Pakistan- Part 3~

Pakistan Part 3 It’s been a while since I’ve written. I think… no… I know I needed some time to process. I’ve been finding myself drifting back & forth between here & Pakistan, missing the smells, the colors & tastes, the smiles of the beautiful people there… thinking of the bone dust sadness, & the white light joy, & the flowers in the rubble. People ask me about the trip, & at times I’m able to calmly speak about our journey. Other times I find myself holding back tears as I talk about the tragedy of the quake & picture the faces of those who so affected me. Then later of course, the holding back takes its toll on my body, or my sleep, or my attitude about those who complain about their cable TV bleeping off for an hour, or the ‘annoying rain water that’s pooled’ in their driveway... And I was just in Pakistan for a short time. How are those who were there back in October surviving? On to my story… We began the next day at the crack of dawn, stopping along the way for a roadside breakfast of roti, very sweet tea & eggs which almost slid off the plate. Later we would vote on the eggs as the guilty party in causing Batool’s GI problems. The ride was truly a white knuckle affair as cars, trucks & busses vied for position on the thousand plus foot high, winding 2 lane road which was totally crumbled & narrowed in parts, due to the quake. I flashed back to my trip in a plywood boat ripping up the Mekong River in Laos 5 years ago, with full face shield, helmet & life jacket, where I finally said “If it’s my time, it’s my time. Nothing I can do, so I may as well just give it up!” I took a slow breath & relaxed for a few minutes until Larry announced “this is nothing. We’ll be in the outside lane on the return.” I asked our driver “Will we go back another way?” He said, “Of course not. This is the only way!” … “OH*&!!!@_)*!” After about 2 hours, we found ourselves staring at mountains which appeared to be sheared in half. We had reached the epicenter in the city of Balakot. It was then that the reality of the devastation hit me. Entire villages were gone… buried, and under the mounds & mounds of cracked, tossed earth, I knew… there were people, families, children who’d been sitting in school rooms… never, ever to return home again. My breath was literally sucked out of my body. There were remnants of buildings, some blue plastic roofed refugee tent structures still dotting the hillsides like frozen soldiers, and saddest of all, bits of clothing & tiny shoes, just one alone, here & there, in the rubble… & mass graves, & raggedy, attempting to peek through the dust flowers, & silence, & nothing. We stopped to pay our respects, but I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of the mass graves, even though we were photographing our journey so that we could hopefully use those photos later to raise money. Noaman pointed “That’s where the school was. That hillside was covered with houses. The town square was there.” I blinked. I took deep breaths. I swallowed hard. We walked about in a daze wondering how this possibly could’ve been & continued on… We arrived in the village of Muzzarrabad, at the tent/refugee camp which was situated in what I was told had been one of the most beautiful flower filled parks in the region. It was now a dusty camp village of tents, plastic, metal sheets & gentle faces. We were introduced to a stunning very young woman, I assumed in her mid to late teens, dressed in soft pink shalwar kamiz, with shawl covering her head. I later found out, she is 20 years old, and is the principal & founder of the “First Step School”, which was (another program) supported by the Abbotonians. Zaira, a college student, was in class when the quake hit. She describes tripping & falling as she ran to exit down the building’s spiral staircase, landing on bodies of other women who’d been trampled to death. Her friend yanked her up by the hair and pulled her along as the other leg of the staircase crumbled, crushing & killing everyone on it. She was one of the lucky ones who got out of the building alive. Six hundred did not. Zaira’s mother had also been killed in the quake, and she, her father & brother, like hundreds of others, found themselves living in the tent village. Since there was no clue as to when a new area school would be built, she decided to start one in a canvas & metal structure at the village. Now there are about 80 children at the school & several hundred people in the village who are waiting to decide where to relocate. After the quake, there were hundreds more, but they’ve moved to other parts of the region with kind relatives, or have rebuilt with whatever they could scrape together, but only outside the “red zone” where the huge fault line exists. After walking about the camp, our team of 5, plus Zaira & all of the teachers & children crowded into the dirt & scavenged plywood floored “classroom” to sing & dance & do whatever we could to bring some joy. We did group percussion & chants & I taught the sign language to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Then the children took turns singing & dancing for us! One little girl of about 7 proudly pointed to the sky as she danced & sang a song about child labor “the sky is not too high, put down your brooms & pick up your pencils”. I stood up & danced along. It was incredibly moving & powerful. Another child sang a song “I will always love you. You will always be my friend.” Batool whispered, translating into my ear. At this point, I cried openly. Every time I met Larry’s eyes, I turned away. I knew if we connected, we’d totally lose it. We needed to be strong for the children. I also played my cedar Native American flute while the children clapped along. They were mesmerized by the flute & I knew it was something that needed to remain behind, so I gave it to Zaira to share with the school. One teacher who had lost 23 relatives was also taken by the flute & promised to learn to play it. Since most of the children had lost everything including clothing, several of the teachers chipped in their own few rupees to buy them uniforms so that they would not feel singled out. Batool pulled money out of her purse & contributed to the “clothing fund.” Many children in the village still suffer with horrible memories & nightmares of losing all their friends and family, some of whom were pulled out of the rubble hours & days after the earthquake hit. Batool said "I asked them if they sleep at night. They said yes, but with their hands over their ears because they can still hear the screaming of their friends who didn’t make it in their heads.” As we spoke, sang & played musical games for the children, one little 5-year-old girl held tightly onto Batool’s clothing. We were later told by other children ’don’t mind her she lost her mother and her family and she just likes to hold onto other mom’s clothes,’". Some in the village are still waiting for those who will never be found… I shall finish for today, & I promise I will write my final entry soon. But I am far from finished, Pakistan is now a part of my life & will forever be in my heart. I will return! Love To All~ Assalam-O- Alaikum~ Annie

Leave a comment

Add comment