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!