A Story for Valentino, Sebastian, Dexter, Harriet, Joe, Charlie, Jaimee, Joe and Connor

Matimbe is a goat herd… He’s 6 years old. He doesn’t do it all alone! His younger brother, Joshua helps him. Joshua is 5. They live in the countryside, surrounded by avocado and orange trees… The oranges are green but taste so sweet.

Joshua

Matimbe

The avocados drop ripe from the trees into Matimbe’s hands if he waits at the right time under the tree. Sometimes they are very hard still, like rocks and bright green, but many times they are going dark and ripe and just perfect to share with Joshua.

Somedays Laila gives them fresh breadrolls to take with them when they work. Laila is the lady who sells bread to all the farmworkers everyday. Her bread costs 1 Meticais and tastes like a million dollars. There is a huge banana plantation near the village of Chivonguene where Matimbe’s family lives. Some of the people work there, but most have their own Machambas where they grow corn and beans.

Two months ago the whole village had to run and hide as the water was coming from the mountains and people said they would drown if they stayed there! They ran and left everything. They went to a place that was two hours walk away, but made it in an hour and a half as they ran the whole way!

Matimbe tried to make the goats run with him, but some were confused and ran away. He was scared his father would be cross with him, normally his father gets very mad if Matimbe loses even one kid… but this time his father just held him tight and said not to worry… That everything would be fine.

Father and Son

Matimbe’s mother, Gloria, carried all the pots and pans on her head with the three blankets she could fit. She looked really sad and worried, like the time that father had lost all his seeds last year because of the rains. But they were ok, they got through that and soon they had plenty to eat again. This year would be the same. Father would work hard at the farm with mother and they would do their best to go to school and keep the goats together and fat.

When they went to the highland, father asked Uncle Sebastiao to stay with the house so that nothing would be robbed while they were away. Sebastiao had to climb on top of the roof of the house and sleep there for four days. He took wood from a part of the house to make a fire so he could cook ontop of the house. It was very dangerous, and there were lots of mosquitos all the time. The water came up two metres around the house, like a deep swimming pool.

Saving Beds

Sebastiao made a line and caught some fish which he dried in the sun on the roof. Sebastiao wasn’t the only person who stayed in the village, a few other men stayed on their roofs to protect their houses. Almost all of their things got destroyed by the flood, but they were able to save some chairs and mattresses and blankets. They slept under the beautiful stars and prayed and hoped that the flooding would stop so they could repair their homes and their families could come back.

Matimbe's House

Now things are getting back to normal. Uncle Sebastiao and Matimbe’s father have been fixing up the house with sticks and straw, Gloria has been fetching mud from the area and packing it in between the sticks to close up all the holes in the house. The mosquitos are crazy, but somebody from the government gave them a net so they are able to all huddle underneath it. Matimbe doesn’t usually sleep close to his mother and father, but because they only have one net, Gloria has insisted that they must all sleep close together so nobody get’s sick. Father snores and Joshua kicks hard in his sleep, so Matimbe doesn’t sleep so well. But he doesn’t want Malaria. He saw Laila with it last year… she was so ill. She could not make bread for one week and she just lay on the ground underneath one of the trees. They were scared that she would not get up, but somebody gave her money to get a Chappa to the doctor nearby and he gave her some medicine. She got better but many said it was because she was not old and weak. Matimbe is determined not to get Malaria even if it means he needs to be kicked by Joshua and have his father snoring in his ear. Anyway, Gloria normally sings quietly to them as they fall asleep and that makes him happy.

Matimbe lost his school books and his colouring pencils and his school bag in the flood. He’s very sad, because he got them last year and he was only one of a few children that got them at the school. They told him to take care of them, because there would not be more again. So now he’s wondering what he will do. Joshua was not happy about the colouring pencils either because he loves to use them to scribble everywhere! Matimbe hopes that the school will open again soon. The classroom got completely flooded and the teacher’s house fell down. The teacher is ok though, she went to the big town where her sister lives. She will come back next week and then she will want the village to help with cleaning up the school.

You!

The teacher’s name is Nancy, and Matimbe likes her very much. She always smiles and says nice things. She notices all the moods of Matimbe’s friends, if they are sad or happy or sick or lazy… and she asks them what they need. When she can, she buys bread and yoghurt for the class so that they can have energy for learning. She says it is important that Matimbe eats and sleeps well so that he can pay attention in class. Matimbe loves school. His favourite class is English. He likes to learn new words so he can speak to the new people when they come to the village. They come to visit his village, but none of them can speak the local language, Changana… he doesn’t understand why you would go somewhere to visit someone but not be able to speak to them in their language. He wants to visit them at their home and speak to them in English, then they will be shocked and surprised and happy!!! He also loves mathematics. Matimbe spends all day counting things. When he is minding the goats he counts them. When he is catching avocados he counts them. When he is walking through the fields to bring some bread to Gloria, he counts the maize plants. He loves to add up numbers. He likes to know something certain, and for Matimbe, numbers don’t change. He relies on numbers. Sometimes Matimbe helps his father count the money that they make from selling maize and beans. It doesn’t take long, but it is nice to play with the shiny coins. They don’t seem to stay long, the coins. Father buys fertiliser and seeds and pays for a new hoe or some blankets. There is always another expense.

