Sunday, 15 November 2009

Kacper is back! - Post 47

Fiscal federalism, public debt created by local governments, advantages and disadvantages of decentralisation… Kacper closed his SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies – University of London) course book with a slight headache. ‘Why am I bothered with reading this, if the world around me is just going crazy?’ he thought to himself as he looked at the front page of the News International – one of Pakistan’s dailies. The big, screaming title announcing that the 4th blast (this week) has just hit Peshawar again distressed him a little. ‘This is madness…how many more people needs to die so this stops?’ he asked rethoritically. As he started reading about civilian casualties, he started feeling uneasy. He realised that he actually started treating the news of new explosions and new casualties, like some kind of daily normality, something that occurred daily – and hence was not a big deal! He would read about yet another horrific carnage, get distressed, and then sip his coffee, before engaging with his daily business… ‘You are horrible’ his consciousness was screaming at him. ‘There are innocent people being blown off, and all what you can do is get slightly distressed’ his mind would not let him rest. ‘Do something Kacper, you can’t just sit, and do nothing’ – it went on and on… ‘But what can I do…’ he tried to figure out. The emptiness in his mind was unbearable. He felt he could do nothing… absolutely nothing that seemed to be meaningful that would make at least a bit of difference, the difference that he felt was really needed.

He desperately needed TO DO SOMETHING… Yes, it was egoistic, he needed to do something for his own peace of mind, he needed to fix his own consciousness, his guilt that would not let him sleep… ‘Double Virtual Life of Kacper’ – he thought at that very moment. ‘I need to write something in my partly forgotten blog, and post how I feel online…’ he decided. Kacper thought that sharing his frustrations in the Internet, with people who might or might not read what he wanted to say was going to help him. He wanted the world to know what was happening in Pakistan, and that things in Pakistan were not fair to so many people. He wanted to force people feel guilty a bit in their own cosy homes, their peaceful countries, and spare a moment thinking of those who are scarred and defenceless in Peshawar, Waziristan, or anywhere in the world for that matter. ‘This is not going to change anything though’ – another grim thought started haunting Kacper. ‘Everyone knows what is going on here, but still nothing has been done to prevent it from happening…’ – he went on. ‘People need to know though, people need to be reminded over and over…’ – he tried to convince himself that writing how he felt, and why he felt helpless was somehow important…

Kacper felt that he needed to stop all his guilt feeling. It took lots of his energy away – energy that he needed for his busy week, which was ahead of him.

Twelve militias were killed in South Waziristan today, in the attempt of cleaning the area from the militias… announced the presented of the Dawn news channel, as Kacper started planning his next day at work. ‘No, I am not going to think about it now. I have just finished my entry in the blog, and that will need to be enough…’ he concluded.

P.S. Kacper is reading the Internet news about the swine flu in Europe.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Hong Kong - Post 46

Kacper decided against taking his strong painkillers this time. ‘It is not yet that bad…’ he thought. ‘I can still manage a bit more’ he tried to convince himself. Last two weeks were difficult. His body keeps on aching, and Kacper runs out of ideas of what he should be doing to manage his physical suffering. He hates going through these moments. Physical pains, when present for long time, wear his morale off. On one side, he is simply worried about his general well being, and he is simply scared of his own future, or more specifically, about progress of his disease, and then he also feels guilty. He feels guilty about needing to take some extra time off to rest. It annoys him, especially here, where things are very busy… So much work needs to be done, and he – Kacper, instead of spending time towards meeting challenges of their humanitarian work, he slows down, and takes extra time to rest – so he prevents total exhaustion of his body. ‘I am flown here from across the world to provide humanitarian assistance to the others, and here we go: I seem to need humanitarian assistance myself…’ – the realisation of this simple truth makes his conscious suffer.

Although, the thoughts of his own physical limitations make him very uncomfortable, he is not brave enough to take steps and change his career path. He realises that there are many professional options that are less physically demanding and he could consider doing. Trouble is that he can’t see himself doing anything else (or hardly anything) but being involved in humanitarian work. He enjoys so many aspects of his present life and work so much that he can’t possibly imagine finding any work that would make him feel as fulfilled and happy, as he is now. These contradictions of his life make Kacper feel that he is about to running into some kind of personal catastrophe… He might be able to carry on doing what he is doing now for some more years, but sooner or later he will abruptly be confronted with a dead end street, with no choice but quitting his present lifestyle. Obviously, he would prefer not to be left without choices, and knows that he should start doing something about his future already now… but somehow, at the moment, he is not up to the job – he is too tired. All what he can think of now is that he is a failure, unable to manage himself. At least, his more reasonable part pushed him to arrange for his overdue holiday. He has just booked his air ticket to go to Hong Kong, where he is planning to relax and rest for 10 days at the end of August…

He really wishes that his Hong Kong trip brings some peace of mind, and perhaps makes him more prepared to take some of scary decisions that he needs to take… He will surely sleep a lot, and will indulge himself with his favourite activity, which is getting lost in a big, unknown city, where one can just wander, stop and observe people’s daily lives… He hopes that both Hong Kong and Macau – which he also is planning visiting – will offer many such opportunities.

