Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Sacrificial Slaughter

The traditional way to celebrate Eid al-Adha is to slaughter an animal allowing it to bleed to death with the head facing Mecca. I visited a family to witness the experience for myself, blood and guts a-go-go.

Good friend Esphandyer and I with the decorated cow. Little does she know...

The streets are awash with blood pouring from the gates of every house
Skinning before going into the cooking pot
You cannot find fresher meat than that! It is customary to offer the meat to family, friends and the poor, our freezer is now stocked up with enough proteins to make it through winter.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Life And Soul Of The Party

I went to a fancy dress party recently and guess who I saw strutting his stuff on the dancefloor?!?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Another Eid Mubarak!

Eid al-Adha is here. The Muslim version of Christmas, this is the biggest festival of the year in Pakistan. It is a family time focused on the offering of a animal to mark the sacrifice Ibrahim made of his son to God to show the power of his love.

Travelling back from NWFP today it was fascinating to watch the makeshift goat and cattle markets forming on the side of the road. Everyone was walking home with his goat, or a bull for the richer families. Some of the beasts were decorated, painted in neon colours and wearing garlands and tinsel, to signify a choice piece of meat. Strange marketing, but all the fuss and commotion made me want to buy one too.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Helpful Or Harmful?

I have always had a humanitarian conscience. I am by no means a saint, but in my school days I would organise fundraising events by getting the college bands to play in the name of a good cause, or I would cause controversy by handing out AIDS awareness leaflets in a Catholic school. After several independent missions I wanted to take a more permanent role in an organisation with some structure and clout in the aid arena. It was only natural that I veered towards MSF, an inspirational organisation known for being the best in the world at what it does, emergency medical care.

My scepticism has grown. I now worry at what damage an organisation with such power can do. Pakistan is an atypical context for MSF whose talents lie in rural Africa where there are limited medical facilities and qualified staff. Pakistan is not short on either. However we are active here with many consequences. Inflation caused by the presence of NGOs is not unheard of. Rent prices escalate as Western aid agencies infiltrate the towns, and pharmacies can often be put out of business as we import all of our drugs from Europe to follow pharmaceutical protocols that could be upheld locally. Japanese 4x4s cruise the town in between the rickshaws while doctors are poached from their jobs in the public sector. I acknowledge that not all we do is bad, but we should be aware of the impact we can have on a place. I cannot help reverting back to my capitalistic ethos that "trade equals aid".

Another worry I have is the real motive for us being here. Afghanistan is presently the jewel in the crown of NGOs, especially those of a mindset like MSF who wish to be the first actor in place in any emergency. Some team members have hinted that our proximity to the Afghani borders could be the reason for our presence in Pakistan. We are one of only two organisations acting neutrally, and this fact is hindering our progress in the country. Refusing to adhere to government enforced security rules has meant that we cannot provide care to many IDPs who are without basic needs. It would be wrong to compromise our charter of neutrality, but it is tough to sit back watch the disadvantaged and needy go without help. Aside from the war zones in Warziristan and other parts of FATA, where we are unable to assist, Pakistan cannot be considered to be in a true state of emergency. A huge network of hospitals exist for treating blast victims, even if their quality could be questioned. During our meetings we have many a discussion on the type of interventions we should follow, and more often than not the real needs are overlooked as they aren't glamourous enough to attract media attention and consequently donors. I fear that we are not here for the right reasons, and in that case weighing up our positive impact could mean that we are not right in being here. At what price do our interventions come at? Some international actors can certainly be suspected of being here purely for the reason of publicity because Pakistan is a hot spot right now. The public perception of NGOs here in Pakistan is one of suspicion, many locals say that we are not welcome as we have an ulterior motive, thus we do more harm than good. Perhaps there is some substance to this claim. My point of view is that one cannot do everything. But what one does should be done correctly.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Peshawar Evacuated

Enough is enough. Finally the decision has been taken to evacuate all non-essential presence of foreigners from Peshawar. About time!

We had too many instances of almost being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the team is visibly scared. Our activities have been suspended until after Eid, hopefully the town will become more peaceful after the celebrations.

Friday, 20 November 2009


We have learned the terrible news that one of our staff has been kidnapped in the Tribal Areas. One cannot yet be sure as to whether it is related to his work with us, but for now there has been little talk of ransom and we are not so implicated. Apparently he could be kept hostage for quite some time...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Autumn In Murree

After almost three months here, I have been accorded a break. A long weekend in the mountains, in a high-altitude hill station, not too far from Islamabad. There isn't much to do there, but I have been horse riding in the woods and eating locals food in restaurants, what a novelty! The climate is chilly and all the leaves are shaded red and brown.
What freedom to walk freely in the streets, bargain with the shopkeepers and say hello to strangers on the street. It has unearthed my love of travel and made me want to see more of this country as a tourist. Next stop, Karokam Highway?!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hate Mail

We receive many letters from the Taliban, some nicer than others. It is with much hesitation that I have decided to publish a sample, complete with spelling mistakes, it turned out that this one, found on the door of the mosque, was actually a hoax.