Friends

Matimbe will work hard at school so that he can go and work in the city where he has heard there is a lot of money, especially if you study hard at Maths and English. Then he will buy Gloria and his father a beautiful new house that will be strong enough to resist the floods, like the one that the shop owner lives in. He might even make it have a big roof so he can put the goats ontop when it floods! And maybe a space for his books and for Joshua so that they can stay dry and safe.

Sister and Brother

Sitting in a greasy spoon in Chokwe town on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.

The Sugestoes do Chefe are posted on a blackboard in a corner of the bar. Some of the suggestions are not available in this establishment today… Fish is not available. Vegetables also seemed to incur some surprise!

I’ve chosen the soup and chips… Patates con? asked the barman. Con frango? Biefe? No thanks, I’ll have chips with Soup… really? Me no lave mova… I don’t want meat, I said in something approaching Shangana. Just chips and vegetables if you have them… So I got soup with meat bones, beef and chicken seemed to form most of the stock.

I ordered a beer along with the soup and chips, a Laurentina Preta. A gorgeous sweet, malty stout-like drink, with a light head. It’s refreshing and malty and tastes like a pint of pure goodness. It doesn’t have the heaviness of Guinness, but at first glance it could fool you.

This morning I helped out at a WASH distribution in Canicado, a town just across the Limpopo river in Guija district. Canicado was badly affected by the floods, having over 2 metres of water wash through their homes. My colleague, Rosianto, distributed buckets, soap and Certeza water treatment there today to 120 families. I threw in 120 mosquito nets from the shelter stock.

Just as well for me as for the families! I had them in the bedroom in the hotel with me last night, and although I can now be quite grateful for the sheer absence of mosquitos in my room, I feel sure the amount of insecticide in the nets in the confined space contributed to me feeling quite queasy this morning…

It was interesting being at the WASH distribution, it’s really different to how our Shelter distributions are done. Rosianto explained to people how to wash their hands properly and how to use Certeza correctly. With the Shelter items, most people know how to use a tarp well and just want the material as fast as possible. We could spend more time explaining the use and possible home improvements, but I think that this is pretty redundant in most cases. I’ve seen some pretty impressive shelters people have built with the tarps we’ve given them. We’ll be working with a team of local builders to spread messages in the community of how to locate your building better to avoid or reduce flood damage, and what kind of improvements you can do to your house to render it more resilient to risks of flood, earthquake, high winds etc. etc.

At the distribution, I marked people’s thumbnail with blue permanent marker to show they had received something, and then handed them the bucket with soap, certeza and mosquito net. I find it really nice doing that work. You look into people’s faces and eyes and see part of their story. You see old women and young children, blaggards, and gangsters, people who have worked too hard at life, all their lives. Women with infants on their backs, young girls with dreams still alive in their eyes. Old men with clouded eyes but peaceful demeanors. Young boys with cheek and devilment and fun in every movement of their bodies, ready for life and excitement. Old women worn out by working on farms and in houses for little or nothing and seeing all they have earned washed away in one night. Still light in their eyes and tranquility in their faces. I hope I can be somebody like that. I hope that I don’t let bitterness fester in me and shrivel up and die instead of taking every little drop of life and enjoying every bit of goodness.

So now, I’m just chilling, drinking my Preta and wondering what to do for the rest of the day, at least until I meet up with guys from the Red Cross later on to discuss our plans for the next couple of days.

All is good, apart from a niggling little cough I have as a result of the AC in the car and the hotel room. I hate AC, but Chokwe has been insanely hot over the last few days. It’s humid and paradoxically sandy as well! I guess people are just relieved that there are no longer 2 metres of water everywhere, like there was just 2 weeks ago!

Business in Chokwe is back to almost usual, shops are open, hotels are open. The Galp petrol station was back open and running and serving the best espresso this far North of Macia. It hasn’t been open for the past 3 days and I was getting itchy from my caffeine addiction, so I asked what had happened, why was the station closed? I was told the owner had been shot dead in a robbery on Thursday evening or so. He was at home, I think, and somebody came for him and his money. Now he’s dead. I’m not sure if they got any money off him.

Like any other place where people are poor, life is relatively cheap. But despite that, I don’t feel in any danger in Chokwe, at least not in daylight hours. The night is another story. It’s strange how night changes the personality of a place, provides places for opportunists to hide and run away. Let them run, let them hide. We’ll enjoy what we can.

Even the three flies in my Preta don’t bother me!