‘It is time to stop feeling self-pity for today’ – decided Kacper. ‘Now that I am going to Hong Kong, and I will have a chance to rest there… all what I have to do is getting as much work done as possible, before I travel’ he wanted to appear practical, and started listing things, he needs to get involved with in next two weeks:

- Finish reading 3 units of his SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London), and start preparing for examinations in October

- Prepare for signing contracts for project delivery with local partners in Swat, Buner DIK and Tank districts

- Finalise contract signing for funding with ECHO (European Commission’s Humanitarian Office), Canadian Government, and other donors

- Recruit all new livelihoods and water sanitation personnel for new project areas

- Finalise preparing financial analysis for expenditures of implemented projects

- Preparing for visit of the International Director from the headquarters

- Arranging for a field visit in Buner, and checking the progress of activities…

He looked at his list, and felt better. His tasks will surely keep him very busy, and within no time, he will be packing for his exotic trip – where he will be able to rest and sort himself out. ‘No need to feel miserable – just need to push myself a bit more, and soon, I will be resting and getting better again’ he thought more optimistically.

Kacper sat in front of his SOAS book, and started going through his second unit of the human resources management course – there was no time to waste after all…

PS. Kacper is moved by reading stories of ‘Warsaw Uprising’ veterans that he found on the Internet.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Silent heroines - Post 45

My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani certainly made Kacper think; more so, it challenged his views on situation of women in certain parts of the world. Obviously, before reading the book, he had had a good understanding that women are frequently underprivileged, neglected, not empowered, and subject to abuse, but this is My Feudal Lord that forced Kacper to imagine how lives of such women really looked like.

While reading the novel, Kacper got really upset quite a few times. ‘Men are bustards…’ – angrily and uncontrollably crossed his mind regularly throughout each and every chapter. Realising that the question of abuse and inequality of women is a very difficult and sensitive issue to be tackled, as it involved cultural, social and often religious considerations, he also felt that men consciously used the cultural factors to be their excuse of mistreating their wives, daughters, even mothers and other women far too often.

Kacper thought of women that he knew that suffered profoundly, just because of their gender. He didn’t need to look far. His own mother, both grandmothers, aunts, and some of his cousins did experience physical abuse from those, who they loved the most – their husbands, boyfriends, partners, but also fathers…It is true that while most of these courageous women, whom were in Kacper’s family eventually managed to stand up for their rights and take control of their rights, their fights were always dramatic, and often heartbreaking for themselves, and for other people that they cared for. ‘Now, if gender based violence is still a reality in Poland – where people are reasonably educated, and where abused women have to their disposal fairly many official, and less official tools, systems and resources to reinforce fair treatment and personal protection … how difficult it must be in places, where much less of similar systems are in place…?’ – the question kept on bothering Kacper’s consciousness.

‘Kacper, are you hungry? Shall we eat lunch together’ Ghazala encouraged him to go down to their office canteen. Ghazala was an extremely beautiful middle-aged woman, whose origins were of Lahore – the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab. The way she dressed, talked, and behaved showed that she must have come from a very affluent and wealthy family. Kacper soon learnt that Ghazala was very well travelled. She spent her childhood in various countries in Africa and Europe, where she lived with her family, whose head – Ghazala’s father worked for the diplomatic service of Pakistan. She was educated in some best schools, one could ever dream of, with her master’s degree obtained from the Harvard University in the USA.

‘I love my chicken kebabs here…the food is so well prepared and tasty’ Kacper started the conversation. ‘You should also try our chicken biryani’ Ghazala kindly suggested. ‘How is your week so far?’ she then asked. ‘I can see that you are very busy. It is difficult to speak to you, you are always running around doing something’ noticed Ghazala. ‘Things are fine, really. I am a bit tired, but things are actually going well’ assured Kacper. ‘Besides work, I have just finished reading My Feudal Lord…Do you know, which book I am referring to?’ asked Kacper, hoping that Ghazala would be happy to tell him what she thought of the novel. ‘Of course, I know it Kacper, many women in Pakistan know this book…’ she looked into Kacper’s eyes. ‘And what did you think of it?’ she asked. ‘Well, I loved it, but also found it disturbing, very disturbing’ he answered. Ghazala smiled… ‘It might be disturbing, but for us here, it is just a fair description of what ladies in this country go through every day, what our society finally needs to confront and deal with’ she noticed. ‘You will be interested to know that I know the author of the book personally’ she added with a smile. ‘Wow… how come?’ Kacper was impressed and curious. ‘I will tell you some other time…’ Ghazala’s face suddenly saddened. She remained silent for a while. Kacper didn’t want to rush the conversation, so he concentrated his attention on his plate. ‘You know by now that I come from a very privileged background in so many ways… I travelled, received impeccable education, had money: more that I could ever spend…’ she started. Ghazala smiled at Kacper and went on talking, talking about her ordeal that she and her family went through…

