Māris Šlēziņš and the trip to Pakistan

Māris talks about his amazing journey to Pakistan.

My journey to Pakistan began in March of 2012 when I won an international competition and received an opportunity to visit Slovenia in order to speak in “TEDxBled” conference about my accomplishments in the social work and street workout sport. During the same time of this conference, “Challenge: Future” – world summit of active youth – in which approximately 100 talented, educated and in their countries successful young, up to 30 years young people from 60 countries around the globe participated.
In my first day in Slovenia, I already made a friend – a pleasant fellow from Pakistan, Shazaman Kruho. We were seated at the same lunch table, and our friendship was born immediately.
The eight days in Slovenia I spent with Shazaman were fun. I comprehended that if people of particularly this Asian temperament love – they love until they reach madness, and if they hate – they hate until dementia. After becoming a friend of Shazaman, I could just disappear from his life, because friendship for them is so much more worth than the worldly treasures. When we parted, we promised to each other to visit each others countries. It definitely was not just a polite European promise we throw at each other all the time, but never actually fulfill.
After returning to Latvia, I corresponded with Shazaman via internet. He loves everything about what I do with street workout* not only on Latvian scale, but on global level. He thinks that Pakistani street youth could be involved in this social street workout sport, so we both agreed that I should be the first one of us two to visit the other in order to set in motion the street workout sport in Pakistan.
I am an entrepreneur, and the street workout sport has never been the livelihood for me; it has always been the other way around – I have invested a lot more than gotten back. It is the hobby of my life that has turned into an everyday job. As an entrepreneur I need a broader view on life, so visiting Pakistan was also an opportunity for establishing business contacts in several fields I am interested in.
So it was the friendship, street workout and business that lead me to finding time for the trip, buying the plane ticket and forming a Pakistan visa in Stockholm (which unfortunately is impossible to do in Riga).
I’d like to mention that I travel a lot, I have visited many countries, but that was only my second time in Asia. My first visit was to Turkey, which actually is more in Europe than in Asia.
Two weeks before my visit to Pakistan, I had a very serious conversation with Shazaman. His father insisted on me not going to Pakistan due to the dangerous situation in their country, and they were worried about my safety. We both understood Shazaman’s father’s anxiety, but neither I nor Shazaman wanted to cancel the trip, so I wrote a letter to his father, explaining that I am not afraid of what I have seen in media. His father thought this act to be brave, and at the end undertook all the preparation work for my visit.
As my main objective it was planned for me to perform in several lectures about motivation, social work and sport in a number of Karachi colleges, but unfortunately in the first day of my visit one of the Pakistani main political leaders was shot, so the life in this city was completely halted for a couple of days.
Also, in the same day I arrived in a place where a shooting broke out, and two people were killed in front of our eyes. Thankfully, we were not harmed, but it could have ended otherwise.
All that happened in the first day prevented me from realizing what I had planned. Instead, I stayed at a very nice hotel and enjoyed amazing company, consisting of Pakistani active youth, entrepreneurs and social workers.
Taking in account what had happened in Karachi, Shazaman and I flew to Islamabad in order to enjoy Pakistan in more tranquil mood and see the capital city. We also stayed at a mountain resort “Mary” for one day, and there was a beautiful new blanket of snow for which thousands of people had come to take pictures of. I come from a country in which snow starts in the beginning of November and ends sometime around in the middle of April, so it was completely for me.
In Islamabad, which many Pakistanis think of as very European, we visited most of the popular tourist spots. In my opinion, Pakistanis think this way because the city is so clean, peaceful and quiet, but I disagree – it’s definitely not European, it’s unique.
After the situation in Karachi abated, we flew back to view the city itself and, perhaps, still do some lectures. The second part of the plan did not succeed, but I still had the chance to get acquainted with Karachi and its wonderful people.
In my opinion, Pakistan is quite an unstable country with a very little number of people of the middle class, which usually forms the economic stability indicators of a country. The poor are extremely poor, and the rich are extremely wealthy. I see some similarities with Latvia in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, and we finally got back our independence.
Whilst meeting with Pakistani people, I found something that worries them all – the feeling of instability. People are unsure about what tomorrow will bring, because they do not know what will happen with the political situation in their country. People are afraid to invest their money, resources and energy in new things that actually could increase prosperity of the country, because they are unsure.
I have to admit that many cities I visited are quite untidy, over-peopled, especially Karachi, but they still do not lack energy. That energy can be found in people. I also have to acknowledge that I mostly met people from the middle class and higher class – most of the around my age, which are the future of Pakistan. My positive conclusion is that I saw adour and thirst for change in their eyes. They want to change everything, transform it into something better, and they want to begin with themselves. I cannot forget the love of their country and culture I saw in them; they will not desert their country, they want to make a better future.
So many people in Latvia decide to leave their homeland, trying to find a better life somewhere else. The saddest part is that most of them have better life conditions than 90% of Pakistanis have. The number of Latvians complaining about our country is way too high, and they cannot even begin to imagine that there are places in which people have so much harder lives, but still stick to their homelands. If we talk about Europe, unfortunately I have to say that unique cultures and traditions are only for tourist attraction, not codec of people’s lives.

