Hope for Recovery – CGL VIII20
knicq posted in Comments Gone Lengthy, Earthquake on April 8th, 2006
Jazak Allah Khair to Yasmine, whose post Hope for Recovery is the inspiration behind this post. If you have some time on your hands, I suggest you read her post first, and then read this post. If you are short on time, I recommend reading her post alone; for this post is nothing but another comment gone lengthy.
Its the 8th of April today; exactly six months since an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter Scale turned the northern parts of Pakistan upside down, in many instances quite literally so. Entire villages were wiped out, and scores of towns were flattened. Cities that had taken decades to build were reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes. It was a catastrophe no-one could ignore.
The initial reaction was that of shock, which was ensued by a massive outpouring of greif, sympathy, and compassion. As if by a miracle, our country which had lost faith in its people, and our people who had lost trust in each other were transformed overnight. The greif made us all cry, the tears turned the sympathy to empathy, and compassion became the dedication with which the people from the land of the pure came to fore.
I was fortunate to witness some of the most heart rendering scenes at the Pakistan Counsulate, Dubai, which was one of the largest points where the Pakistani community in the UAE, and quite a few other communities including Indians and Philipinos, poured their resources to help with the aid effort. Aid came in all forms, and within a week of the earthquake hundreds of tons of blankets, tents, clothes – generally used and washed, but surprisingly often also new, food items, water, medicines and other medical goods, were piled up in the counsulate; and there was more coming all the time at all four gates of the counsulate. People were coming from far and near, their vehicles overflowing with their tangible compassion, and pretty soon it was becoming a logistical nightmare.
The counsulate did not have to ask for volunteers to help with the logistics. People from every walk of life were ready to offer themselves. Most people will remember that the earthquake had struck during the month of Ramadan, and October is still very hot (and often humid) in the UAE. The work-hours during Ramadan are shorter, and people used the opportunity to dedicate their hours after work to the cause. Before long there was an army of people working shifts till early morning, and bucking each other up as they went about.
It was my stint at that heavenly place which re-affirmed my faith in the generosity of the human spirit, the goodness of my own people, and the courage and strength of Pakistanis as a nation. I am listing below some of the events and some of the people that left an indelible impression on my heart:
I was stationed at the gate once with the responsibility to politely decline goods from people who brought in sacks of rice, flour, pulses and used clothing. The former three were not immediately required, plus there was little hope of air-lifting such heavy cargo when lighter and more urgent cargo like medical supplies, blankets, tents and food items awaited their turn. Part of my responsibility was also to assist with the off-loading of aid goods people were bringing in, and to answer any queries they might have.
Quite often, people would ask if more people were required to help with the sifting, packaging, loading and unloading of aid goods. More people were needed all the time, not only because the amount of goods demanding action was enormous, but also because people who were working tirelessly since 3.00 p.m. needed to be given a break. All I had to say was “Yes”, and almost always, these people would find parking for their cars and come around asking to be stationed somewhere. May Allah reward them all for their spirit.
Once when I was at the gate, two bearded gentlemen arrived in a car, and said they were in the textile business, and would like to donate bundles of warm cloth lying in their stocks – cloth meant to be stitched into men’s suits! I suggested they buy “Kafan” (white sheets used to wrap the dead) instead and donate, to which they said they thought warm cloth was more needed. They said they had brought some in a pick-up and that another pick-up would be arriving with the bundles. They left after that. I was left wondering.
Everyday when I got there, I would find two girls hard at work there already, sifting through items, separating and helping get them packed and doing what else not. In due course I got to know them, Fatima and Afifa, and found out that one was a student while other had a day job, and that did not keep either of them from being there everyday till midnight. They earned great respect amongst their brethren, and soon I saw old men with white beards, who by the way were some of the hardest working men in that group, and young men alike going to them for directions or asking what else needed to be done “Baji”. It would have been hilarious, if it had not been so beautiful, so uplifting. May Allah bless both those ladies, and all the people who rallied around them. Ameen.
On the lighter side, there also used to be this young girl with these two ladies sometimes, clad in a Jeans an a T-Shirt, who would insist on lifting heavy objects by herself and refuse to ask for help. She made a point of telling the other girls that she worked out, and did not need help with lifting stuff.
There was this bunch of young guys, apparently friends since their school days and all in their early twenties, who had already earned the title “Sher” (Lions) because of the energy and speed with which they set out to do a job at hand; be it unloading a truck, loading a container, or simply moving stuff across from one gate to the other because the pick-up on which it had to be loaded was parked at the other end. They were a lively bunch, five or perhaps six of them, and one of them was a doctor by profession, and pathan by accent.
