Journey into the Unknown
by Katie Baddams
WHEN I heard there had been an earthquake in Northern India/Pakistan I was particularly saddened at the news because – after visiting India earlier in the year – I had grown very fond of the people in that part of the world. So when asked if I was able to go out to Pakistan I jumped at the chance. I immediately said yes, no questions asked. I had no time to ponder over the decision as I was asked on the Monday and left on the Saturday of that week.
Katie helps with tent distribution in Serash
The top floors were all that was left of this hotel in Balakot
The remains of a school in Dadar, Bhogarmong, where 10 children lost their lives
Aziz ur Rehman (right), a 65-year-old farmer, with his Salvation Army tent. Aziz lost his house and members of his family in the earthquake. The only help he received was from The Salvation Army
This carpenter from Dadar was so grateful for his new tent that he carved a ‘key to the village’ in appreciation
I was on a list of ‘potential deployees’, having taken part in an Emergency Services training course offered by The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters (IHQ).
Even though I had undertaken the training months before, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive about the task that lay ahead of me. It wasn’t so much going to an unknown place that worried me but more what I was going to see. How bad was the situation going to be? Would I see dead bodies? What state would the survivors be in? Would I be able to cope with the things I saw?
I guess there’s no way of telling how you will react to a situation like that until you’re there. I also had the pressure of coming up with the goods in terms of what I was being sent there to do. It was my responsibility to get good pictures and report as much as possible on what The Salvation Army was doing to help.
The first day I arrived I was picked up from Islamabad airport and taken to Abbottobad to meet the Salvation Army team. As I listened to the team making the next plan of action I wondered what on earth I was doing there. I felt jet-lagged, very out of place and my mind was in a whirl with all the place names, people’s names and team jargon!
I also realised I hadn’t seen any women. I knew I was going to be the only woman on the team, but not the only one in Pakistan! Of course this was not actually the case, but the role of a woman is rather different in Pakistan to what it is in the West. I felt a little self-conscious, particularly as I was dressed in Emergency Services clothing rather than the traditional salwah kameez worn by most women there. How would the Pakistani people view me? Would they be comfortable with me being around?
All of these thoughts and anxieties I kept well masked though and to a certain extent I was under the shelter and protection of the team.
We moved up to one of the affected areas, Balakot, to drop off 197 tents. We were to meet with the military major the team had established contact with and to distribute tents to the people.
I didn’t know quite what to expect with the military. I suppose I had this image that they would be quite hostile, ordering us about. This was not the case at all though. They were incredibly hospitable and, although it was Ramadan – as Muslims, they were fasting from dawn to dusk – they provided us with tea and snacks to keep us going.
They helped us in so many ways, not least through providing the manpower to take our tents over the mountainous terrain. We certainly would not have been able to accomplish what we did without them.
They were doing the best they could for the people in this terrible tragedy and I couldn’t help feeling for them. For us it was relatively easy – we could go in, drop off the tents, talk to a few people and then go back to our hotel. They were there 24/7. One of the majors told us how he wore sunglasses most of the time because when he talked with people who had lost so much he could not hold back tears – but he didn’t want them to see a military man crying.
The soldiers were the ones helping but they also were in need of support. I think they appreciated being able to talk to us.
As the truck neared Balakot the state of the buildings gradually deteriorated. In Balakot itself there was practically nothing left standing. It was just a blanketed landscape of rubble.
Amidst the rubble I could see people ambling around slowly, others seated in groups. There was nothing for these people to do. There were no homes for them to sit in or work in, nowhere to continue their livelihood, no way of continuing the life they had known before the earthquake. Everything – life as they knew it – was destroyed.
What struck me was how many people were staring into space, with lifeless, helpless expressions on their faces. Even though a couple of weeks had passed since the earthquake, people were still in great shock. And there was nowhere for these people to go. If my house burnt down I would go to a family member, a friend, a hotel or some sort of refuge centre. But for these people any alternative safe havens had been destroyed.
In terms of emergency work and accompanying the team, I imagined that things would be frantic every hour of the day, that we’d be rushing from place to place, urgently delivering tents here and there. On the days that we were delivering tents this was the case.
I enjoyed the days when we were busy, with the intensity this brought about. However, it was not always as full on as I had imagined. The high demand for the tents and the quantity of tents needed was putting a great strain on the tent makers, so we could only deliver as and when they were made. This meant the days in between distributions were pretty relaxed and there was not a lot we could do. I found these days the most frustrating.
Of course it was good to get the time to catch up on report-writing and other tasks but, on the whole, I had a feeling of helplessness that I could not do more for the people, especially when they were so nearby.
My first tent distribution was in Serash, Balakot. We hiked to the village to see where some of the tents were being set up. It was a beautiful setting, quite high up in the mountains.
This was really the only time I got to have some contact with the people directly, and to have conversations with them. It was very difficult as they were so obviously still in shock. The last thing I wanted to do was to bombard them with questions about how the village was before the earthquake and how they were now coping, especially when some of them had lost their entire families. It was so sad to hear their stories.
It was frustrating not speaking the language. The interpreters were great but I longed to be able to speak with people in their own language. For me, it would have been far better when trying to relate to the people we were helping.
While the tent distribution was going on that day up in Serash, I couldn’t help but notice how much of a community spirit there was. The people had lost everything, but they took their allocated tent, went up to the site of their old home and got on with attempting to rebuild their lives. In a sense they had no option, but the way they did it was with dignity and honour.
In Dadar, Bhogarmong, the villagers queued patiently for their tents. A carpenter who had received a tent was so overjoyed and pleased that we had visited them that I thought he’d never stop shaking the hand of team leader Captain MacDonald Chandi – a Pakistan-born Salvation Army officer based at IHQ.
The carpenter had tears in his eyes and the broadest of smiles. It was hard not to cry for joy with him. As we left the village, he ran after the truck with a wooden ‘key to the village’ he had carved as a gift in appreciation for what we had done. We had only supplied a tent, but it seemed as if we’d given him the world.
|Clockwise from above: tent distribution in Dadar; Captain Macdonald Chandi speaks to local people in Dadar; people living 7,000 feet up the mountains wait for a tent; the small red dots scattered up the mountains are Salvation Army tents; a man takes away a Salvation Army tent|