When Ghazala went to the United States, her father already decided that right at the end of her course, she would return to Pakistan and get married. Her husband-to-be was 45 – over twenty years older than Ghazala. He was a very wealthy landowner, who seemed to rule half of Punjab. He also possessed properties in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia. Ghazala’s father couldn’t imagine a better candidate to marry her daughter. Hence the marriage deal was struck quickly. The only problem was that Ghazala was not at all aware of what fate her father was preparing for her. Needless to say, she had never heard of, not to mention meeting her future husband before they married. When she finally graduated, and was a proud holder of her degree, the news of her marriage was revealed to her. ‘But dad, I can’t marry now…You educated me, you let me experience the world, you taught me to be independent, and now you want me to get married to some man that I have never heard of… someone who is 25 years older than I am…? Never!’ she finally exclaimed. It was the first time in her life that she was hit… ‘Kacper, I was beaten many times in my life later, my husband bet me regularly – it was all horrible, but this first slap in my face, the slap from my own father, whom I had trusted and loved so much hurt me the most. It fact, it still hurts me’ she added with a profound sadness.

Ghazala was forced to marry, but she didn’t turn out to be a wife that is easy to have powers over. ‘Right at start, I told my husband that I would never love him, and that I wanted to have as little to do with him as possible…’ she explained. Her resilience was punished. She was regularly beaten and abused. The husband’s family tried to keep her locked in their mansion, limit her movements, reduce contacts with friends, and her own family. Ghazala became a prisoner, a prisoner of her own husband. Soon, she gave birth to their first son. ‘He was my sunshine, he made my suffering bearable’ she emotionally admitted to Kacper. When she looked after her newborn, she decided that her ordeal needs to finish. Ghazala knew that she needed to do something that could make her happy. ‘I came to a point when I only saw two options: either doing something to liberate myself, or I was going to die. I was ready to commit a suicide – this is how desperate I was!’ – Kacper noticed that her eyes became wet.

‘Kacper, you can’t imagine what was happening, when I filed for a divorce. I was abused even more, my father threatened me, he would cut all ties with me and he wouldn’t allow me see my own mother’ she recalled. Ghazala was lucky though to have some good university friends, who lived in England. They offered her financial support, but also in case she needed it, shelter in their house in London’s Ealing. ‘What I was really disappointed about, was that even if Pakistan officially doesn’t accept the abuse of women, and there are laws protecting women… they really mean nothing… These laws are made by men, and executed by men’ she added bitterly. She then explained how she lost rights to custody of her son; she was accused to be a horrible and incapable mother. She was stripped from all possessions, and left literally penniless within days. ‘It took me years to stand back on my feet again…I was in London for over a year, doing nothing… just trying to heal…’ – she said.

Her friends in London became her new family. She soon was granted an asylum in the UK, and managed to start working. She became a social worker, and provided counselling services to troubled youngsters in London area. Then, she met a handsome Lebanese guy, whom she fell in love with, and to whom she soon got married. ‘I was happy for a first time after so many years’ she recalled. ‘All what I needed was my first son, and my mother… I didn’t miss my father yet, and I certainly didn’t miss my first husband’ – she added. At that point, Ghazala learnt of her father’s death. He died of a heart attack, on his visit to Pakistan. She explained to Kacper that it was a very strange experience. ‘I suffered so much because of him, but when I learnt that he was dead, I felt like a part of me died too. I somehow loved him, and felt so sorry not to be able even to attend his funeral’ – noticed Ghazala. However, the death of the father made it possible for Ghazala and her mother to reunite again. The young couple with Ghazala’s mother settled in Bristol, in western England. They were also blessed with their son, Ghazala’s second baby. Then, she learnt of a job opportunity in Pakistan. She was recruited as a gender consultant in one of the British charities working in South Asia. Ghazala and her family decided to move to Islamabad. ‘This time, I returned to Pakistan as a free and independent woman… and such I have remained until today’ she finished her story proudly.

‘And one more thing Kacper… Just think of it, if life treated me in such a cruel way… imagine how difficult it is for all those women – millions of them, in this country, who come from more traditional families, without means, without education, and awareness of their own rights…This is why our work is so important…this is why your work is important too Kacper… We need to do all in our power to help these silent heroines…at least a bit… knowing that every little helps!’

It was time to finish their lunch break. Kacper went upstairs to his office. His mind was working hard thinking of Ghazala’s pleas of working hard for women in Pakistan. ‘What could I do? How can I contribute at least a little, to make lives of women at least a bit easier?’ Kacper didn’t know the answers, but was sure he would not let it go… he would try best he could!

PS. Kacper is watching Obama’s visit to Ghana.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Paternal love - Post 44

‘Daddy, my back is so sore… please hold my hand, and do not go anywhere!’ – demanded little Mo. ‘I am staying here, right here with you son’ answered Faisal fondly and smiled. They conversed in their native Farsi, and although Mo’s nurse couldn’t understand a word of the son – father interaction, she was touched seeing the paternal love that Faisal showed to his son. She approached Mo’s bed, adjusted tubes of his drip and handed him a teddy bear. ‘This is a little friend for you, and he will guard at night, when you sleep’ she said in English. Faisal thanked the nurse and explained to his son what the nurse had just tried to tell him. Mo’s eyes lightened up. He took his soft toy into his arms, looked at the woman and timidly murmured: ‘tashakor’ (thank you). ‘You are very welcome dear’ answered the nurse without waiting for his father’s interpretation. She left the room, and Faisal was again alone with his son. Mo was becoming tired, but the medicines made him feel less pain. He was falling asleep.

