By Waqas Banoori

Waqas visiting a cell at the Allegheny Jail.

Unlike the most of the world, the United States is huge country made up of many different cultures, ethnicities and weather patterns. As I learn more and more about different parts of this beautiful country, I find myself amongst the few international visitors able to move away from the craze of NY and DC to experience an ordinary American city. Though, the truth is – Pittsburgh is far from ordinary.

A city with a beautiful downtown and suburbs with the highest number of bridges in the world, Pittsburgh is paradise. The city was overly polluted due to steel mills only 30 years ago, but now I think the Pittsburgh sky must be clearer than almost any city in the developing world. It’s hard to believe it was ever polluted. The Pittsburgh people are caring, responsive and all eager to learn about other parts of the world.

I had the opportunity to tour the city with VisitPittsburgh, a local non-profit organization working for tourism promotion. We went to see studios, theatres, single-screen cinemas, a century old steel mill, old Allegheny jail, local wineries, hotels, restaurants, stadiums and the famous Duquesne incline or cable car.

I have seen how the non-profit sector works and how it has contributed so much to this society. It is totally contrary to the developing world where the sector is only considered a western influence or a job industry. The organizations work to improve the environment, tourism, wildlife, poverty and almost every sphere of life.

For instance, I could hardly understand the plight of single-screen or small cinemas in my country, until I visited one here. I saw how a non-profit is working to help this historic cinema emerge from crisis. It’s so different in Pakistan. In Lahore, we had a historic outlet with national importance and it was shut down due to financial crisis. I bet if it had been here, the community would have taken up its responsibility. It’s another great learning for me.

Personally, my life here is different. I am working out and eating organic food, both new experiences for me. I am even learning to swim! One of the best experiences so far has been using the Chatham University fitness center. We lack these facilities, even at a national level. I hope when I return home, I will continue these habits. In Pakistan, we often spend much less time on these important aspects of life. During the period of one year in Pakistan, I work out about as much as I do here in one week.

For now, I am taking it all in. I will take back what I learn and apply it to life in Pakistan. And It’s not just related to journalism; it’s so much more.