When he first engaged in an exchange program that would allow him to work with town officials in Dedham and Westwood, Aziz Ahmad Jamali, a government official from Pakistan, had two expectations.
"I expected less of hospitality and I also expected that people would be knowing less about Pakistan," Jamali said, smiling. "The first one came not to be true but the second one came to be exactly true."
Sitting in a meeting room of Westwood Town Hall on Thrusday, Jamali reflected on the last two weeks, during which he shadowed officials in Westwood, working alongside them in meetings and discussions.
The hospitality he saw from officials, he said, was incredible, and he hoped to bring some insight from his homeland to those who knew little about its culture.
The program was developed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the Institute for Training and Development in Amherst.
"We are grateful to them for arranging this, and I'm actually indebted to the people of Westwood and Dedham, because they faced me and they helped me and they made the best trip for me," Jamali said. "They took me to whatever place I thought was important."
Jamali was the only one of more than a dozen interns to set out alone; many of his colleagues teamed up in pairs of two, working with officials in such towns as Needham, Natick and Westborough. But he said going at it alone helped him form more personal relationships.
"I think exchange programs are very beneficial, in the sense of these close exchanges, because they provide an opportunity to the common people to know the real problems that underlie governments," he said. "It's not only the governments that run the countries, it's the people that run the governments, that elect the governments. It's very much the base of increased understanding."
Jamali, who, as part of the program, also worked with Dedham officials for two weeks prior to coming to Westwood, also had the chance to sit in at on Monday.
"It was peaceful, compared to most of our public occasions," Jamali said, chuckling. "I think this town meeting was peaceful compared to other town meetings. Some people asked me how it was and I said, 'spice-less.'"
But learning from local officials was only one thing Jamali hoped to accomplish during his stay. He also hoped to bring some knowledge of Pakistan to town, and educate officials and residents as to how things currently are in the country. Many folks he met could not identify where Pakistan is on the world map, he said.
"We would be expecting our American counterparts to feel and understand our society as well, which is more important I guess, because the part of the world that my group of government officials comes from has many different challenges than you've got over here," Jamali said.
As an example, Jamali explained that Pakistan, though less the size of Texas, has almost half the population of the entire United States.
"In a town like Westwood, in an area to a town equal to this in Pakistan, I would be dealing as an administrator - not for 15,000 people, I would be dealing with 100,000 people to cater for," he said. "And my resources would not be as ample or sufficient as over here, so I would have to prioritize."
Jamali was present for the , and was also in town when he heard the news that last weekend.
Although he stayed much of the time at the in Dedham for much of his trip, Jamali was also able to see some other areas of the state. Westwood Town Administrator Jaillet took him for a trek up Blue Hills, and even brought him to see Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod, Jamali said. Other officials were equally accomodating, he added.
What's more, officials held a send-off celebration for Jamali Thursday night at .
Exchange programs like the one Jamali was involved with are nothing new in Westwood. Jaillet said this week that the town has also engaged in programs with Japan, South America, and Northern Ireland, among others.
"The exchange programs really are a beneficial process by which two different countries, local government officials can sit down and talk about business and how to improve the level of services," Jaillet said. "It is a two-way door. I've always learned as much from what I've seen of local officials in other countries."
He added, "It gives us an opportunity to have a cultural exchange with people at the level most of us live at. We are all about having a good life and a peaceful life, and finding ways to interact with each other."
And Jamali said he's more than grateful to Jaillet and the other officials he's worked with during the last few weeks.
"As far as my care and attendance is concerned, both (Westwood and Dedham officials) have taken good care of me," Jamali said. "They have tried their best to make the tour worth while for me, not only in professional sense, but in personal sense as well."
Jamali returns to Amherst today to compile a report based on his learnings, and how they can be applied to government life in Pakistan, where he'll return on May 14 after visiting Washington D.C. and meeting with Sen. John Kerry.