Pakistan~ Part 1

We are back from Pakistan… and as the saying goes, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I am sitting in Maine, listening to a hypnotic chanting Pakistani love song, wearing orange shalwar kameez, (very comfy long bead & embroidery adorned tunic with scarf for shoulders or head, over loose bottoms) just to bring myself a bit closer… But before I attempt to write about what floats in my mind in a space between reality & a dream, I must once again send Bursting Heart Thanks to All who helped in getting me over there. There is absolutely No Way I could’ve done it without you, so your gifts were certainly a Godsend, & I know you’ll be so proud of the work we did over there. As you’ll read, so many others gave in other ways as well, & I guess the most powerful message I brought home from my journey is that we are truly not alone in this world, especially when there is tragedy. We are also so much more alike than not. People are people & hearts are hearts & we are really just one big world. Since there is so much to tell, I’ll give us all a break & write in a few parts. I’ll also put some photos at the photo section of my website, & will add more as time passes… Pakistan… Part 1~ Though I knew about last October’s devastating earthquake, when it hit I was on a tour in Germany, & hurricane Katrina seemed to be the focus of most of the English speaking news, so I’m ashamed to say, most westerners had no idea as to its magnitude, myself included… In fact, October 8th 2005 brought the worst earthquake in the history of Pakistan & one of the most tragic in recorded history of the world. It was a crushing & powerful magnitude of 7.6, leaving 90,000 + dead & 3.3+ million homeless or injured. Of those killed, over 35,000 were children who died in schools. An entire generation… gone. The first inkling of my going there began with an email I received June 1st from my friend Doctor Batool Tauseef, a psychiatrist now living in Boston area, with whom I worked several years ago at a crisis clinic in W. MA. She now works/has affiliations with MA General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, & she is also a member of APPNA, the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America. “Hey Annie my Friend…I was thinking of you as I prepare to go for ten days to Pakistan to help in the earthquake zone in June. I was asked by one of the top Government officials (Mr. M. Soomro, Senate Chair/Acting President) to come and help. I thought of you and our discussions of wanting to make a difference and using music as a means. I know it is a short notice, but any chance you'd like to travel with me ???” Apparently Batool spoke with Mr Soomro for only 5 minutes at an APPNA symposium at which Mr. Soomro was speaking about Women’s Rights & also the earthquake. They discussed PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, & Batool suggested, “yes, you must deal with the emergency medical & housing needs related to a crisis, but then unless you also deal with the mental health needs in the aftermath, I believe you will not move on.” Later, Mr. Soomro would tell me that it took only 5 seconds, not 5 minutes for him to see that we could help his people. So our team of four, Batool Tauseef MD, a psychiatrist (& former Pakistani women’s badminton champion!), her friend Nadeem Afridi MD, a cardiologist, also originally from Pakistan, but now in the US & also a member of APPNA, my husband Larry French, former Westfield State College professor (who taught team building, adventure challenge education & first aid), & me, psych RN/musician/writer, touched down at 2AM on June 18th in Islamabad, Pakistan after almost 2 days travel. We were met, swept away & brought to Mr. Soomro’s guest house by a man named Mohammad Asalm, who’s strong, capable hands & dirt road no guard rail above take your breath away thousand foot drop driving skills were to amaze me for a week. After too few hours of sleep, a luscious breakfast of roti, eggs, fresh mango, tea & warm hospitality at the home of Nadeem’s sister & family (where I was gifted with a set of traditional leather & brass dancing ankle bells) and a brief visits to Batool’s aunt’s home, we drove 5 hours, which included a rare pounding hail storm, from Islamabad to Abbotabad. The 2 lane paved road was turned into a 4 lane at any time, per the clanging discretion of the largest truck passing the “take it or take a dive” smaller vehicles & occasional gasping saucer eyed foreigners, like me. The terrain was a beautiful patchwork of deep clay & soft brown steep peaks, some forested, much not, due to clearing for heating wood. I was first totally enchanted by of all things, the trucks & busses, each a virtual Pakistani Picasso Carnival, proudly, painstakingly & lovingly hand painted in every color of the spectrum with flowers, birds, knowing eyes, landscape scenes, folk motifs & poetry in Irdu. We arrived in Abbotabad, a bustling, dusty, whirling city, alive with thousands of people in colorful shalwar kameez, with beeping cars, trucks, busses, rickshaws & mule pulled buggys, at what was left standing of our hotel & home base for the next several days. The other section of the hotel still frighteningly… just not there, & being rebuilt with cement & rough posts & wooden scaffolding, after being tumbled by the earthquake. We were then introduced to Dr. Noaman Siddiqui, a pathologist & professor at the Ayub Medical Center, and Program Manager of the Disaster Management Center (where you can see some photos & read about some of what we did there) truly one of the most unsung heroes I’ve ever had the honor to meet. In Pakistan, as in the US, there are schools provided by the government, & then there are private pay schools where those who can afford to, or those sponsored by various charitable groups attend. These, odd as it seems to me, are called “public schools”. It was at such a school, the Abbottabad Public School and College, where Nadeem & Nauman spent their youth, & continue to live true to their school philosophy, treating all humans with dignity, love, kindness & respect. “Everyday I shall do at least one good deed that will please a fellow human being without distinction of country, class, colour or creed… Character is Destiny”. It seemed at every turn of our journey, we’d meet another member of their alumni association, the Abbotonians Old Boys Society & visit clinics, schools & organizations which they sponsor. Such a glowing example of “those who have” doing so much to help those who are less fortunate. We spent the evening learning more about the devastation of the quake & about all of the organizations who came from all corners of the globe to help, about those who lost so much and are attempting to rise above & create a new life in a place where nothing will ever be the same. We planned for our upcoming tasks, took a drive about to see the city, & then slept for a few hours before our real work began…

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