Faisal was exhausted but moved, and very happy. A while earlier, he spoke to the doctors, and they told him that the operation of his son had been very successful. It was likely that Mo would suffer from some nuisances throughout his life – he might not be able to regain control of his physiological needs, and he will always need to use nappies, but he will live, and he will be able to walk! Faisal looked out of the window, looked at busy streets of New York, and for a first time, he properly realised that he actually was thousands of kilometres away from home, away from his wife, and other children. They arrived from Afghanistan to the United States just mere two weeks earlier. They came here on invitation of one of the USA’s medical organisations, which helps running a paediatric ward at the Indira Ghandi Hospital of Kabul. It was where a group of American doctors met Mo and Faisal, and this is where, after initial examinations; they offered Mo’s family that he could be taken to New York for a highly specialised spine surgery.

‘You can’t even imagine, what I was going through with Mo, before we finally went to the USA’ – Faisal continued telling his story at Kacper’s hotel room in Islamabad. ‘It was all so strange… before Mo was born; I nearly hadn’t noticed that I was a father to four kids. They were all healthy, and my wife looked after them most of the time, while I was busy supporting the family financially…’ Faisal stopped and sipped his tea. He then explained that one day Mo started crying and he would simply not stop. At first, the parents thought that perhaps, their baby’s teeth started growing, but then realised that their son was simply unwell. They visited many doctors all over Kabul, however no one could really find out what the reason of constant crying was. Mo in the meanwhile was getting worse. Soon, the horrified parents realised that their little one was getting paralysed.

Faisal and his son eventually ended up in one the capital’s hospitals, whose doctors mainly came from France. After initial investigations, they advised that Faisal should arrange for his son to undergo more advanced check-ups in Pakistan’s capital – Islamabad. Luckily, compared with many other Afghans, Faisal was relatively well off, and he actually had means to travel to the neighbouring country, and pay for necessary medical procedures. Faisal and Mo soon set off to Islamabad, where they stayed with Faisal’s Pakistani friend’s family, who looked after them, and helped them enormously by driving them around the city. The investigations were completed in just a few days, and Faisal and Mo were on their way back to Kabul soon after.

Faisal handed a big brown envelope with results of his son’s investigations to the doctor. After a while of studying, the doctor bluntly announced to Faisal that Mo’s spine was attacked by a tumour that grew on it. The tumour pressed some of his son nerves, which in turn started causing Mo’s lower parts of his body being paralysed. ‘At that point, I passed out’ recalled Faisal. ‘Kacper, this was like the end of the world to me… my hope vanished… How on earth was I to help my son? How could I help him in Afghanistan?’ – Faisal was still disturbed, when he talked of his experience.

The doctors advised that Faisal returned to Pakistan immediately, and that Mo’s tumour is removed at Islamabad’s hospital. ‘Unfortunately, we do not have facilities in Kabul to perform such a sophisticated surgery here… I am really sorry for this news’ added the doctor.

Two weeks later, Mo was operated in Pakistan, and the doctors declared the full success. The boy was barely stitched, but the doctors decided to sign him off from hospital. ‘You can now go back to Afghanistan – the sooner the better!’ – instructed the Pakistani doctor.

The journey home turned out to be long, difficult and tiresome. They travelled in a rented car. Mo was having a very high fever, and Faisal was very worried, as his wound was bleeding a lot – more than Faisal expected to be reasonable. When they reached Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Faisal discovered that American troops involved themselves in some heavy fighting with the Talebans, and the road home was impassable. Somehow desperate, and extremely worried about Mo’s high fever, Faisal and the driver decided to reach Kabul using an alternative route, leading through small villages, and extremely uncomfortable and dangerous hills. They reached Kabul hours later. Little Mo was already unconscious. ‘I was convinced, I was loosing him!’ – Faisal was extremely distressed. ‘We went straight to the Indira Ghandi hospital… I handed Mo to the doctor, and he was already motionless…I couldn’t stop crying’ – he went on.

The doctors discovered that the wound had reopened completely, and that Mo needed another operation really quickly to close it. They decided to perform it there, though they had little tools to do it properly. ‘Somehow, they managed to save my Mo…I was so relieved’ – carried on Faisal. ‘A few days later, the American doctors happened to arrive to the ward, where Mo was’, he smiled. ‘Everything went so quickly afterwards’ – he referred. ‘Ten days later, Mo and I were on our way to New York…’

Kacper looked at Faisal, rather proud of his friend. ‘You are an amazing father, and I am so happy you never gave up on Mo’ he remarked. ‘Mo will never forget you that…just like I will never forget my parents fighting for me, when I was a kid’ he added. Faisal got up from his chair. ‘I need to go back to my friend’s place to check on Mo… He is still so tired after the flight from New York’ he said. ‘I am quite tired too, and need to rest before we start travelling to Kabul again’ – he offered a good-bye hug to Kacper.

