(First email update: May 22, 2006)
My first dispatch from Pakistan. After leaving San Francisco 7pm, Friday May 5, we flew to Islamabad, Pakistan via London - it was 17 hours in the air and 5 hours in layover time. Arrived in Islamabad on Sunday morning, May 7- 6am local time - it was already in the 80's. Our driver from the DOSTI foundation, Zamurad, met us promptly and we got through customs quickly with no issues. We then had a two hour drive north to Abbottabad, where the old DOSTI foundation headquarters was located. There we met Naveed, Sulemin, Ali and Faisal - DOSTI staff members -
after introductions and short conversions with tea, Naveed took us shopping to the main bazaar in Abbottabad. There we toured the town and shopped for local goods, fabrics (which were tailored into "shalwar kameez" -traditional dress-like tunic to wear), phone cards and other essentials. The goal was to stay awake to get onto local time (+12 hours) - even after flying for 24 hours. Went to the Red Onion restaurant for dinner and more conversation - we wanted to learn as much about Pakistan customs as possible and our new Pakistani friends did the same about America. We stayed at the DOSTI headquarters house in Abbottabad that first night where we finally got to bed sometime after midnight.
The next day, the plan was we and the headquarters office would move to Mansehra - about 2 hours north again. There we would stay in a guest house. Zamurad our driver took us northeast to Bissian (2 hours driving) to see the first strawbale "Vocational Training Center" for Women completed last month and an opening VTC in Munhg (1-hour drive into the mountains north of Bissian) as the staff prepared the office move to Mansehra. We were at the epicenter of the earthquake and saw the destruction and the "tent cities" of the survivors. We were sad and glad to see the people pulling themselves out of a tragedy. As we drove from place to place - we realized that Pakistan is not the place for meek drivers - constant speeding and passing in the opposite lanes AND driving on the left hand side - it's just crazy, you would have to see the video I've taken to understand. Zamurad quickly became more than a driver and tour guide - but our guardian in travel. Culturally Pakistan is very different. Rarely do you see women in public and if so, they cover themselves with scarfs. Darcey, as well as ourselves made the people stare. The people are friendly and quite hospitable - we're always invited for tea!! Even the children will RUN after our truck just to say "hi" and want to shake hands. It's amazing. Another long day getting back to the center after midnight to find out that we had to stay in Abbottabad another night.
The next day we drove to Mansehra, as the plan now was to stay there at night. We toured the Manserha CTTC (Construction Trade Training Center) and met the local men training in building skills. It was great to see the center and the men where honored to have us as guests. Again more tea, lunch and conversation. We met each instructor of the five trades. We also worked on modifications for the strawbale machine and jack for our project site in Jabbori (1 1/2 hours north again). After a day at the center we returned back to the new DOSTI headquarters in Mansehra and met most of the office staff. The guest house was in final preparations, though our luggage was in Abbottabad. Graham volunteered to return with Zamurad, while Darcey and I worked on the computer. 4 hours later and after a sudden heavy rainfall, our luggage and beds (wet) where in Mansehra - tired and another late night (1am) we finally slept at our guesthouse - home for the next 3 weeks. The guesthouse is in a "safe zone" for all visiting earthquake relief organizations and volunteers. It seems to be a governmental policy, because most of the people we met are very friendly. There seems to be little American anti-sentiment, but safe zone is more for our safety culturally. After 3 very long days, we needed a full nights sleep, because the next stop of our journey was Jabbori! - the project site - this is where we will build the strawbale VTC for the women of that village...
(Few days of delays to send email)
We been working on the Jabbori Strawbale building site. With a 2 hour drive each way to and from Mansehra, we leave as early as we can, and get home late. After showers and dinner, we're in bed about 11pm each night. The internet connection is only at the office building and is spotty and is only a dial-up connection - most of the time it doesn't work- the main reason for the email delay. It's been very HOT and has rained only twice which help cools things down to a comfortable 75 degrees - AND then the power goes out - generally once a day!!! So far the strawbale building foundation is near complete and we've trained the locals to make strawbales - about 26 yesterday in a day - only 280 needed. They looking to hire more locals to help with the workload. We only have 2 1/2 weeks left to complete - after a bumpy start - things are moving along...
