Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hardship Post by Robert Taylor


It's been ages since I've made it to one of IYC's lecture series events, the topics for which vary from music to history to the work of local non-profits.   This month's talk was given by Robert Taylor about his new book Hardship Post.  You got it -- another book has been added to my ever-growing pile of books to read if there's ever a lull in the goings on in Punta Gorda.

The tag line for the book is "With terrorism on the rise and his marriage on the ropes, an American moves to Pakistan to work for the Aga Khan."   Bob started his talk with a bit of background about Pakistan in the early 1980s.  The Iranian hostage crisis had just ended; the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan; and international kidnappings--and skyjackings--were on the rise.  What in the world would prompt Taylor to uproot his family from Minnesota and move them to Karachi?

The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of non-denominational agencies that works to fight poverty, hunger, illiteracy and poor health in developing nations, primarily in Asia and Africa.  In the early 1980s, the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi was under development.  Taylor, with a background in hospital administration, was offered the job of Director General of Commissioning at the hospital (essentially putting all of the hospital's management systems in place).  It was an opportunity too good to pass up. 

And so the family was off for a four year adventure in a very unfamiliar land.  Hardship Post tells the story of how these expatriates lived and coped in that environment.   Taylor shared a particularly funny story about meeting an Iraqi man who offered him some figs.  When Taylor accepted, the Iraqi said, "And now I am asking for your [15 year old] daughter's hand in marriage."  What??!!!  All he did was accept some figs!   As I was listening, all I could think of was, "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore!"

In case you're not familiar with His Highness the Aga Khan, he is the spiritual leader of the Shia Islami Muslims.  The current Aga Khan (no. IV) is the 49th generation of a family that can purportedly trace its roots back to the prophet Muhammad.  He is fabulously wealthy, and Taylor characterizes him as a bon vivant.   In addition to the Aga Khan Development Network, the Aga Khan has many economic interests.  In fact, I have a vague recollection of a hotel deal that my firm worked on for the Aga Khan back when I was a baby lawyer.  What I remember most clearly about the transaction was that it had to comply with Islamic economic laws. This meant that, although it was a financing, no interest could be charged.  (Interest, or "riba", is illegal under Islamic law as it is considered an unjust gain.)  I don't remember how the deal ended up being structured, but I do remember being amazed at the concept.  But I digress.....

Taylor is an interesting and engaging speaker, and if the book reads anything like the way he talks, it will be a great read. If you're in the area, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda is hosting the book launch this Monday, November 25th, at 6:00.  It will be a fun evening -- and a great opportunity to get an early start on your holiday shopping.  

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