30 in the morning, but the hotel lobby won’t give that away.

I tell that fresh-at-four reception guy, “I am here for the Digital Youth Summit. Please check, I should be under the name Mohammad Momekh.” I am all cheery and excited; as excited as a sleepless at four thirty in the morning can be.

He stares into the screen in front of him. Then looks up to me, “you are not listed sir.”

My excitement sinks.

“Search for Mohammad Khan,” I say. The tragedies of using a pseudonym for writing.

A “aah yes!” later, I get a form to sign, my name printed all clear and important. Then the receptionist drops the bomb.

“You will be paying by cash or card?”

“I am a guest,” I say. Practicing my blank look, helped with onset insomnia.

“The remarks in your registration,” he says, still looking at the screen, “says that you have to pay by cash or card, sir.”

“I am a guest, invited here for a conference,” I say, “and the organization that invited me gave you instructions to charge me for it?”

This sounded logical to him. He eventually calls the manager. A few “_jee sir jee sir_” later, he is smiling. “He was sleeping,” he says. Adjusts his tie. Keeps looking down. Presses a key on the keyboard. Hard.

“The boss says that you can stay,” he says, “welcome to Pearl Continental Mr Khan”.

My People

I sleep in late; my panel on blogging was in the afternoon. Around lunch time, I walk to the outside of PC hotel. No checking for people going out. The Pakhtun sun is bright and hard. I immediately find a taxi.

“How much to go to Sheraz Trade Center,” I ask. It’s about 7 kilometers away, thanks to Google maps, and I am prepared to pay up to 400 rupees; I am feeling regal spending the night at the 5 star.

“Sheraz Trade Center?” the taxi driver asks. Looking up now. Thinking.

“It is rush hour right now,” he says, “it is too much traffic.” He then drives off.

For that, I was not prepared. I look around; the kind of looking around you do when you’re dumbfounded.

I again find myself on the Ride of Kings, loudly heading towards Sheraz Trade Center.

Finally made it. Fourth floor. Rooftop. A big hall. Air conditioned to the hilt. Registration desks. Nametags. People. Smiles. Introductions. People recognize me. I recognize them. I am in my people.

 

social media usage by youth in peshawar

These guys are doing some remarkable stuff in Peshawar!

The people that showed up at the 2 day conference, they just impressed everyone.

After the panel, Faisal, Usman, Kamil and Omair – we talked on how the questions coming from the audience were the most mature we’ve ever heard. I told them I have been to the Karachi and Islamabad Social Media conferences, and the Peshawar crowd was the most mature. For example, no one asked “how do I earn money from blogging?”… the questions were deeper. I remember one question, “how do I translate my passion into keywords?” Now that was a good question!

The organizers of the conference got another thing very right: all the panelist were provided with 5-star accommodation at the same place. After the conference, all of us – each a “prohobbyist” of their own field – got together for dinner and then a late-night discussion by the pool.

That was one of the most refreshing discussion I’ve had regarding my work in a long, long time!

Not now Ma, We Are Making the Internet…

Although it has been around since 1996, the Internet is very much new. An industry that is not 30 years old, and has evolved (and sometimes completely shifted) to become something bigger.

And given that, quite literally, we are the first ones in the field of Internet, many of us are playing it by the seams. Many people still think the Internet is for “kids wasting time”.

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panel on blogging

Salman, Faisal, Usman and Me

After the panel on blogging at the KPDYS14, I sit with the MD of KPITB (acronym overload anyone?).

“Your talk was very insightful,” he says, “I didn’t know people can make a career out of blogging, and to think that this Internet is in my field,” he chuckles.

But it is not. His field is IT. He leads an Information Technology board. He has decades of experience in writing code and then managing coders, and then designing systems and architecture for large organizations. He is not even supposed to get the Internet.

The only thing common between the Internet and IT is the “I” in the beginning. It’s like a Gardner feeling embarrassed: “I really should know how to cook Malai Botee because you know, some of the ingredients there are from my garden.” No. If you approach it from the same lens, you will not get it. Never.

Internet is access. That’s it.

It’s like this massive 16-lane Motorway coming right into your room. You know how countries celebrate new infrastructure? You know how politicians make sure that they make roads where there are none? So that people can do whatever they do, and then eventually become prosperous? Yeah, that kind’a Motorway.

I am in Lahore. I can move to the mystical beauty of Chitral tomorrow, and if I get at least 1 MB broadband there, you won’t ever notice. I won’t even notice. The traffic will come and go with the same ferocity.

The Internet gives you access. To and from anything your heart desires.

All is left is your heart. And its desires. A dangerous proposition for some. But a remarkable and unprecedented opportunity for others.

Of course if your work is not on the Internet, if you are not an Independent Publisher like me and so many of us, location-independence may not be for you.

…By The Pool

The panelists were staying at the same hotel. After dinner, hosted by Nestle and KP I.T. Board, about four of us decided to continue our discussions by the pool.

The suits and fresh-pressed shirts with pinstripes were replaced by shorts and wrinkled t-shirts with weird cartoons on them.

That 3 hours of “gupshup” (chit chat) was a learning experience like none other.

Kamil, responsible for Nestle’s digital presence in Pakistan, had some of the most brilliant insights in content creation.

Abbass, running his own digital marketing agency WebSketchers from Lahore, knew strategies for online marketing that left me taking notes!

Saad, working with Cloudways and who was recently listed as one of the most promising content marketing stars in the world, talked the talk because he had walked the walk!

And Omair, a restaurant reviewer like none other and co-founder of Tossdown (that now has 25,000+ paying users), was all about “local” content creation: his insistence on creating content for Pakistanis instead of “some global audience that you can’t define” was more than enough to inspire all of us.

It is definitely not everyday that I get to talk about my field (i.e. content creation and community building) for such a long time, and learn so much in the process.

Your environment matters more than you think. Our efforts to change our environment, even for a few days – like going to Peshawar and listening – can be very fruitful.

But we already knew that, right?

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Question : How can you change your environment, meet people who support your ideas and your strategy? How can you meet people who want you to succeed? Share you ideas here.

And on the same note, the first of the LifeETC/JustAddVenture Local Meetups is happening in Lahore, today! If you are in Lahore, join us.

There are already 7 different cities where AddVenturers are meeting up over a cup of tea, coffee, whatever. From Lugo in Spain, to the States, Saudi, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad! Alhumdulillah. We have a small movement in our hands, folks. Let us make the best of it, yes?

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