Acacia Coffee Shop

I’m sitting at Acacia Coffee Shop.  My coffee has just been made.  It’s strong and dark and brimful of taste.  It’s called Bune, I believe that’s an Ethiopian word for coffee.  It’s made with lots of spices, cinnamon and something that tastes slightly of vanilla.  But, most of all, it’s chock full of coffee flavour, tasting richly of the beans that have just been roasted in a pot over charcoal.  Starbucks has nothing on this.  If they could can it they would!

To my right three sewing machines are set up, and a man in traditional costume is measuring trouser legs carefully to stitch them up just right.  His client is standing patiently, leaning on the worktop waiting for his new brown trousers.  The cloth looks brand new, it must be for a special occasion.

To the front of Acacia Coffee Shop, the place we named for the beautiful big tree over it, a group of people wearing WFP shirts and chatting on the radio stand up after having enjoyed a nice afternoon cuppa.

The ground is red brown here, it’s mucky in patches, and pieces of debris are lying around carelessly.  Goats are being pulled through the puddles on lines of thin rope.  A wasp or bee is tempted by my coffee, but seems challenged by the heat.  He’s flirting with the rim of the glass and then taking flight again.

Beyond the huddle that is growing around the tailor, a corrugated shack stands.  It’s side half covered with advertisements for job positions for NGOs.  Undoubtedly my ad is there, requesting a Construction Supervisor.  Up to 5 years experience, English, Arabic, Ingassana and Urduk all languages requested or required.  Must be a natural genius, a team leader, able to deal with chaos, enterprising and able to work on own initiative…does such a person exist?  Not only in Maban, but anywhere?  The queue of people is building at the impromptu notice board.  I see a woman in peach, another in pink, a lady in yellow, a man in old white shirt and tired black trousers.  A lady in blue holds her handbag whilst leaning in to read the ads.  Does anything here describe their skills?  Where does it say “a multi talented resourceful person who has been bombed and displaced from their home multiple times, a person who has walked for a month to safety wearing only the shoes on their feet and the clothing the had on.  A person who did everything to feed their children along the walk, despite their cattle and goats dying on the road.  A person who cannot be broken by the fighting for a cause they neither understand nor want.  Just a chance for a life free from fear.”  I don’t believe that job advert is posted here.  But – I don’t fret – these people have endured a hell and made it through.  They’ll find an opportunity where one exists and fight to survive.  They’ll loan each other meat and grain and water and space to sleep.  Despite the very many challenges, they’ll rise again.

The New Latrine – An Ode

The New Latrine

The new latrine, how sweet it smells, so clean, no sign of use.  The old carcass reused to give it some nostalgic comfort.  Yet, barely any resemblance to the old, it has no reek, the awful discharge of man does not creep upwards, moving terrifyingly closer with each deposit.

No, this latrine is blessedly vacant, almost, but not quite unused.  Unsullied by our troubled digestions.  The flies have not yet made a home here, their larvae do not greet each deposit with rampant joy and zest.

Instead, our new latrine is pure.  A beautiful, simplistic slab, clean concrete, simple shapes.  A gorgeous giant hole for ease of targetting.  No more of those awkwardly abandoned messes left behind in haste.  No more of scraping with an empty toilet roll someone else’s folly, across the obstacles to dispose.

Now the sturdy foot pedestals clearly mark where one should stand, to avoid any upset or disturbing concerns.  The dilema over which position to choose to avoid the consequences of splash has been removed.  Now one can release in perfect comfort that all will be accomodated.

Do I miss the old latrine?  It’s stench grabbing by the throat as you approached?  The flies whirling around taking every opportunity for sustenance?  Their larvae growing while you watched them digest as you deposited?  The constant thought that this contribution may be the last that this struggling structure could take?

No, I miss you not, you horrid part of hell!  I hope that I never enter your foul den again.  Today I searched for a latrine to use in camp, not many were acceptable but all were superior to you.  Goodnight and goodluck old latrine, you have passed your prime and so tonight, we welcome with abandon your successor, oh concrete giant!  Oh clean and empty space!

Day 1 – Juba, South Sudan

I’m sitting at the river’s edge in Juba, South Sudan. The world’s newest country, and a country born into a troubled existence. Not that you would know it from where I’m sitting. The river Juba is wide and, although reasonably fast, it’s also serene. There are large islands of reeds rustling calmly with the faintest whisper of a breeze on this humid evening. The mountains are peeking out from behind lush green trees that stretch into the distance. The sky is a very pale, milky blue, with a few whispy clouds. My stewed fish arrived, a lovely big juicy snapper or some such, whole, stewed in onions and tomatoes and lovely and tasty, served with a big portion of white rice. Yum scummly dumscious.… I wolfed it down pretty quickly as the flies seemed to have serious plans for it! I went to see if I could get an internet connection, and got one in reception thanks to the nice ladies who reset their modem just for li’l ol’ me.

Even with the rebooted modem, I could barely get any signal, so just sent a brief email to Euan letting him know I was alive! Forgot to mention that I have the proof of life questions and answers though! Eeeeekkk! So I’m back in my room now, which is ultra basic, but does have a decent water flow for a nice, cold shower! Much needed after a sticky day like today! There is an AC unit in the room, and a little telly, and a lovely big mozzie net over the bed, which I’ve just taken refuge under.