PS. Kacper is receiving news of multiple bomb attacks in various places in Pakistan

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Beautiful Persia - Post 43

The Al Jazeera and BBC’s reports on the protests and riots in Iran’s capital Tehran made Kacper think. He was concerned and impressed in the same time. He admired a fact that people have courage to stand up for their beliefs and rights, and obviously was very sad that such demonstrations were needed in a first place. Kacper strongly believes that any major political or social change has got the biggest chance of success, if it is the people themselves that initiate them. He saw many examples of it himself: the revolution that brought the communism down in Poland, the split of Czechoslovakia into two separate states of Czech and Slovak Republics, finding solutions to the ongoing conflict in Aceh – one of the Indonesia’s north-western province. In all of these places and situations, it is mainly the people that stood for the changes that they believed they needed in their existence. Sometimes their actions involved lots of sacrifice – including precious lives, sometimes things were slightly easier, but it is the people’s involvement and clear support of some ideas that led to results that they wished to see.

Of course, Kacper couldn’t predict whether Iran’s present protests would bring any difference right now, but he knew that something important did start, and sooner or later the people’s voices will need to be taken into account, regardless of how much internal, and external powers disliked it. Kacper also knew that many, if not most Iranians didn’t really like what was happening in their beloved country. Although people didn’t necessarily think of adapting, Western style of democracy, or ways of living, it was clear that many didn’t enjoy oppression, abuse of basic human rights, and lack of opportunities of expressing themselves freely.

Interestingly, as all these dramatic and somehow exciting things take place in Iran, Kacper happens to be in a neighbouring Pakistan – the country, whose society struggles with its presence; and is trying to re-invent itself too. It is also Pakistan, from where around 15 years ago, when Kacper was still a student, he and his friends entered Iran for a short visit that lasted just ten days; ten days that allowed him to fall in love with the country and its amazingly friendly people…

The bus that they travelled in obviously had a great deal of technical problems. Whenever the gears were being changed, a very worrying sound of cracking steel accompanied the action. They were just fifteen kilometres from Taftan, a small Beluchistani town on the border between Pakistan and Iran. There was nothing around them but rocks and sand. ‘Goodness me… come on, you can make it’ Kacper tried to encourage their vehicle. ‘Don’t break, until we reach Taftan, please!’ Mariukka did her best to reinforce Kacper’s plea. The whole group of friends travelling from India to Europe, of which Kacper was a part, was slightly stressed and worried. Their Pakistani visas were expiring the following day, and they needed to enter Iran latest the in the evening of that day, to avoid trouble with the Pakistani immigration system. After all, none of them wanted to experience doubtful pleasures of staying in Pakistan’s jails for being illegal immigrants!

Mariukka pointed her fingers at the sign on the road. It read ‘Taftan’. ‘We made it!’ thought Kacper. He had imagined the town would look somehow different. In fact, he was not sure whether Taftan could be referred to as a town in a first place. Along the paved road, there were some huts built out of mud. They accommodated small shops selling tea, snacks, and cigarettes. Except these shops, there was literally nothing else… As they drove on, they noticed some kind of a structure that looked like a gate. ‘This must be a border crossing’ Kacper decided in his mind. ‘We have made it… we will not overstay our Pakistani visas’ stated Richard – Kacper’s English friend. They stopped their bus right in front of a building that had a sign, which read ‘IMMIGRATION SERVICE OF THE ISLAMIC REPUCLIC OF PAKISTAN’, and turned the engine off.

‘You can not cross to Iran today’ informed the Pakistani officer. ‘The post is closed, and you can only cross tomorrow after nine in the morning… the post is open between nine in the morning, until five in the afternoon’ he added. ‘But sir, it is not five o’clock yet… we still have over one hour until five’ noticed Mariukka politely. ‘Our officers are busy now’ he pointed at three men drinking tea, obviously preparing for a nap. ‘Sir, will you allow us crossing tomorrow, our Pakistan visas will expire then’ asked worried Kacper. ‘Don’t worry about anything’ added the officer reassuringly. ‘You will sleep in Taftan tonight and leave for Iran then… just park your bus, over there, off the road, so you don’t block it’ he added. ‘Surely, we are not blocking traffic here…there are no cars around’ thought Kacper to himself, but said nothing. Instead, Richard started the engine, and tried to move the bus to the place, where he had been advised. Although, the engine seemed to work, the bus wouldn’t move. Richard pressed the accelerator, released the clutch… the bus just refused moving, even the slightest bit… ‘I think that we are in trouble…’ he whispered to Kacper and the rest of the group. He tried again, but the second attempts wasn’t more encouraging. The group decided to push their bus to the parking space. As they were ready to start their hard work, Richard decided to check the reverse gear…to their surprise, the bus moved! Well, it moved backward rather than forward, but it did move! As the space around them allowed it, Richard started manoeuvring the bus so he could reach the parking spot moving on the reverse gear. The whole exercise looked rather strange but amusing. Even the sleepy Pakistani officers seemed to have enjoyed the situation, and got up from their beds to help giving directions, so that Richard could successfully park his large vehicle… The Iranian officers, on the other side of the border also got interested, and they observed the whole situation from behind the gate cheering and commenting on their efforts.