I also want to mention the amazing hospitality that is a historical part of Pakistanis’ lives. A guest in their homes is a bringer of good news, and I felt honored to have been invited in their homes. All the intellectuals I met daily were polite and sympathetic towards the differences of culture and religion we had. Everyone tried their best to make me feel comfortable, and I am eternally grateful to my friend Shazaman’s family, friends and all the others I met during my visit.
What truly surprised me was the fact that everyone thought that I and others from Eastern Europe think of Pakistan as of the land of terrorists. This was the first time I faced a assumption like this. After returning home, I made a survey in my social networks, asking “What do associate with Pakistan?”, and around 3500 people replied with various answers – many said their knowledge of Pakistan is not sufficient enough to answer truthfully, many said they associate it with a country with a very warm country in Asia, but none of the answers included something about terrorism. Thus, no matter what Pakistanis think, the active Latvian youth do not tie Pakistan with terrorism in any way.
Another thing I noticed during my stay in Pakistan was that Pakistani youth is not so different from Latvian youth – full of energy, aggressive and with nothing to do.
When I started training in street workout in 2009, it came as a surprise to me that during even the very first training sessions young people started hanging around the places I trained and asking what is that what I do. My friends and I suddenly had a growing number of followers of these socially unfavorable surroundings who wanted to try out street workout sport.
The aggressive masks fall down when they carefully listen to explanations of how to do an exercise and realize that they can do just the same. In my opinion, street workout is a very viewable and interesting way to prove to each other how much one can do if they train hard.
After the success in our closest sports grounds, we decided to perform an experiment by visiting and performing in a school where youth of socially unfavorable surroundings learn. The responsiveness was enormous. The teachers couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw boys who had no interest in anything in life suddenly had desire to train and try to achieve what they had seen the master classes in their school.
After this first experiment we visited more than 370 schools, youth centers and children’s homes. The interest rate was so high, we were forced to create 36 different places in Latvia where young people could come and train or at least receive an advice of how to train.
We also visited juvenile and adult prisons, giving our lectures and demonstrations of what we can do. Most of them have started training in street workout, reducing the level of violence amongst those who train in this sport. The secret is very simple – passionate trainings take most of their negative energy, leaving place for positive emotions, letting them believe in themselves and their abilities.
In three years we have managed to motivate around 15 000 young people to train in street workout in a country with 1,8 million population.
I think Pakistan is an ideal country for using street workout for positive education of street youth. We remind the youth two very important things – the strongest one must respect the weakest one, and the national belonging must not play any role whilst interacting with each other. In Latvia, there is a huge gap between Latvian-speaking and Russian-speaking people, but street workout is what unites them.
It is possible that Pakistan will not achieve the same thing from this kind of social activities in a blink of an eye, but the long-term result will be a healthy, positive and in something engaged youth who will achieve so much more in their future because they will believe in themselves. All that is needed in Pakistan for getting to that point is the right environment and some enthusiasts who could start the movement.
More about the Latvian Street workout Sport Society in our webpage http://www.ieluvingrosana.lv/ and more about the World Street Workout federation in our webpage http://www.wswf.org/.

Special thanks to Fakhar Bokhari for taking good care of me in Karachi and his great friends. You all welcomed in my country.