I'm. up early for sehri, contemplating if I should fast or not. I ask for advice, Dr Tariq seems like a cool guy, he's quite funny and intelligent as well. He tells me I should fast and if absolutely necessary, I can open it and take my antibiotic. I follow his advice, pop a Tylenol with an Augmentin, some food for sehri and I'm back in bed. I wake up around 8am again and I feel like the fever and my sore throat is subsiding. I'm ecstatic and looking forward to getting down to do some real work today
After wasting the better part of the morning trying to find directions as to where we should set up our medical relief camp, we are well on our way to Paharpur, a remote town about 40 miles south of Layyah. There is foliage again. In the middle of the sodden desert, fauna and flora dared to grow. The stubborn nature of the surroundings surprises me and I was very sure as of yesterday that we will see nothing but dessert—but as I’ve come to realize with this country time and time again—I was wrong. Deception runs deep. Endless cotton fields, hanging gardens, the exquisite Sheesham tree, and fruit-dangling mango and orange trees adorned the countryside. This was the beauty that has, for the most part, been awash by the destruction of Mother Nature.
The past couple of years, I have seen a lot of natural disasters affecting the world on TV. The Haiti earthquake, the Indian-Ocean tsunami, and the Chile earthquake have all provided gripping photo and video evidence of the destruction and chaos. But for what I'm about to get into for the next few days, no one can prepare anyone for it. It will surely be a trip that I will never forget & I already know this.
We begin our drive towards the flooded area in our ambulance. With us, we have a very limited medical supplies and rations. Three medical doctors, including myself, a nurse and a dispenser, were on duty to help those in need.
We offer Friday prayers in a random mosque and decide to survey the area nearby where the flood has hit. We are directed by a couple of locals and as we head in the direction of the flood hit area, I could see a levee, a pretty big one at that. "That levee is the reason why our area was saved from the flood waters" exclaims Rehmat, one of the locals who has jumped in the back of our ambulance to give us a guided tour. As soon as we pass over the levee, the devastation is visible in every and all directions. Crops are destroyed, houses collapsed, domesticated animals roaming freely. Water is everywhere (except the narrow
and badly damaged road we travel on. Every odd kilometer or so, I see a person walking alongside the road, and I am not sure where they were going, as there was nothing in either direction for miles. And yet, that fact seems not to faze them as they continue on their way with their heads held high. Male children wore shalwar kameez, with
surma lining their eyes and a rumaal placed carefully on their right shoulder. This must be the traditional southern Punjabi attire. They walk somewhat aimlessly on what is left of the damaged road, but they all have a very similar characteristic about them—a fierce resolute of surviving one of the worst catastrophes to have hit their nation, and perhaps the world. It is visible in their eyes—the determination and courage with which they faced their predicament. The constant ingenuity of the human soul to overcome the slings and arrows of life and find purpose to continue living proved to be an animate part of life in these regions. These people did not lose hope easily. And I found myself wondering whether they even knew the extent of devastation the flooding had caused. But then again, we were only at the tip of the iceberg—a small region in a very large-scale disaster zone.
My mom gave me two boxes of granola and Nutri-Grain bars. I'm supposed to eat these for Iftari and Sehri during the relief efforts to avoid having to eat any foods that might put me at risk of gastroenteritis. But of course, I couldn't help but notice the hungry children who walk about, and as we drove by, I quickly started opening up boxes to begin distributing the bars. Most of these children have probably never seen a granola bar in their lives.
This is where I met Amjad, a strikingly confident 10 year old, who told me he has not eaten a full meal in two days. I watched as he quickly ate the one peanut butter granola bar I gave him, but then I just had to give him another one. I try explaining to him what peanut butter is, but there is an obvious language barrier. Oh well. Within the twenty odd minutes since I had started handing out the bars, I started to feel a sense of complete utter contentment. More content than I had been for months. And I started wishing that I had packed away more so that I had had more to give.
After our initial survey of the flooded areas, we head towards the relief camp in Paharpur. There is a camp set up at a girls’ school, which was on break for the summer holidays. Flood victims who had their homes destroyed have occupied the classrooms and are provided
ration and most importantly a roof over their head. Upon our arrival, we distribute clothes and shoes my parents and siblings had packed for the flood victims. I receive my first glimpse of the difficult task of distributing goods to victims. Many people would take one thing and hide it, only to return again for more. It was difficult to remember so many faces. After doing our best with distribution of clothes and shoes, we moved to the make-shift medical clinic. We are overwhelmed by people who need immediate and urgent medical assistance. Impetigo, scabies, malaria, conjunctivitis, boils, allergies and other waterborne and infectious diseases were some of the more common cases. And since our team and I were fasting, we became very tired, hungry, and thirsty very quickly. There is no electricity in the area, no fan or air conditioner to help with the brutal heat and humidity. Hundreds of people huddle around us and it's becoming difficult to find even air to breathe. It was our simple principle to help anyone who had come for medical aid. And in less than 2 hours, we had provided treatment to roughly 400 patients. Among the patients was Muhammad Sher Ali, who walked 5 kilometers through the flood waters and over the levee to find medical aid in the relief camp. Ali's wife and three children had all fallen ill without any treatment for a week, their symptoms resembling those of advancing malaria. I am cautious in giving him medications because I'm afraid he won't be able to understand the therapeutic doses for the treatment. There is also a language barrier between majority of the patients and myself. Although I can understand and speak Punjabi, the native language here is Siraiki. We try our best and give Ali the medicines after explaining to him the dose regimen for children and adults in his household. For him there is no choice but to take medicines back to his house and pray that his family gets better. Roads to his house are covered with 3 feet of water. The condition of his family members is as such that they can not walk so far. I remind him that its imperative that he tries to get his family to a local hospital asap. Feeling of helplessness and despair are all around us. As Ali Sher left the room, he looked destitute and dejected and I felt as helpless and grief-stricken as I was happy and cheerful a few hours earlier while handing out granola bars to kids. We left the camp before sunset and returned to our lodging for Iftari and much needed rest. Tomorrow will be a longer day.