‘Do you have any garage shops in here?’ asked Mariukka to the post guards. They all smiled… ‘Madam… here in Taftan… there is nothing except what you see around you’ they pointed at the stalls and shops. ‘There is a town on the other side of the border though, and they have got garages there’ he added. The Iranians overheard the conversation. ‘Do not worry, when you reach Iran, we will help’ one of them smiled encouragingly. ‘Gee… but how are we going to reach Iran… our bus can not drive forward…’ wondered Kacper. ‘Stop worrying man… we will enter Iran on the reverse gear’ declared Richard. ‘This is not happening…’ thought Kacper. ‘Richard, you are mad’ he stated and kept thinking of possible solutions.

Next morning, the Pakistani officers knocked at the door of their bus. Kacper was already up, and was looking at the sunrise. The guys came with tea. ‘Please do invite all of your friends to come out and join us for breakfast’ he encouraged him. A few minutes later, they all sat on the mat, in front of the border post, and enjoyed tea, and ate chapatti with some spicy sauce. Kacper loved the hospitality of the officers. Perhaps, they were not very helpful, as professionals, but they certainly seemed extremely friendly.

‘Can we start our immigration procedures, so we can leave Pakistan?’ asked Kacper. ‘But you cannot travel. Your bus is broken’ noticed one of them. ‘We will be fine, we shall push the bus, or enter Iran on the reverse gear’ announced Richard. He sounded so confident that no one questioned it. ‘This is a good idea!’ exclaimed one of the officers. ‘In this way, you will not overstay your visas’ – he genuinely didn’t seem to want his guests to be in trouble.

As they were looking at passports of their strange visitors, the officers were asking about their countries and about their families. ‘Will you take me to Europe with you?’ asked one officer completely openly and seriously. ‘Sir, you know that this is not that easy…and that we cannot promise you that. I can promise however that I will return to your beautiful country one day’ added Kacper and smiled. ‘Yes, Pakistan is very beautiful’ he added. This made the officer quite pleased, and he stamped Kacper passport happily, without much fuss.

All girls put their scarves on. They entered the bus, which was already parked on the road… with its rear side towards the border gate and Iran, and front facing Pakistan. It looked like if they had just entered Pakistan, rather than were about to leave it…The gate opened, and they all waved to the smiling officers… they started moving backward… they were leaving Pakistan, and entering Iran – the country that seemed to all of them slightly scary and worrying. They were entering the land of Islamic Sharia Law; the land, where the foreigners are supposedly not liked…This was happening, in a slightly unusual fashion. They just could hope that the Iranian officials will not be very upset with them bringing a bus that is broken…

The officers on duty did their best to help Richard steer the bus, so he doesn’t drive into any building, or hole. As he succeeded to enter Iran safely, they all cheered and clapped. ‘You are now leaving Iran. We hope to see you again!’ read Kacper. ‘Yes, we are entering, not leaving… but it is a friendly looking sign’ he thought.

The Iranians offered their new visitors tea. The girls didn’t know how to behave really. Iran indeed earned its reputation to be very oppressive towards women – at least in eyes of an average Western citizen. They all felt a bit awkward. None of them thought of Iran to be particularly friendly and welcoming, and they didn’t know how to read the overwhelming friendliness of the guards. ‘Can our friends, I mean, our sisters come and join us for tea as well?’ asked Kacper. ‘But of course, why not?’ the officer looked rather surprised by the question. ‘You are all our dear guests, and we hope that you will all have a wonderful time in Iran’ he added with a smile.

Kacper passport was carefully examined by one of the officer. He looked at his Iranian visa, and then at its cover. ‘Which country?’ he asked. ‘Poland’ answered Kacper. ‘Ah…’ the officer added with a blunt face. ‘Which country again?’ he repeated. ‘Eh… Poland… Polonia, Polsza, Polen…’ he kept on saying in all languages he could think of. ‘Eh…’ nodded the man with a face showing confusion. He then disappeared with the passport. Kacper was slightly uneasy about it. ‘What was so unusual about Poland in Iran?’ he worried. The guard returned shortly. He brought a big wall map of the world! He unfolded it, and asked again. ‘Show where is your country?’ Kacper looked confused, but he pointed at Poland and said ‘This is where I am from.’ ‘Ahh… Bolanda’ he exclaimed rather happily. Bolanda… Lech Walesa… very good!’ he kept on excited. Kacper smiled. ‘Yes, Walesa is our leader’ he added politely, trying to remember that Bolanda meant ‘Poland’ in Persian language.

They were all stamped in, and officially in Iran. They couldn’t go very far though, their bus was still broken. ‘This is Youssuf… he is a mechanic. We called him yesterday, in anticipation that you would be entering in a broken vehivle. He can help you fix your bus’ one of the officers introduced a friendly looking man. All of the travellers from the group were surprised and overwhelmed by how thoughtful and helpful the Iranian officials were. This didn’t fit with their perceptions of the scary Iranian regime. ‘This is a good omen’ thought Kacper. He started liking the country already!

