Day 3 (Saturday, 28 August 2010)
Day three of my journey consisted of distributing ration to a small town on the outskirts of Layyah city.
I get onboard the truck that I had organized earlier in the week to be sent from Lahore with the help of my uncle Arshad, CEO of Rahat Bakers in Lahore. We had two volunteers who would drive the rations, and two further volunteers (employees from Rahat Bakers, Sidiq and Nadeem) to help with the distribution of the goods when we reach our destination—Karore, a town 30 miles from our lodge. I jump on board the truck. The ride is slow, as the truck can't speed past 50km/h and there is ofcourse no a.c. I'm already sweating profusedly and looking ahead to whats going to be a long day. I distract my mind from thinking about conditions Im facing, and look out at the countryside. Nadeem happens to be a local of the area and his knowledge proves to be indispensible. He gives me startling insights into the supreme feudalism
that reigns in these remote areas, the types of people that live here, and the customs that are followed. It is apparent from his anecdotes that racism is very much still at large; and on more than one occasion, explains Nadeem, he has been turned down work despite having a certified diploma as an electrician simply based on the fact that he is not an original native but a Muhajir. A prolonged meaningful silence is all I could offer Nadeem as I try to understand his struggle.
It seemed that on our way to Karore several men sensed the presence of ration in the back of our truck. They proceeded to intercept us and it became quite difficult to get away from them, and given the circumstances, we were lucky to have we managed to get away from these people without being mauled roadside. When we reached Karore, the locals ushered us to a mosque not but 10 minutes away. Large, overpowering walls on all sides and two iron-wrought gates welcomed us into the refuge. Several men had volunteered to help with the distribution and the bigger problem of controlling the crowds. The mosque had been given to the people as a place of refuge, as the area surrounding the town of Karore was heavily flooded. I felt safe at the mosque, the volunteers had called upon people who were affected by the floods and very quickly, long lines of people waiting to get food were formed.
The problem that truly bars aid from reaching the victims of the flood consists of two things: First, all of the food that comes in is now being looted by local gangs and even average people who have been struck hard by the inflated prices of food and basic necessities in the country.
These are people who have not really been affected by the floods, but are still finding it easier to grab a bag full of ration rather than going out and looking for work. So, in the end, it becomes difficult to get aid into the right hands. The second thing that truly bars ration from getting into the right hands actually lies within the system of distribution. While at the mosque, it soon became evident that the administration of the mosque was staking a claim of the ration being distributed. I found this to be quite pathetic but I did not let it bother me, for I had not come to Karore to make a name for myself amongst the locals. I came, today, to make sure the flood victims get the ration they deserve, regardless of who hands it to them. The men in charge of the distribution at the mosque were actually, intermittently placing some of their own people in the lines to collect ration. It was apparent that a few bags instead of being taken out the gates were instead dragged into the back rooms of the compound. So much for the honest mullahs.
I stopped the distribution for a while and had Nadeem check the ID cards of every person who came to collect ration. This checking slowed the process of distribution but it made sure the ration went in the right hands. 600 packages were brought from Lahore, and each contained 10 kg of wheat-flour, 1 kg of rice, lentil, sugar, rice and 250 gm of pickles. The cost of the entire truck was roughly $4,000. The process of handing over so many bags was slow and tedious. And I was disappointed with the blatant corruption that occurs even in times of need. Where government does not steps up to help, ordinary citizens must, and when ordinary citizens come to the aid of
people without the support of government backed bodies like the Police, we must make do with what we have.
I went to pray Zuhr, and prayed to Allah (SWT) that with whatever happens, the majority of the ration goes into the hands of the people who truly need it. And as luck would have it, soon after Salat, the ex mayor-elect of the town, Mr. Malik Umar Olik, (who also happens to be the brother of the Minister of Agriculture), arrived on the request of my friend and offered to take us into the more deeply affected areas. We still had about 450 bags ration in the truck. And I took this as a sign from God, answering my prayer, and we were off to the affected areas in absolutely no time.
It was an hour into driving South when we were greeted by sights of destroyed villages, and sights of men, women and children working on trying to rebuild their houses with the limited supplied they had. Mr. Malik invited me to sit with him in his SUV, I was much relieved to be seated in an air conditioned car again. The truck and Mr. Maliks gunmen followed us as we drove deep towards the heavily affected areas. We stopped intermittently to hand out ration to the destroyed small villages that were on our way. Mr Malik briefed me
on the situation in the area, "the water was just coming from all directions, we raised a levee on one side, but the water would just find a way from elsewhere. We were really helpless". More than once our entourage had to stop because the road was not fit for the truck to pass. On one occasion, we had to wait about half an hour for the local villagers to bring shovels to fix the road enough so that the truck
can pass. More than once, I wondered how on earth would a truck pass over a certain point but to my surprise it never failed to do so. I was convinced that God is pulling strings and the old quote that God helps those who set out to help others is actually proving itself. At one point, a man named Allah-Baksh came rushing towards us and said that he had desperately needed a tent, but unfortunately we had none. All we had was ration for him. With the constant raining, it becomes even more difficult for people like Allah-Baksh to sleep without a roof. There is no place to cook and no place to use the washroom.
In our next destination, we were greeted by hundreds of awaiting flood victims. It did not take long at all for the distribution centre to become chaotic—people were climbing on top of each other to get to the front of the ‘line’. Furthermore, sweltering heat and the humidity and fasting made it difficult for me to even stand. With stagnant water on both sides of the road, the humidity was really becoming unbearable. The other volunteers handled the process of distribution as I stood aside and observed, hoping that I wouldn’t collapse. I was one of the few people fasting as it seemed like most people were not. It was around 3 PM, and it was the most humid moment that I had ever experienced in my life. These central parts of Pakistan experienced some of the worst heat and in late August, being out in such weather is a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t long after that my legs began feeling weak, I kept telling myself that it'll be over
soon and I'll be drinking cold water as soon as the sunsets. I received a text message from a friend asking how things are going, "where do I begin explaining?" I thought to myself. I didn't bother replying back at that time.
I had heard the azan for Asr and had found someone on a motorcycle that gave me a ride to the nearby mosque so that I could pray. When I returned, the size of the mob had grown exponentially—word had spread quickly to the adjacent villages and people poured in from all over the area. Again, the distributors collected all the ID cards they could at first, and then began calling out names and hanging out bags to people one by one. ID cards were returned at the end, this process made sure that the same person does not receive more than one bag. Just before sunset, we had given away the entire ration; we drove away quickly in order to open our fasts. Mr Malik's gunmen were in the back of the truck and rigorously monitored and maintained order. I am thankful to them. Just before sunset, we had given away the entire ration. I felt sorry for the many people who had waited and not received. We sped away towards Karore again where we opened our fast – local fish was on the menu and it did not disappoint at all. I returned to the rest house at around 9 PM. Tired—but content, I shared my experiences with the doctors at the lodge.
Our tea session after dinner were always intellectually motivated, we discussed how difficult of a job it is to help the right people. We would also discuss the problems plaguing Pakistan. What I enjoyed the most was that the other fellows were not inclined to discuss the rising number of problems, but more interested in discussing solutions for the problems that Pakistan is facing. I was never bored in their company. Tomorrow is back to setting up medical relief camp somewhere near Taunsa Barrage. Already dreading the long drive but looking forward to helping people. Good night.