Leaving Islamabad

I’ve been remote from the blog recently, work has been demanding and a bit depressing.  At times, I didn’t feel like writing, because I couldn’t think of anything positive to write.  I’m over that now, and happy out!  I’m drinking coffee and eating toast with Lime marmalade in bed on a Sunny Saturday morning! Yay!

I spent two weeks in England in mid March being trained in the organisations policy, process and security.

The security training was quite built up to be quite an event!  All a bit hush-hush before hand, so you thought you were going to be kidnapped on arrival in Wellingborough!  In the end, the training was excellent, with minimum scaryness until towards the end of the week where they put us through our paces with scenarios in the field, having to negotiate with communities, avoiding landmines, dealing with checkpoints and providing first aid to car crash victims.  It was good fun, and met a lot of fantastic people.

On my return to Islamabad, it was all go to get a proposal in for homes for Lower Sindh.  It took me a while to tie it all together, but I got there in the end.

In the meantime, a really nasty crisis had developed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the Pakistan army has been “clearing out” terrorist elements.  Since January of this year, over a quarter of a million people have been displaced from their homes and villages, forcibly evicted by the army.  They had to leave pretty much all their belongings behind and travel to Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat districts to find safe places to temporarily settle.  Can you imagine?  The army comes to your house and says “You have one day to get out of here, take your things, pack up and go.  We will be shooting people here, if you are not gone, you may get shot.”  It’s insane.  It’s not right, and it doesn’t seem very clever either!  I mean how is that supposed to work?  First of all, if I’m a “bad” guy (whatever that is now!) I’ve got warniing that you are coming into the village, so all I have to do is scarper, right?  Secondly, if I’m an innocent little kid in a family that is not involved in any illicit activities and I’m kicked out of my home, school, village and all of the safety and security I know to a big camp full of all kinds of risks and insecurity, I think I’m going to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder!  So surely this displacement breeds exactly the elements that the army is allegedly trying to eliminate?  For every person they capture or kill, I reckon they are making another 100 potential enemies.  Maybe even a thousand.

Anyway, I didn’t get funding for homes in Lower Sindh, because the money in the fund was dwindling and ended up getting consumed by the needs of the disgracefully displaced people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  I guess it doesn’t matter where the money goes, as long as it goes to somebody who needs it.  But I am sad for a number of reasons, first of all, the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should never be in that situation, it’s a completely man made disaster, that we in the West have been largely responsible for.  The war in Afghanistan has pushed people across the border into Pakistan in that region, and helped to increase the paramilitary activity there.  I’m also sad because I really wanted to help the people of Lower Sindh with homes, but I haven’t managed to do anything there as yet.  I haven’t given up on it yet, yesterday I put together an idea for training in construction and disaster risk reduction in villages, so maybe that will come to something yet.

I know the people of Lower Sindh will rebuild their lives, but it is sad to know that I haven’t been able to take away some of the terrible burden they carry.  It is awful to have your home and all your belongings wash away, the crops where you work have also been washed away, so in many cases you don’t have any work.  You were already poor, but now you have absolutely nothing to rebuild the home for your family.  Your employer owns the land where you live, and even if you can rebuild a decent home, he or she will dictate where you can build and will continue to own the land on which you build.  You are unlikely to invest into an expensive safe house, even if you can manage to do so, because the employer can let you go at any time, and you will have to move away from the house.  And the next rains are due in July.

For me, I’m back in sunny England, and it is sunny today.  It’s Saturday, the 12th of May, it looks like summer, well, like a beautiful spring day at least!  I’ve been home for two weeks now and had a nice time with Euan before I go off on my next adventure.

Irfan’s Secret Love

Today was a nice day, I got up at 7.  Alright, it was 7.30 or 7.45… but close enough!

Tackling the cold shower was a struggle, I’m so spoilt with hot water in Islamabad.  And even in Sukkur, the water was hot, admittedly the shower head didn’t work in Sukkur so I used a cup and bucket shower routine… But I would take a cup and bucket shower over a cold shower any day of the week.  In Jacobabad the water flow and pressure are great, but the water is freezing cold!  I got through it, one limb at a time.  Reminds me of the nursery song, one finger, one thumb keep moving, one arm, one leg… That’s all I could handle at one go…

Downstairs, the cook was preparing some bread and milky coffee for me.  I went and ate it in the kitchen with him and chatted in Sindhlish.  The security man at the gate, and the driver sitting with him, kept standing up to attention everytime I walked through the common area.  I kept asking them to sit down and relax, but they are so well mannered, they can’t help themselves.  It made me feel guilty for walking through the area!

I went upstairs after breakfast to work on yesterday’s blog in my room.

At 9.15 I went downstairs to see if Irfan had arrived yet, we were due to leave at 9am.  He was there, but he said we were still waiting for the police escort, so we sat, had tea and waited.

