Pakistan~ Part 4

This is the final writing about my June journey to the earthquake zone in Pakistan. For those interested in the story in its entirety, I suggest scrolling below to my brief entry June 19 once I entered Pakistan & then just scrolling up the timeline. The notes “Pakistan 1” through 4 (this one) tell my story. As always, heartfelt thanks for joining me & supporting me through this very difficult, but powerful period. I promise I will share all I’ve learned in hopes of making a difference! After we left the “First Step School” we continued along the winding road through the Kashmiri region. Hearing about the conflicts in the area, I guess I expected to see soldiers, destruction, something very different peeking around every corner, instead I saw children playing, women going to markets, men working in fields & people just going about their daily activities. We pulled over at the top of a hill, parked & carefully teetered our way down a narrow gravel & dirt path, to a village of small close stone & cement houses, all standing, but some with huge gaping holes from the quake. We entered one house & a young woman named Zaphia met us with beaming smile & warm welcome. Twenty-four old Zaphia had lost her husband in the quake, but his body wasn’t found until weeks later while she was in the hospital recovering from a broken pelvis. She returned to her village after months of rehab. & decided to start a craft business with other women like herself who lost husbands. The “Village Of Hope Collaborative” was born. From outside, through the missing parts of her half present living room wall, we could see women & children coming to greet us. We were immediately surrounded as the floor was covered with absolutely stunning handmade clothing, bedspreads, pillow covers & beadwork. I purchased a bed set which I will be raffling off so that I may send them additional seed money, & I am still attempting to help them find vendors for their crafts. Zaphia hugged me close & said goodbye, & I tried not to think about the abyss over the side of the mountain as we worked our back home to the setting sun. We returned to Islamabad the following day to present separate workshops for teachers & young boys, all from remote schools in the earthquake zone, at Fazaldad Human Rights Institute, founded by Naeem Sarfraz, who’s son in law died protecting a woman from (illegal) honor killing. During our workshop with the 40 young boys, Batool asked, “if you could make one wish, what would it be?” We swallowed hard, holding back tears as the boys went around the circle, eyes down, then looking up as one after another they said, “to have my father & sister back”… “I wish that my mother is in heaven”…” I wish for my old life”. Later when we met with the teachers group, we began as usual, talking about posttraumatic stress, depression & strategies for recovery, when one courageous teacher quietly spoke, “tell me, how do I get this picture out of my mind?” He went on to describe digging through rubble of a school with other teachers as fading voices pleaded for water & help. Hours later, by the time they were able to scrape through & reach where the voices had been coming from, they found 26 children clinging to their principal… all dead. One by one heads bowed & tears began to finally flow… for all of us. Such numbing pain… We thanked each teacher for being there and doing so much to help each other heal. Still attempting to process our own emotions, we were immediately swept into cars & driven to our “home” in Islamabad, the guesthouse of Mr. Soomro, senate chair/acting president. When we left the guesthouse in the morning, we noticed tables & linens being set up in the huge gathering room, and suspected the luncheon Mr.Soomro had mentioned holding in our honor would be a bit more grand than we originally envisioned. We arrived to a stunning catered affair, as we were warmly met by a roomful of government officials and their spouses. There was a great deal of discussion about our work, future work, & more recommendations made, then Larry, Batool & I were again swept away via motorcade, screaming sirens & all to the train station where we three, Mr. Soomro, & his personal assistant were led through a human bodyguard alley to Mr. Soomro’s private train car, where we could see bodyguards protecting us outside our bulletproof windows at each stop, we spent the next four & one half hours together discussing everything from family life, to dreams of peace, to assassination attempts, to the earthquake, to Mr. Soomro’s mother’s work as a labor/union advocate, to music, to Mr. Soomro’s 13 years in the US as president of Bank of America! Through it all, Mr. Soomro’s kindness shined through, and I promised myself to share my story of a country & people so misunderstood by most Americans. People asked if we felt safe in Pakistan, especially being with government officials. I guess in one-way we were in the safest, most guarded of positions, & in other ways, we were