Public Notice from Taliban

Our addressees are those people who have cinema, non-modest films, vulgarity, music parties in the market, specially all the English doctors, nurses and all the people who are with English’ by taking huge salaries and have forgot their duties, who have widen the attempts to defame Islam. This is our challenge to all those people who have started to work with these English’ and all those people who are working with English’ in a large quantity. We (Taliban) came to know through an informer that in the market of (censored), some of the Muslims who are just the Muslims of name, have started some activities like non-modest activities, fucking, thefts, dacoit and in who shows themselves in fasting days as Muslims. We (Taliban) tell by addressing all these peoples and the English’ of civil hospital and the people who are working with them, who deals in these non-modest activities, films’ business, music, dish, television and by transferring sexual activities through computers and the things mentioned above, and the English’ in civil hospital that if they don’t evacuate within three days so civil hospital can be blown up by bomb at any time. We (Taliban) who belong from Jaish-ul-Ansar, have seen all these activities as disguisers. If English’ are not displaced or dish, cable, television, vcr, computers, non-modest activities, thefts, dacoits and vulgarity are not stopped or these things are not acted upon so whatever will be after three days that will be in front of your eyes. Pay an important role to spread this information in the common people. Because we want Islamic Sharia in (censored), if above mentioned things are not acted upon so the Taliban will have an important role to wake up the people of (censored) area from the dream of ignorance.
We (Taliban) appeal from the every common & proper (people) of (censored) area of (censored) township that all the conditions, we described, if not acted upon these so later there will be no hospital nor dish shops, cables shop, cinema hall, vulgarity, dacoits, thefts and no crimes. (Inshallah)
This is a public notice that all these things should be acted upon and specially the English’ (pigs) from civil hospital should be evacuated. Later on fright ness & fear may prevail in (censored).

From Taliban (servants of Islam)

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Clipping From The Newspaper

This is what we are fighting to do in Dera Ismail Khan...whether we will succeed or not is a huge question.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Our Mission Is In Question

We cannot access the places where help is needed the most, and we are inexperienced in negotiating with the authorities in a context like Pakistan.

It has come to the point where we have to weigh up the balance of the impact of our activities and the risk we are taking in being here. Watch this space!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Be Nice To The Neighbours

After having the internet at home down for the last three weeks, I hope to be back online soon! I have taken to slyly surfing on the neighbour’s connection. Imagine my horror when we discovered that one network available went under the name of “The Quiet Killers”. Could there be terrorists in town?!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

السلام عليكم

The highlight of my week has to be my language classes. Keen to mix my minimal Hindi and Arabic together, I hope to end up by speaking Urdu!

The lessons are much fun, and concentrating on something other than work for ninety minutes provides great release. So, kya aap ko meri samajh aa rahey hai ?!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Hiring And Firing

The least favourite part of my job is my involvement in recruitment. I tend to leave the dirty work to the HR Coordinator but I do have a part to play and I don’t enjoy it. We have had to fire someone for gross misconduct and it wasn’t pretty. For the first time since university I am finally relying on and applying my law studies. I contact my lawyer regularly and am becoming very familiar with the Pakistani employment and contract law. It is sad to have to let people go, knowing that they have an entire family to support on an already pitiful wage.

Hiring can also be problematic; balancing Sunnis and Shiites, Pashtuns and Punjabis, males and females to ensure a fair team composition whilst avoiding nepotism is not simple. As soon as a position opens we receive an influx of applications from our staff who all want their brother, uncle, or nephew to take the role. There is the added complication that many take a cut of the salary if they manage to find them work, a situation we try to avert at all costs. I have at least been able to save the jobs of a few and for that I am glad.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Kept Behind Curtains

Being a woman in Pakistan is not as easy as it looks. Their role in society differs greatly to how us girls run the show in Europe. Many members of our staff have had to quit working due to family pressures; outside of Islamabad most ladies keep themselves covered up; and to be seen with any other man aside from their husband can be considered extremely controversial. I am not allowed to walk to my office on my own whereas men are. In NWFP we are not supposed to sit next to men in the car. The famous “bise” (the French alternative to shaking hands – greeting by kissing both cheeks) is absolutely forbidden amongst expatriates of different sexes in the presence of locals.

Today I went to a restaurant, with a female friend of course, and chose my own table. Shortly after a family including women walked in and they were immediately ushered into a booth hidden behind a curtain safe from prying eyes. Privacy for wives is so sacred here and I respect their choice but I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be kept behind curtains like that.
Me, complete with my own central heating, sitting on the wrong side of the curtain. I hope I haven't offended the local population too much.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

On The Way To Winter

Did I say that it is unbearably hot here? I have changed my mind with the seasons. The monsoon is over and the temperature has dropped along with the leaves on the trees. The mornings and evenings are getting cooler everyday, and though we are equipped with fans and air conditioning for summer, heating is a rare concept here. Guards huddle around hand-made fires on the streets, and purchases of Kashmiri cashmere are on the up. How ironic that I am now craving the heat that I found so stifling only a month ago...
A game of cricket in Jinnah Park late one Sunday

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Sugar Crisis

The subject on the tip of everyone tongues is the sugar crisis. When I arrived during Ramazan the government had capped the price per kilo at forty rupees. Since then the rate has risen to over one hundred in certain areas and the locals are fuming. Queues for those who can afford it wrap round the bazaars, while the poorer families have no choice but to accept a brown sweetener substitute. Sugar supplies in the office now have to be kept under lock and key as the temptation encourages sticky fingers.

Us foreigners can, of course, purchase the real thing without great difficulty. But I for one could do with a little less sugar. All day long I sip sweet milky chai. And in the evenings with little else to do I take to gorging on the delights of my cook; heavy but delicious dishes laden with ghee and rich in oil. Meat and carbohydrates may be similar to a typical Welsh diet but when combined with not being allowed to walk anywhere it mean I might return somewhat plumper!