We left shortly before 10am, heading to this central plaza area where there had been a child lying on the edge of the road yesterday.  The child looked fine, but was just resting and lying on a blanket on the road!  He wasn’t on the path where he would have been relatively safe, but instead lying right near the edge of a busy road where people could accidentally run over him.

He was there again this morning.
Sheheryar joined us just as I checked to see if the child was there.  I wasn’t expecting him to join us, as he had said that he had plans to go to Sukkur today.

We talked about the child and he said that the parents employed that tactic to get more sympathy out of passers-by.  We discussed the fact that we seem to reward parents for poor behaviour by giving them assistance.  How often does somebody give money to a young mother who is struggling to bring her children up well, and within the limits of her means?  Instead, we feel sorry for a child who is put in an unsafe place – DELIBERATELY – by it’s parents in order to garner sympathy and make us pay up… And it works!  I will report the child’s situation, so that they can see what intervention they could make, the mother’s marketing ploy has worked!

We headed down the road with a truck police escort initially – I believe!  But, again, this baton was passed on to a pair of police men on a motorbike further down the road, where the jursidiction changed.  We drove down past the Salinas of Jacobabad, past a Railway Station in the middle of nowhere that looks like it serves nobody!  In fact, it looks like it has been untouched since a relatively recent build.  Maybe somebody planned to have a plantation of rice or a rice mill or something there at some point, but for now, it seems completely empty… like a new ghost trainstation.

After the Salinas, there are mudflat kind of areas, with a bit of salt residue and slight ponding visible, they look like areas that previously would have had agriculture, but over the years they’ve declined to the point that they are at now, which is virtual desert.  We continued down a narrow road which is built on a levee above the existing ground, it is being upgraded / rebuilt as it was almost completely washed away as a result of the 2010 floods.  The work is being done by a combination of expensive machinery and equipment and incredibly cheap and hardworking physical labour.  I saw the men today place the fine aggregates over the coarse aggregate by hand using mixing bowls for placement, one bowl at a time, and then hand patting the fines into the road… Backbreaking, hot, painful, dry, thirst work.  The temperature is in the high 20s or early 30s centigrade, and the bright sunlight on the white lime rock and pale sand that they are using must be radiating most of the light back into their faces and eyes.  They have large excavators, loaders, trucks, rollers and graders but I guess they feel they need to employ some local labour, so rather than give them some decent money for some decent work they give them work that nobody in their right mind and with any other option of livelihood would ever do.  Blinding them hour by hour.

When we got to the end of this stretch of road, which was a narrow little strip between two stretches of waterlogged land, we turned left, following the motorbike up an even narrower road.  The new road was piled high with earth on both sides, mud that had been excavated from new or newly repaired channels for water either side of the road.  The mud piled high either side limited the width of road to a very narrow lane, allowing our car only stilting progress along the road.  I can’t understand what they were thinking with their new canals either side of the road, as once the rain comes, the canals will erode into the road width, rendering the road completely impassable.  I’m sure there is some logic, but I can’t see it.

We saw a village ahead and thought that we might have arrived at Pandhi Khan Khoso, but alas, the motorcycle ahead of us continued on around the village and further on down a narrow road between some beautiful fields.

This stretch of road was stunningly beautiful.  There were yellow and bright green crops growing in the fields either side, and there was beautiful golden hay piled up high in stacks along the side of the road.  We saw an eagle land at one point on one of the haystacks and snapped his picture.  We travelled further on, and stopped at a number of locations to ask for directions.  We entered a small village in this little bit of paradise.  It appeared to have the same name as the village we were looking for, but unfortunately, it was not the one.  We were lost.  Not only were we not in the right village, we weren’t even in the correct Union Council!  Now a Union Council, or UC as it is commonly termed, is similar to a Parish in the UK or Ireland.  It is a smallish area consisting of groups of many villages.  It turns out, we were quite remote from the UC were were supposed to be in, so we turned around and headed back out again, along the same path we’d come from.  However, we were all congratulating ourselves that we would not have seen such a lovely place and such beautiful things if we hadn’t taken this little detour.  It took us probably another hour to get to where we had originally wanted to be, along the way we drove down an incredibly sandy dusty road, past more of these beautiful fields full of gorgeous greens and yellows.
When we got to our next jurisdiction point we stopped for a few minutes to wait for the next escort to arrive.  I got out of the car and had a small stroll to see what was around.  There was a great solid mud wall built as a boundary fortress wall around somebody’s house that looked amazing.  It was only built with mud, but it was probably about 10 foot high, and looked really solid.  Every 20′ along it there was a butress rib to reinforce the wall and prevent it from overturning.  These were also built out of mud.

Our new escorts arrived on their motorbike, looking resplendent with a woven scarf wrapped around the driver’s head.  They were covered in a thin film of dust.  I grabbed the opportunity to take their photo, but sadly the driver removed his most excellent turban for his pose.  He put it on again for the second picture!

