I have a friend, the rich types you know. Foreign holidays, sports car etc are the name of the game. If it’s raining, she needs an umbrella to protect the fancy purse she carries, which is worth perhaps more than my monthly salary. This young gorgeous woman, has been up days and nights, giving all she can and promoting other people to give as much as they can, for the flood affectees. She is not doing this to be fashionable or cool or sophisticated. She is not doing this as a one-off thing, she has been doing it for weeks and will continue to do this, her charity comes from the patriotism that she was raised with, and the humanity that is in all of us. She is reminding me of why I am her friend… because she inspires me.
I have a friend. She spoke to me just last month on the need for maids in our lives, of posh clubs and how to get into them. We are poles apart in so many ways yet I love her always for her affection for me, the tenderness in her heart for me. We are not even close friends, but she is good to me and I embrace her love for she gives it so willingly. This same woman, with all her love and passion, fancy designer shoes and make up, has been making food rations for the poor, delivering them all over, spreading the word and actually going into the field, meeting women and children, loving them, crying for them and with them. She has been doing this for weeks and I love her more now than ever before.
My mum and my sister spent hours in the heat trying to negotiated prices for the blankets so they could get the maximum number. While fasting, in the terrible heat, my mother proved to me why I’m a softie under this hard cover!
I met a guy today. Random guy, at the Army flood relief camp. He approached me and struck a conversation. “Madam, aap kiya lai hain (Madam, what have you brought?)? Madam hum nay dubbay banaye hain, harr family kay liye aik ,uss main aata, cheeni, daal, chawal, chaye, ghee, sub hai (Madam, we have made boxes, one for each family, it has flour, sugar, lentils, rice, oil, tea)”. “Madam, aata nahin mil raha, mein mill owners ko jaanta hoon, aap ko flood waalon kay liye chahiye tau mangwa doon? (Madam, it is difficult to get aata now but I know some mill owners, if you want it for the flood affected people should I get it for you?)” In a country like Pakistan where random men do not approach random women, I made a friend because we both care.
I went to Utility Stores, for the first time in over ten years, if not more. The place where the poor and the middle class shop. There was no aata (flour) or sugar and I felt bad for those who shop from there, and felt bad at how the food prices are bound to go up and they will suffer more. As I started piling the daals (lentils) and rice into the trolley, random men from everywhere came to help. Random men volunteered. These are the same men who perhaps a month ago would have been eyeing my behind in my jeans, or sung a lousy song as they passed me by, but today, we were on the same team. With respect in their eyes and with full energy they helped, carrying boxes and cartons and giving smiles.
I met an old couple, over 70 years of age. Sitting in the heat, buying rice. Although they had been there before me, they sat down and watched me make small talk with the shop keepers, and then asked me how I was getting the food to the people? I said, through the army. They both smiled. Nothing like the Army’s jawans. Their work and spirit is commendable. We should help them as much as we can. We went out too you know. This same shop keeper made packets of dates for each family. We distributed it. (“you? Really? you can hardly walk aunty?”). Beta we went to Nowshehra to give them food with our own hands. They are our own people beta.
My mother’s friend is 70 years old. She took two trucks to Charsadda. The only woman in the group, she led and organized them, collected and distributed everything. Did I mention, she is seventy?
I was glad today that we didn’t buy a smaller fancier car in exchange for our old dinaosaur. The dinosaur can carry more food. All bought by other people’s money, I must confess, who still call and give and I spend half my day updating the excel sheet for others, and thank God for them. I may not have money but bless those who do!
When things get sour in my country, we get a disaster. To unite us, to remind us that we are one. My expat friends and relatives ask me if I know anyone who can help? If? Really? IF?” IF” is not the question… Ask me how many I know who can help. Every one is out there, everyone is trying and every one is together in this, even if they don’t know how to, they will try. I love to see every morning, men in their office pants and fancy ties, carrying things out of their cars to give to the Army flood relief camp. I love how the shop keepers I go to give me a discounted rate because I’m buying for Pakistan. I love how so many of my friends call and ask how they can do more? No one will ever say they have done a lot, because how can they? Even if you buy twenty cartons of milk, how small is that number compared to the twenty million out there? You feel small, humbled but motivated to do more.
There is still time. The struggle has only just started. It will get tougher and tougher. But we can do it, as long as we don’t forget. That is the key, not to forget those we can not see.
I make plans. If I was Prime Minister, I’d ask private sector to pitch in. Let Coke rebuild Thatta and Pepsi to rebuild Rajanpur and lets see how well they do. Let Olpers Milk provide livestock for the farmers in Sindh, and Nestle provide those to the farmers in Punjab. Let the youth visit villages as part of their school course and build schools and houses.
I plan. But mostly, I plan to not forget. When we are over the shock and disbelief, when Ramzan, the month of charitable giving is over.
I will remember. As I shed a tear buying powdered milk, thinking of the mothers who have none for their kids. I will remember as I try to explain to my three year old what flood means, and how these children have no plates or glasses or toys or bottles, or any food to eat.
I will remember, when I don’t buy for Eid, and stop splurging on buffets (seriously! The wastage of food is abominable… its unfashionable).
I will remember. Like I remember to breathe.
And if I forget, I have 170 million Pakistani brothers and sisters to remind me, and this is why I love them.