The distance between Mumbai, India and Karachi, Pakistan is about 550 miles; maybe less than an hour’s flying time. But because these two sister countries born from the same clot are estranged, there is but one flight a week between them, PAI. I would stand a better chance winning a Lotto jackpot than secure a seat in this flight and I don’t want to be in Pakistan for a week anyway. So I fly to Dubai instead and then onwards to Karachi, which takes 10 hours instead.
Karachi, surprisingly, has changed from my last visit here, changed for the better, I mean. I am out of the airport terminal in less than ten minutes, the streets are relatively clean, traffic reasonably well behaved and air breathable. There is tight security everywhere however, with heavily armed police at virtually all street corners. The Embassy Inn Hotel driver tells me a massive bomb had exploded outside the Sheraton Hotel about a week ago and hence the heightened alert. He shrugs when I ask him how secure Embassy Inn is; this could mean anything; disquiet sets in on me. Experience in Afghanistan warns me a hotel is probably the worst place to stay in terms of safety in these regions.
All goes fine however and all my meetings go well; I am off to Islamabad the next day for a tour of flood affected Punjab region. Saleem Abedi of Husseini Foundation is waiting for me outside the terminal and we are off Kot Addu, our first stop. It takes us a good eight hours of steady driving to get there; we reach well past dark so can see nothing. After salaat and a delicious meal of spicy teetar (partridge) curry and hot naan, I fall blissfully asleep. Our host, Syed Sajjad Hussein Kazmi, is one of those individuals that our community is blessed to have. Dedicated, tireless and self sacrificing, he and his family have put in everything they possess and more into the relief efforts for the flood victims. He apprises us of the relief efforts, from food to medical to housing. There are 19 homes either complete on under construction at Kot Adu; 40 will be constructed here sponsored by donors of CAI.
The water has receded or completely vanished since my last trip here in September. Although it is gratifying to see the progress so far, it is still heart wrenching to meet the victims. Many are still in shock and unbelief at the devastation that befell them, some have shaken it off and looking ahead and few that are totally devastated by the enormity of it all, especially the elderly. Everybody asks us about warm clothes and blankets; an old man, hardy able to walk unaided, wails that he is freezing at night; and for us to help. I try and calm him down, assure I’ll try my best to get them warmth as soon as possible.
We travel all day; from Kot Adu to Basti Shah Walli to Laiyah to Basti Shadoo Khan and Basti Morani, inspecting CAI initiated housing reconstruction projects, ending up in back in Islamabad at about 1AM the next day. It is a grueling, energy sapping trek but I have little choice as I must be back in Mumbai by Friday as other commitments wait. We are drowned with pleas for homes from those that still wait funding and always for blankets. CAI has received funding for 350 homes from our target of 1,000; let’s see where we end up. CAI has also pledged 2,000 high quality blankets sourced from Multan. These will be distributed no later than December 15, insha’Allah.
The departure entrance at Benazir Bhutto International Airport next morning resembles a zoo with mayhem prevalent; nobody knows (or cares) what is going on and I get no directions from loitering officials. It takes me over an hour just to get inside the terminal, scared silly I will miss my flight. Not to worry; although Emirates is on time and wants to depart, Air Traffic Control insists a tarrying PIA flight to Istanbul gets priority status. So we wait and wait and wait…
CAI is still short funds for both the housing and blanket drives for the flood victims. These are hapless people who have suffered unimaginable grief and lost everything they owned. Please consider investing in their future at $500 a home and $15 a blanket. The new home is made of reused bricks and materials; labor provided by victims.
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