Days later, when Kacper with his friends were leaving Iran for Turkey, they all appeared sad that they time in Iran had passed so fast. Their trip had exposed them to the country that seemed be one of the most hospitable and amazing places they had a chance to experience. In all places; villages and towns like Bam, Tehran or Esfahan, they were always welcomed with an amazing generosity and hospitality. People were curious of them, and eager to teach them about their amazing history; show the beautiful architecture of their towns and markets; landscapes; and finally proudly introduce them to their own families. What had struck Kacper was that everywhere they went; he would hear very open opinions of Iranians about how unhappy they were with the regime. Most people consistently kept on repeating that they want different Iran for their children… Iran that is more open and less oppressive. He head these opinions from poorer and richer citizens… To Kacper, it was clear. Although, there were people, who supported the regime, most were unhappy about it and wanted to see THE CHANGE!

‘Come on Iran!’ thought Kacper, when he watched, yet another report from Tehran. ‘I can’t do more… but my heart is with you – I hope that you can create a country that you believe is best for your children’ he whispered to himself, still thinking of his Iranian adventure that he enjoyed so much 15 years ago.

PS. Kacper is overworked and exhausted.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Liberty - Post 42

Kacper was exhausted. He still didn’t manage to overcome his jetlag after the trip from Poland to Pakistan. ‘I wonder what is wrong with me… There are only four hours of time difference between Nowy Sacz and Islamabad, I should have overcome the nuisance of time a different time zone’ he thought. For a week now, Kacper kept on going to bed around 1 o’clock at night, and then would be really tired in the mornings and throughout the day. Stressful security in the country, and to some extend lots of difficult decisions that Kacper needed taking every day at his new project didn’t allow him relax sufficiently either. He would finish his working day late at night, go home, and instead of forgetting about day’s problems, he kept on thinking of them, which didn’t help falling asleep.

‘I need to learn to relax a bit… otherwise, I will burn out quickly’, crossed his mind. Kacper already had his first signs of tiredness. His bowel was discharging small amounts of blood, something that Kacper needed to take seriously, so he doesn’t end up in an operation theatre as he did two years earlier in Bangladesh…(Post 34). ‘Yes, another operation is a last thing I want at the moment’ he decided.

Kacper’s return to Pakistan was proving to be more difficult emotionally that he thought it would be. He has been to the country many times before. He first visited the place in middle of 90’ies. He then kept of flying to Peshawar on various occasions in 1999, when he worked in Afghanistan, and eventually, he came here again in 2006, with his previous organisation, when he worked for benefit of victims of the earthquake that had hit the country in 2005.

His travels to this country involve many memories. Some bit dramatic (Post 19), but mostly very happy, and funny ones too. Seeing Pakistan in so much trouble was naturally heart breaking to him… Saddest of all was that most of Pakistanis were quite negative about the future of their country – something that he had never experienced before. People in Islamabad, Lahore, Quetta, or Peshawar always appeared happy and optimistic, even during times that were surely difficult for the country – like the aftermath of the earthquake. ‘What is happening now?’ he asked himself, without being able to find sensible answers.

Today in the office, together with his team, he was working on possible scenarios on how the humanitarian situation might develop in the country. They were doing the exercise to ensure that Kacper’s organisation prepares itself for responding to crises possibly in the most effective way. There were some gloomy pictures of what might happen. To start with, the present situation is already quite dire and gloomy. Around 3 million people needed to run away from towns and villages, where they originally came from. Many of them lost members of their families, got injured, not to mention loosing earthy possessions that they needed for supporting themselves, or their families. Truly dramatic and sad!

Unfortunately, more misery is likely to happen. Most analyses show that it will not be safe for people to return to their homes for many months to come. That means continuous squatting in camps, or with families, which decided to give the displaced a helping hand by offering space in their own households.

What is very disturbing is that the number of displaced people is only likely to increase in coming months. The Government of Pakistan plan other military operations against the Talebans in Wazaristan (part of western Pakistan), which in turn is expected to produce additional 1.5 million of displaced people. ‘Mum, imagine 1,5 million human beings, 1,5 million of individuals – that is a population larger than Krakow – that need to flee their homes, their lives, their jobs, their daily duties… And this is already adding to present displaced… that is to a population that is as big as Warsaw!’ Kacper tried to explain via telephone, when his mother enquired about his present work.

If this was not bad enough, Pakistan was preparing for possible flooding that might become a reality just in a few months’ time. Indeed the Monsoon Season was coming, and heavy rains are likely to cause a massive climatic displacement of thousands of people. Adding threats of exploding bombs that keep on happening in all corners of the country, and no wonder that people are pessimistic.

Kacper got his disc with songs of Marek Grechuta. The CD nearly never fails helping him unwind, and take some perspective to problems.

‘I wish that when I leave the country, despite all odds, people will feel happier about their prospects… It needs to happen, things need to get better!’ Kacper needed to start feeling positive himself first… He closed his eyes, and got involved with the lyrics of Grechuta’s ‘The Liberty’.