most vulnerable. I was also learning more about Islam & how similar the basic beliefs of each of the major religions are. It is so very unfortunate that many people are not able to separate radical extremists in any group, be it Muslim, Christian, Protestant, Israeli, Pakistani … from those who’s practices & beliefs are as most of us feel & live, about just being kind, honest & treating others with love. Our train car uncoupled from the rest, & we were brought to a safe space where we disembarked & again, surrounded by guards we were assisted into cars & driven in a flag waving, horn blowing motorcade to a beautiful, restored historical area of downtown Lahore where after 7pm streets are blocked off to allow pedestrians to walk through the streets & eat at outdoor café’s. As we exited our cars, we were surrounded by people warmly greeting us & absolutely stunning leis of roses & jasmine were placed around our necks! (I was given 2- I assumed because I was later to perform!) There were drums beating out steady rhythms & white horses “dancing”, keeping time, amber lights were illuminating the scene & I felt as if I had stepped into a dream. Mr. Soomro leaned over to the three of us & whispered, “This is for you!” Feeling a bit stunned & overwhelmed, we were again introduced to various dignitaries & friends of Mr. Soomro, all educated people working for a free, tolerant, safe & just country. Our entourage was ushered down the street as guards parted the crowds & Larry, Batool & I were seated at the center of a banquet table in middle of the street in front of an incredibly talented traditional Pakistani band playing haunting music. After eating & listening for about half an hour, I was asked “are you ready to play?” My heart pounding, I donned a brass bell covered Pakistani ankle shaker (gifted to me by Nadeem’s sister) on one ankle & an African cocoon rattle shaker on the other. I ran through the scales I’d use on my cedar Native American drone flute, & tapped out a rhythm, showing the band what I’d play, as mics were placed at my feet & flute. They didn’t speak English & I spoke no Urdu, but as always, through music, our language difference was not an issue. All was quiet as I then slowly began to stomp a rhythm & blow into my flute. I nodded & the whole band kicked into a full groove as we danced in & out & around each other’s melody lines & rhythms. The temperature had to be over 100 degrees, & though I felt as if I was going to faint, I continued playing. It was one of, if not THE most exciting musical experience of my life… After what seemed like a lifetime, I exited the stage with tears in my eyes as the musicians touched their hearts, nodded to me… I beamed & nodded back as I touched my heart watching them as we walked back through the parting crowd. We returned to the guest house with Mr. Soomro & thanked him for sharing the heart & beauty of Pakistan… I only slept that night in half hour increments, if even that. Between the excitement & the “queasy stomach” of 2 days ago which erupted into a full blown GI situation overnight, I awoke exhausted & was able to eat only a few bites of dry toast before setting out to teach our last workshop at “Fountain House” which is a wonderfully progressive mental health facility & host site for the 2007 World Mental Health Organization Symposium on undeveloped nations. I pushed ahead as we met both staff & residents & before long, Batool & I were teaching & demonstrating our exercises. About 10 minutes into my stretching routine, the room began to spin. I turned to Batool & whispered “& now, you will finish, as I am going outside to faint”. I moved towards the door as Larry asked me “What are you doing?” I awoke on the floor surrounded by those I was supposed to be instructing, holding my head & sprinkling drops of water on my forehead. Fortunately the newspaper photographer did not use that photo for the paper! I was ushered into the staff office where I was given a tray full of beverages & rice & understanding. Later that day it was Larry’s turn to be sick & re all realized our western bodies are just too wimbly for even the water used to wash fruit & dishes. We thought we were being carfeful… Oh well, we’ll survive! We rested & packed up the next day for our long journey home… We said our goodbyes at the airport as so many thoughts & pictures raced through my mind. My life has been forever changed not only by witnessing such devastation, but also by spending time with those beautiful souls who selflessly rose above to help others. I have seen up close & personal a people who, most here in the west do not know or understand, and I have vowed to attempt to educate to make change. Pakistan, like every other country I’ve visited is mostly filled with people who are hard working & kind & loving, overworked, underpaid & struggling to just be. It’s time for me to go now as I have much work to do. ”I will return…” Assalam-O-Alaikum…

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