This message is for readers of my blogs who, perhaps, may feel I complain too much about hardships in my travel pursuits. I consider myself luckiest bloody person on earth in my role with CAI as she attempts to make a positive difference to worldwide poor, destitute and downtrodden humanity; I would not trade this blessing for any worldly riches. Perhaps. I write my blogs the way I see situations, so you, the readers, may experience what I see and feel. The hardships are all worth it, for me; I only feel sadness that I get to hear countless prayers from widows, orphans and the destitute CAI helps using donor funds, the true beneficiaries of these prayers.
I arrive Karachi from Dubai with much trepidation; this trip was almost canceled because Pakistan decided, at the last minute, to suspend visa on arrival facilities for aid personnel. Frantic string pulls by Brigadier Zamurat Hussein of Husseini Foundation in Islamabad and an exception is made. I am given first class treatment at the immigration, escorted by an official who is waiting for my arrival at the airport. Even so, the visa is valid for 72 hours only and I have to reapply for an extension.
Karachi is dreadfully tense; there are daily target killings between supporters and opponents of MQM, which governs Karachi; the local TV station tells me 52 people have been publicly gunned down last week, in broad daylight. There is also resentment towards the federal government; they have set free Raymond Davis, the American CIA agent who gunned down 2 Pakistanis and a huge demonstration is on the cards for tomorrow. I don’t understand why; Pakistan seems to have humbled a “super power”. When the Americans ordered the release of Davis, Pakistan adamantly refused, starring down the “mighty” Americans. Davis was put through a judicial process, served jail time, paid blood money (was thus forgiven), paid a fine and was released.
After an early morning flight to Multan and an hour’s drive to Kot Addu next morning; I am ready to inspect and hand over 176 homes donated by CAI donors to flood victim. In addition to these homes, CAI donors have also contributed food grains, tents and blankets; for a detailed list, quantity and amounts for Pakistan flood relief project, click here . At Kot Addu, I meet a large delegation of people who have benefited from new homes. Also present is Brigadier Zamurat Hussein, my host and escort for the next 2 days as we drive the length of flood stricken areas of Punjab. In addition, there are 2 cameramen from Al Hadi TV, capturing on camera every small detail; picking a nose or scratching unholy places gets tricky.
Husseini Foundation has done an excellent job with the homes; they are well constructed, neat and sturdy with 100 year warranty for the roof. I wish so much that you, the donors, are present when we give the homes away. I shake hundreds of calloused farmer hands, receive heartfelt prayers and accept countless blessings from victims. Unlike Sindh, where the situation, especially of hunger, is still dire, Punjab looks promising. Ironically, flood waters have revitalized the soil and farmers are all set to have a bumper wheat and cotton harvest, insha’Allah. Miles and miles of tall wheat crop, lush rolling lands unfold before us as we drive through Punjab.
Over 2 days, we have 2 formal presentation sessions with representatives of local government in attendance, one attended by a local MP Rasheed Akber Khan. Khan has survived a suicide bomb attack by the Taliban, even though over a hundred of his constituents perished. He qualifies for official protection, from 4 mean looking heavily armed men surrounding him. This makes me very nervous because these are exactly soft spots that attract suicide attacks. I try keeping a healthy distance from him but my hosts keep drawing me in as a mark of respect. It is a very nervous hour that passes listening to him speak in Saraiki (local Punjabi dialect) to about 300 people in attendance and I am much relieved when it all ends and we depart for Dera Ismail Khan to catch a flight to Islamabad.
There is an average of 2 target killings of minority Muslims in Dera Ismail Khan daily. We are strongly cautioned by our very kind host Kaiser Abbas, not to stop anywhere until we get to the airport. No breaks; no prayer stops or bathroom break stops. The situation is so dicey even our driver is not told we are flying out from Dera Ismail Kahn airport until the last minute. Alhamd’Allah, there are no incidents and we reach the airport, say our noon prayers; we depart for Islamabad late in the day.
I fly to Karachi the next day and extend my expired visa for another 72 hours, courtesy again of Brigadier Zamurat Hussein; it pays to be an ex army man in Pakistan. Large sections of Karachi are shut down; traders protesting the killings of 9 people just outside Sadar yesterday.
Accompanied by Afzal Fazal, chairman of Faiz e Qaim Trust, I fly to Bahawalpur next morning; we are to inspect 2 schools in poor areas, run by this Trust. I spend a restless night at a seedy hotel room where mosquitoes, my real terrorists, reign. Next morning, it is a 30 mile drive to the school. When I enter the very modest Al Abbas Primary School in Alihwan, Basti Saadat, I am showered by rose petals, so many, one or two decide to reside in my mouth; I spit them out. I meet very, very poor, emaciated but smiling children who put on a brief play in my honor. They have also tried to wear their best for my benefit.
Then I notice a 6 or 7 year old bony girl without shoes, desperately trying, and failing, to hide dirty cracked feet from my eyes; I am so shocked, speechless, I cannot think for a moment. I try to see if any other children are similarly attired but find none. The poor girl avoids my eyes; I feel (irrational) anger rise up in me at the apparent unfairness of her situation. I question the school principal, but he just shrugs his shoulders in embarrassment. Then tears come and I stupidly weep; not exactly sure why, but emotions bubble up at the memory my own comfortable childhood, perhaps. I request Afzalbhai to give 2 sets of uniforms and a pair of shoes to each of the 152 students as personal donation. CAI, will, insha’Allah construct a library, provide a water cooler and support other refurbishments the school urgently require.
The other school, Al Murtaza Secondary School, Hateji, Potla Baqar Shah is slightly better endowed; children have uniforms and appear healthy and well nourished. Here as well, I am showered with rose petals; for a brief moment am terrified I might me getting married. Again! The children put on a delightful comedy drama for my pleasure. CAI will facilitate a library and a water cooler for harsh summer months here as well, insha’Allah.
Later in the day, we leave for Karachi from Rahim Yar Khan Airport. In Karachi, there is great ruckus outside the airport; youths in motorbikes with huge Pakistan flags creating peril and nuisance for traffic, celebrating Pakistan’s cricket win against West Indies in the semi finals of the world cup. Hassanbhai Aloolo of Husseini Foundation treats me with excellent barbecued chicken as we update each other with ongoing CAI supported projects in Pakistan. I depart Karachi for Mumbai via Dubai next morning.
Click here to view excellent photos of my trip to Pakistan.