PS. Kacper loved the pictures of his niece that he received by email.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Welcome to Pakistan - Post 41

‘Why are there so few people in the market, sir?’ Kacper asked the shop owner; in one of the Islamabad’s most popular trading areas, called Gina Market. ‘Last time, I was in Pakistan in 2006, this place was full of people, especially on Saturdays, like today’ he added. ‘This is because of our security. People are scared to be in public places, as we are worried of bomb blasts’ explained the older man. All of the sudden his face became sad. ‘Things are not going well in Pakistan these days… Inch’Allah (God willing), we will overcome these difficulties, and Pakistan will be safer again’ he added with some hope in his voice. ‘Pakistanis are wonderful people, and I am sure, they will be able to sort problems of their country soon’ Kacper wanted to sound as positive as he could. He paid his bill at the counter, and left the shop. Together with his Bangladeshi friend and colleague, Sadhan they decided to walk around the marker a bit more. They both wanted to buy some DVDs with movies. ‘Sadhan, this is absolutely crazy. This is not Islamabad I remember. Ordinary people seem to be scared, and there is such a strange feeling… What is striking me is that it is not only the foreigners that panic about their own security, the Pakistanis themselves seem to be very concerned, and this is worrying’ went on Kacper, somehow not yet able to acknowledge the new situation that he is finding in Pakistan. Sadhan just nodded his head. ‘Yes, this feels very strange’ he agreed.

Later that afternoon, Kacper went home, and decided to read some documents related to the humanitarian situation of the internally displaced people coming from the Swat Valley. He had around 3 hours to do so. He would then go for a dinner with his two new colleagues he was going to work with – both public health specialists. Kacper’s organisation in Pakistan tried to provide some basic services like access to water, and sanitation to around 25,000 families, who fled from areas, where the military operations were taking place. Naturally, public health professionals were of key importance to design and implement such projects. Before engaging himself in some documents, he decided to have a look at the Dawn, one of Pakistan’s daily newspapers. 40 People killed in blast in the mosque… A time bomb destroys a school for girls in Peshawar… Two members of MOM party killed in a terrorist attack in Karachi…The police convoy in Northern Territories attacked. Many police officers injured, and some killed… - read titles of various articles all over the newspaper. ‘Goodness me! This is just one edition of a daily, and all these horrific news are here!’ he noticed to the receptionist of the Bed & Breakfast he stayed in. ‘Sir, this is normal. All editions of daily newspapers look similar in Pakistan these days…’ the guy paused for a second. ‘Many of us stop reading the news, as they are too difficult to handle. Sometimes it is better not to know…’ he explained to Kacper. ‘We will look after you here though, sir. You should not worry! We are happy, you are in Pakistan with us’, he reassured Kacper.

‘Are you ready Kacper?’ asked Osman on the phone. ‘We are now coming with a car to pick you up, and then we can move to the restaurant for our dinner’ he informed Kacper. ‘We have already done the security clearance for the restaurant for tonight, so we don’t need to worry about it anymore’ he let Kacper know. ‘Fantastic! I am looking forward to be going out with you’, he was genuinely excited.

They all placed their orders. Kacper looked out to the street. It was still light. More people appeared on the street, obviously enjoying a pleasant evening and temperature. ‘This is so odd…Things seem to be so quiet, yet everyone is worried all the time, about how insecure it is…’ wondered Kacper. ‘Yes, we live in strange times… You just need to get used to it, and be vigilant all the time’ answered Osman. ‘Once you are really busy with our humanitarian response, you will stop noticing how odd it is here, and just get by with your life’ he went on.

Osman, Mary (Zimbabwean colleague), and Kacper started chatting away. In order to break initial ice, and make the atmosphere a bit cosier, Kacper started talking about his previous work experience. The two colleagues relaxed quickly, and also begun sharing their previous work experiences from various parts of the world. The conversation was very casual, and it seemed like, the three started feeling very comfortable with each other’s company. ‘It seems like, I will be working with a very nice team here…’ thought Kacper gratefully. ‘They are both really nice people’ he was very pleased.

As they were about to pay their bill, nearly simultaneously their mobile telephones started beeping – announcing that text messages arrived. They all looked at each other, and reached the phones. Security Alert: The bomb blast in Islamabad, Sector H8. Please confirm you are ok, and return to your respective residences as soon as possible. Thank you for your cooperation. Ahmed. ‘I guess, we need to be going home’, Osman stated slightly annoyed. Their car was already waiting for them in front of the restaurant.

Back at home, Kacper tuned to one of the TV news channels. Ambulances, crowds of people, running policemen… A suicide bomb attack took place in front of the Police Head Quarters in Islamabad’s H8 Sector. Although three people died, and additional 4 are injured, it is believed that the police prevented a major disaster, by shooting at the attacker at the yard of their compound. The attacker detonated bombs strapped to his body, as police started firing shots at him… ‘It seems like, the deployment in Pakistan has got a potential to keep me busy…’ came through Kacper’s mind, before went to bed. ‘We will be fine, we will all be fine’ he went on thinking about challenges of his work.

PS. Kacper has just returned from the Polish Embassy, where he voted in the European Parliamentary elections.