They worked hours on end, jumping off and on trucks, calling out to each other and working as a cohesive unit. They just did not get tired! A couple of days later, I saw them at the same place, and all of them had bandages on all their fingers, and two of them had their wrists wrapped in elastic bandages. Such was the wear and tear their limbs were subjected to, but did it slow them down? Unfortunately, I have forgotten their names, which is not so bad, because I always did call them “Sher”. Jalali Baba, he who is endowed with the gift of making instant friends, got to know them well, and perhaps remembers their names too.
The real hustle bustle would start after Iftari, when the blue-collar Pakistanis would arrive at the scene. They were a sturdier, stronger, and an amazingly loveable lot. They arranged themselves in small groups of ten to twelve and took up the jobs all over the place, relegating us “babu-guys” to telling them what needed to be done, bucking them up, and getting immensely impressed with the sheer strength they packed in those muscular bodies. I remember a bunch of us were trying to lift a sack of grain that must have weighed some 100 kgs, and we were all, with the exception of yours truly, young guys who worked out at the gym and wore T-Shirts to prove it.
Along comes this tall and lean pathan brother, who does not look much of an incredible hulk, takes the sack by the ears, puts it on his back, turns around and asks where it needs to go! Dumb-struck I bring his attention to the fact that he might be injuring his back lifting such heavy objects single handedly, to which he laughs and replies in his gulabi urdu: “Aer-condiotioner is se bo’t baari ‘ota ae” (An airconditioner is much heavier than this). That shuts me up. May Allah shower His blessings on this brother, and all his comrades, and may He make life easier and rewarding for them.
One evening, a truck arrived with some 120 odd large tents in it, and we had just finished unloading some 40 bundles of blankets and were visibly tired. Someone went out and found one of those task-force teams of labourers/taxi-drivers to help us out. They stationed us in the truck and asked us to just pass the tents out to them, and within minutes the truck was empty. They went at it like a school of piranhas. They were led by this babaji, whose beard looked as if it had been sheared off the back of the whitest of sheep, and whose voice boomed with a strength we only hoped we could muster. Everytime, one of us dropped a tent, he smiled indulgently, picked the darned thing up in one arm and walked off. May Allah give him continued good health and many more years of youthful strength.
There were of course Mohammad Ali and Furqan who were the contact points for all activity in that place and who took it upon themselves to take care of the volunteers. They arranged for Iftari, and I heard also for Suhoor for all the people who were working there. They ensured a steady supply of water and tea for the people, and a steady supply of vehicles, containers and what not for the goods that needed to be moved. Later when we had returned to our lives, they continued with the good work, and here is one of the projects they have since been a part of.
The effort in Pakistan Counsulate pales in comparison, however, to the phenomenon that we witnessed in Karachi in response to the call for help by Fakhr-e-Alam. Apparently, it had all started out with an sms he had sent out, and it turned into the biggest phenomenon in Pakistan. Thousands of people responded, and they did so minus the chaos and strife that is sometimes associated with this city of 14 million people. Roads leading to the collection point were jammed for hours at end, but the people patiently waited it out, and my own Karachiite friends tell me that there was no honking, no shouting to be heard anywhere. Here is an excerpt from a report on bitsonline:
“On the 10th of October, Fakhr-e-Alam announced that he was overwhelmed by the response of Karachi’s citizens. He had aimed to collect relief supplies to fill one truck but in under 48 hours, 40 C-130 planes worth of supplies had been gathered. WOW! In fact, he requested people to stop sending goods as they were having a dreadfully hard time organizing all the supplies and also didn’t have the means to despatch them.”
I remember Fakhr-e-Alam sitting in that program, his face swollen with fatigue, and his eyes bloodshot through lack of sleep. I remember tears welling up in my eyes when he had dozed off sitting in his chair. May Allah reward him manifold for his dedication, and may He reward his parents for bringing up a hero in their home.
I remember Fakhr-e-Alam himself bursting into tears while thanking the people of Pakistan in general, and Karachi in particular, for their self-less devotion to the cause, but at the same time pleading with them not to go over-board in their enthusiasm and lose the steam in later days when the whole world would have forgotten October 8. His was not a prediction, it was a statement of fact.
In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy the newspaper headlines are hard to miss, but soon the world has moved on to current issues, while the victims of a tragedy two months ago are relegated to the confines of memory. That, as activist after activist kept pointing out, is the time when our responsibility increases, because the devastation brought about by such a massive catastrophe requires years of rebuilding effort, tons of dedication, and oodles of compassion. A sustained effort, even if low-key, is obviously more helpful than bursts of work followed by amnesia. The former takes super-human dedication to the cause, while the latter, with or without amnesia, is a natural human phenomenon.
We set new examples in our exhibition of the natural human phenomenon. On this day, six months after the tragedy struck, we need to re-affirm our commitment to the super-human dedication required to rehabiliate thousands upon thousands of our brethren in the affected areas, and to help them get their lives back on track.
May Allah grant us the strength and courage to commit ourselves to our people, and may He bless us with the resources required to fulfill that commitment. Ameen.