Probably about 20mins drive down the road we reached our target destination.  At first glance, it looked like a more affluent community than yesterday’s communities.  There were loads of cattle near the entrance to the village, the houses – not ours, but others, looked well built and made of brick.  They had electricity and television.  I wasn’t entirely sure why we had selected this place in the first place.  We entered the village and met with the people who had received houses from our 2010 response.  Most were happy, which was great to know.  There are a couple of issues though which I’ll have to discuss with Senior Management and see how they want us to proceed.  It’s a difficult one, because, as I said, the people are certainly not the most deprived that we have met, so how much we should assist is a matter of opinion.  Certainly, they need the opportunity to grow, get educated and develop, but if funding is in short supply, shouldn’t we look at the worst cases first?  Or is that similar to the situation with the woman and her child lying on the road?  Are these the people who are trying the hardest with what they’ve got?  Shouldn’t we bolster and reward their initiative in getting on the first rung?

One particular beneficiary was very angry and upset, he didn’t want to know about any solutions to the problems with his house.  He asked us for solutions and then said, “Never mind, I’m a skilled mason.  I will buy burnt bricks and build my own new house.  I’ll knock down this house you built, and build my own.”  I said to him, if you have money to buy burnt bricks, off you go!

We wandered back towards the car, but were asked to sit and drink tea with a few of the people from the village, so we sat under a nice building while people brought us tea and things to nibble on.  I was offered some fried rice that had chicken pieces in it, it looked yummy, but I’ve been a fish eating veggie for about 20 years now!  It looked nice and I wanted to try it, so I tried to get a piece without any chicken on it, but as I looked at the little clump of rice in my hand I saw a tiny, tiny piece of chicken… I was being observed by loads of people so just wolfed it down!  Choking on the thought of chicken and a piece of chilli as I swallowed!  Hahahahha, I was a mess over the smallest piece of chicken you’ve ever seen!  Lesson learned, I now will eat what people offer without making a song and dance about it!  I’ll avoid the meat where possible, but not to the extent that I choke!  Hahhahaha.  Silly girl.

Irfan and the driver took me back to the airport in Sukkur, a 2 hour drive or so.  On the way our conversation took a more personal tone, and he told me about his true love that he had fallen in love with years ago.  Sadly, she was from a different denomination of Islam to him, so even though they were very in love, her brother would not allow them to marry.  Her brother had whisked his sister off to the United Arab Emirates so that she would not be tempted by her love.  To safety in the UAE! Please!

Both of them are still single and still very much in love with each other.

I hope they get to find each other in the end.

Breakfast in Jacobabad

Good morning from sunny Jacobabad.  Yesterday morning I woke up in the Step Inn in Sukkur.  The car was supposed to be at the hotel at 7am.  The car, driver and security man arrived at 7.30am.  Not bad I guess, but then the security coordinator, told me that we were waiting for a police escort!  I was not happy, at all.  I asked Irfan if we really needed a police escort, and he said we did.  He said that the area we were going to was really insecure and we had to have police with us.  I was still in a miff, so I sent some communications to the Security and also my boss in Islamabad asking if we had to use the Police, and explaining my concerns about the fact that people in the villages might not like to talk to us very much if we were surrounded by armed police officers.  At 8am the cops arrived, and we took off towards Jacobabad, I didn’t think that the situation would change, but hoped that I would get a call en route saying we could let the police go.  We didn’t.

There are a number of districts between Sukkur and Jacobabad, I think at least 3.  At the border of each district, the police jurisdiction changes so we would stop at the side of the road for the next police crew to arrive.  I have to say they were prompt though, there was no real hanging around waiting.  Not like Irish cops! JOKE! 🙂

I was still a bit sleepy and was kind of nodding off occasionally.  At one point the police escort in front of our car flagged down a huge truck, and pulled him over to the side of the road.  We pulled in also.  It turned out that a hundred yards or so before the truck had hit the back of a motorcycle and propelled it and it’s two passengers off the road.  The truck had kept on going as if he didn’t even see what he had done.

I had missed the incident entirely, Euan would say that is because I’m unobservant, but actually I had sort of nodded off and my eyes were closed when the truck hit the motorcycle.

One of our police escort crew stayed with the injured men and the truck to wait for an ambulance which was summoned.  I felt like I should get out of the car and see if I could help with first aid, but I know I would have given my security a heart attack.  I think I should get some guidance on this from my boss.  This is a problem I’ve had before in Haiti, we were driving past a house where somebody was sick, and they really needed some help, but my security didn’t want me to assist.  I’m not sure if I should ignore them, or if I should comply.  The last thing I would want to do is make the situation worse.  It’s a real conflict of conscience.  Apart from anything else, even though I do have first aid training, it’s very, very rusty and I’m not sure I’d know what to do with somebody who had been propelled off a motorbike at speed, other than to pretty much immobilise them.  If something happened to them, their family might well blame you for their death or paralysis or further injury.  Maybe I should check this out.  Irfan was saying that the families would most likely want to do some damage to the truck driver… I’m not surprised!

