Teeth Maestro is the blog name of Dr. Awab Alvi, a Pakistani dentist practicing in Karachi. Today, through Twitter, I learned of his blog for the first time. I started reading and couldn’t get over how utterly fantastic this man is, how his impressions and those of the people he speaks to are so clear, fresh and alive. Today, guest blogger and aide worker Faris Kasim posted to the site that he had been in the Swat and Buner areas – where I traveled in 2006. Here’s one brief excerpt, in which Kasim explains what “schoolteachers, small business owners, doctors, landless peasants, manual laborers, government workers and the religiously inclined” think of the Taliban.
They told me how it was impossible for any intelligent,
educated person to hold dialogue with local taliban commanders since most were illiterate,
opportunist poor folk, some even belonging to the lumpen proletariat, such as Sher Mohammad alias
qasai (butcher). Qasai owned a small meat shop in Charbagh, Swat and joined the taliban when they
entered Swat. He became the taliban commander of the area and was found riding a prado with armed
guards and dispensing justice through ridiculous religious edicts, enjoying executions while having tea
after juma prayers.
In the United States, dentists occupy a very different position in the culture than they do in Pakistan, or, as I’ll explain in a bit, Egypt, for example. In the United States, choosing to be a dentist is a safe occupation, one without much risk. Dentists in Pakistan are crusaders. To begin with, there are not enough of them. And one of the marks of a civilized nation is how well its populace is able to take care of its teeth. One of my friends from Lahore, Ansa Akram, alerted me to this when I was visiting. Ansa is currently living in Britain just outside London. She’s an orthodontist. Her dream is to return to Pakistan and make dentistry more available to all classes, not just the rich. Another of my favorite dentist/ crusaders is Egyptian activist Alaa Al Aswany, whose novel The Yacoubian Building I reviewed for The New York Times. Aswany has worked for democracy in Egypt for years now. He’s also an incredible story teller. If you have a chance pick up his book, or rent the movie version of The Yacoubian Building.