Eventually Irfan and our driver got back in the car and we headed onwards towards Jacobabad.  Along the way we passed through a few small market towns with donkeys and carts and buffalo and vendors of all types.  Bustling little communities full of life and action and colour.  As we entered these little congested areas, our lovely, delapidated police escort truck ahead would throw on it’s siren and bullishly force it’s way through the mêlée in a rude, arrogant manner.  I found this really embarrassing and cringeworthy.  I asked Irfan if he could have a word, but he basically thought that we wouldn’t move at all if this didn’t happen.  I disagreed.

The landscape either side of the road was flat and expansive, there were large swathes of lush green agricultural growth for parts, and then equally large swathes of dead and depleted looking ground, some areas were water logged and apparently others were really saline as a result of previous waterlogging and probably overintensive use at some point.  All along the road were brick kilns like the ones we saw in lower Sindh.  But the ones we saw yesterday don’t have any chimneys.  People use the local mud to form bricks which are then air dryed.  After a couple of days of air drying the bricks are built into a large kiln which is fired using locally sourced timber.  After a few hours, the bricks are hardened and allowed to cool, then removed and stacked for sale.  There are all sorts of people working at the kilns, young children, older children, women, young men and old men.  The younger children are used for gathering the mud, the older children and the women make the mud bricks, the young men stack and unstack the bricks in the kilns and the older, more experienced men monitor the kilns and keep them burning.  This job is the most dangerous of all.  The old men walk on top of the burning kiln which is built of loose bricks, opening the covers and throwing down more wood to keep the fire burning.  If the bricks are not stacked well, the assembly could easily topple like a bunch of loose dominos with fatal consequences.  It’s definitely not a nice job, and obviouly no external authority is too concerned with safety standards for the people.  I’m not sure how many people die at this activity, but I’m also not sure I want to know!  All I do know is, I’m not to eager to use bricks for any shelters we propose.

Along the road, I asked Irfan to explain to me about Darul Aman.  I wanted to know more about them and what kind of women ended up there.  His description tallied closely with my assumptions and my ideas of what a Magdalene Laundry was.  It’s not run by a religious organisation though, I believe.  They are run by the state.  Darul Amans are refuges for troubled and petty criminal women.  Women who have run away from their husbands or fathers, or who have perpetrated small criminal activities.  They can be homeless, destitute women or orphaned girls who have been left without a family member to take care of them.  I asked him if a father or brother would send their daughter, wife or sister there.  He said nobody would send their family members there.  It is a place of last resort.  A woman can leave when she has somewhere else to go, if she wishes to.  If she can afford to live somewhere else.  She is allowed to live on her own, if that is her wish.  I’m not sure about the petty criminals, I guess that is up to the judge that put them there in the first place.

We then got into the happy subject of Honour Killings.
If a woman or a man does something to disgrace their family, it is acceptable to many that the family will kill that person to regain the family’s honour.  If a woman sleeps with a man outside of wedlock, or if a man has an affair with a woman, or a number of other different options, the family may choose to kill their family member.  I think that in most cases, this will be a brother killing his sister, but it does vary.  Ifran told me of a case where a woman had died and was buried in a graveyard.  A man came to pray over his family, but accidentally prayed at the grave of the woman by mistake.  The husband of the woman arrived at the graveyard and saw a man praying over his wife’s grave, so he assumed they had had an affair.  He accused the man, and then killed him.
According to Irfan, the Quran allows for the punishment of people by stoning.  This punishment does not have to result in the death of the person.  It can be in the form of a humiliation.

Irfan told me a story about an ancient Khalifa’s son, a Khalifa is a head of state, a responsible man.  According to the story, this ancient Khalifa’s son had raped a woman in an orchard.  The son claimed to have prayed to Allah and asked for forgiveness which Allah had granted.  The Emperor said to his son, it is good that you have prayed to Allah, and that Allah is merciful and has forgiven you, but you also have to abide by the rules of the land, and I need to punish you for what you have done, so you will be stoned.  He had his son stoned in punishment, but he wasn’t killed.

According to Irfan, stoning is not normally practised in Pakistan anymore.

Along the road, we saw 3 NATO oil tankers which were on their sides and had been blown up, I think last year.  I don’t believe NATO uses this route anymore!

Stop Kony 2012

Stop Kony 2012

I’ve got two earlier diary entries to put in, but this caught me today and felt I should post first!

Stay well, and stop KONY!

All the best,

Shona

Sukkur!

Hi babies.  Here I am, in Sukkur, northern Sindh.  I’m en route to Jacobabad to have a look at some houses we built last year after the 2010 floods.  Sukkur is reknowned the world over for it’s amazing dates.  Did you know that?  I didn’t.  But then, I’m not up on my dates.

I had a pretty amazing date myself tonight, with my security man.  Woop woop!

I took off this afternoon from Islamabad, on Pakistan International Airlines, a short stop in Lahore, which I didn’t really even get a glance at.  Although I did notice that they had nicely maintained verges to their apron at the airport.

A nice man got on the plane in Lahore and sat beside me for the journey to Sukkur.  He’s an Electrical Engineer, but he now owns his own Fertiliser company.  He’s a Hindu man from Sukkur, and got his start working for a public / private fertiliser company many years ago.  He then went to work in Saudi for a company that produced… I forget, but eventually he decided he wanted to be near his family, so he returned to Sukkur and set up his own fertiliser company.  He now has a plant that if it explodes will kill everybody within a 7km radius… So that’s nice to know.  He was very interesting though.

There was a story in the Peshawar edition of the Daily Times about Rinkle Kumari.  Most of the following is taken almost word for word from the article:
Rinkle is a 19 year old Hindu woman from Mirpur Mathelo in Ghotki district of Sindh.  According to the article, Rinkle got kidnapped last week from her family home where she lived with her parents.  It seems that Mian Aslam, the son of a Member of the National Assembly (MNA), had designs on lovely Rinkle.  So he – allegedly – kidnapped her, using his friend, Naveed Shah, for help!  The story goes that she was forced to convert to Islam and then press ganged to marry the clearly eligible and debonair Mr. Aslam!  Lucky girl.  Her father is a teacher at the Government Primary School, and had reported the case to the Mirpur Mathelo Police Station, who didn’t seem to think that the case was worthy of registering a criminal incident or pursuing.  They finally lodged a registration after Rinkle’s family protested, one would imagine quite loudly!  The police produced the girl and Naveed Shah before Magistrate Hassan Ali Kalwar.  According to the newspaper, Rinkle denied wanting to convert to Islam, and said that she wanted to live with her parents… for some reason the court decided to send her to Darul Aman, a sort of womens’ refuge for destitute and troubled women.  I’m not sure if it would be fair to equate it to a Magdalene Laundry, but it sounds kind of like one.  Maybe without the forced work element.  The allegeed co-abductor, Naveed Shah, got a one-day remand!  One day, for goodness sake!
It should be highlighted that according to Rinkle’s father, the Mirpur Mathelo police is under the influence of the Members National Assembly, the Magistrate handed over the girl to her “new husband’s” family without waiting for Rinkle’s parents to appear in court.
Outside the courtroom, Rinkle’s family were prevented from having access to her as there were a large number of armed men supporting the influential party.  Nand Lal, Rinkle’s father, claimed that they were threatened with physical harm if they protested.  They have now moved their protest to Lahore, where the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned the kidnapping and alleged forced conversion of Rinkal.  Apparently the court’s judgement said “The girl is saying that I want to go to my home.  After marriage, her husband’s home is her home.  And I am allowing her to live with her husband”

So, my companion on the plane told me that this is not uncommon.  Apparently quite a number of Hindu women get acquired and relocated according to the whim of some bloke!

Sukkur Airport is small but neat and tidy and organised.  It just looks like it is taken care of.  There was one conveyor belt for luggage in the baggage hall.

Coming out of arrivals, I was met by a man with a welcome sign for me.  You have to go to a little desk, like a passport check desk, but it’s weird, cos it’s outside and virtually in the carpark.  So you go there, they take your details, name, rank, serial number, phone number etc. etc.

Then we travelled a short distance in a car to the Step Inn guesthouse / hotel where I am now.  It was dark when I landed in Sukkur, so I couldn’t see very much, but it seems to have a lot of trees, not even taking into account the massive date plantations which are all around Sukkur.  There is a famous bridge here which I’ll post a picture of.  The town of Sukkur is sited on the Indus River and has an ancient tradition with a lot of historical buildings.  It is somewhere that I really want to explore, if I’m fortunate, Inshallah, I’ll have some time here on Sunday afternoon before I fly out.
The security man explained to me that as it is a long journey to Jacobabad, about 2 hours by road, we wouldn’t do that trip till the morning, in daylight.  They are nervous about kidnappings.  Apparently there have been 2 kidnappings in Sukkur in the past fortnight.  These have been of date traders.  One date trader paid a million Pakistani Rupees for his freedom.  The other is still incarcerated somewhere.  Another 4 or 5 people are also still locked up somewhere.  It seems that in Sukkur most of the kidnapping is for ransoms and has nothing to do with political activities.

The security man had tea with me at the guesthouse and we talked about the plan for tomorrow.  I really want to see this town where a few of the houses got damaged last year by the Monsoon rains, but security is concerned about taking me there.  I think it is on the border of Balochistan Province, and there is a lot of turmoil there.  Well, we’ll have that argument tomorrow.
We had a good conversation about Sindh vs. Punjab, politics, poverty and religion!  Hahahahha, just what you want to chat about with somebody you’ve never met, and who is responsible for your welfare.  Anyway, it was fun.

I’m looking forward to the adventures that tomorrow will bring!  Chat tomorrow guys.

All the best,

Shona