More to come...
(Second email update: May 28, 2006)
(Sending now this email from last week)
Sorry for the delay. Internet and phone have been big frustrations!
We finally have a phone line in the guest house and bought internet dail-up cards
-so we don't rely on the office. I have more photos and stories - they should be coming later
or from London in 5 days - if this connection doesn't send well.
4 days left and counting!
So I'm writing this email in the dark on the computer, another power outage!! We usually are without power at the guesthouse every 3 to 4 days for as long as 2-3 hours, either because of a storm or load shedding. This is the middle of the 3rd week in Pakistan and we only have 9 days left.
The good news is the foundation is complete and we should begin raising the strawbale walls in 1 day, and start building the trusses for the roof before we hand off the Jabbori project to a Danish team from Relief International. We successfully corrected the metal baling machines and are using a "high-lift" jack to compress the bales. We're happy that we got the bales compressed to about the same size-to-weight ratio (density) as a commercial US strawbale. We finished compressing bales (205 of them) about 2 days ago for what we need and we make custom bales as we stack. The laborers (men only!) in the village are quite competitive in compressing the best bales. The main problem has been finding enough good clay to make the adobe foundation and earth plaster walls - but we finally found some - a distance away from Jabbori and had a tractor trailer deliver the clay today.
Some more about Pakistan... I think it's best to describe the area we're in as "rural". Mostly farmers, small individual shops and traders, and open markets. Food is the biggest challenge, because the water is NOT safe to drink, PERIOD! This effects many things - no raw vegetables or fruit (NO salad)- only ones with skins that can be washed in iodine water and peeled or boiled or fried. Meats are OK, mainly chicken, beef and mutton - but again well-cooked - most of the meats come from open air markets and there's LOTS of flys ( and they land on everything). Milk and dairy products are off limits - no pasteurization- and they mainly use buffalo or goat milk. We daily see them skinning chickens and saw one man skinning a goat in the center of the market. There's open sewers and lots of trash, and little to no refrigeration. Plus it's generally warm to hot weather with a few short rain showers. There seems to be an inversion layer in this valley, so by late afternoon the sky is dark with smog and smoke from burning trash (many "bike to work days" are needed). All the cars and trucks are PACKED with people and rarely do you see a lone driver in a car. I think most of the cars and truck have NO emissions control and we get blasted with exhaust through the open window as we drive by. Luckily the rain comes and clears the sky about every 3-4 days - this week has not been as hot as the last 2!
Driving around here is an adventure. It's right-hand drive - opposite of US - but what makes it crazy is that the drivers constantly pass and weave around each other on a 2-lane road, but they drive on it most the time 3 cars wide, so its constant confusion. Luckily we've seen only 3 accidents, but the people walk so close to the road - you can't believe more pedestrians aren't hit. We just sit back to watch - Zumurad is a good driver!
Culturally, the people are very hospitable to foreigners despite the serious poverty - they go out of their way to make us comfortable. Every meeting is an opportunity for TEA. This makes it hard for us to get things done. If we go to a shop to buy materials, we must first sit down and have tea, so running five small errands - WILL result in having tea 5 times, and they persist asking until you say yes. We will offer you shade first and their chair. There's a class system here too - and that's hard to deal with sometimes. We're not really supposed to help with the work, and leave most of the tasks to the laborers - but we try to aid them as much as we can, just to make sure as much work gets done while we are here. Everything seems to take 5 times longer!!!
We toured the village of Jabbori away from the building site and saw firsthand the damage of the earthquake. We got a tour of the local Mosque (Marjit) by a holy man. They pray 5 times a day and Friday is a holy day and they work until about noon and then the men of the village go to prayer at the Marjit from 1:30 to 3pm for 3-sessions. The first nights we arrived - we would hear the "call to pray" (a singing chant) blasting over a loudspeaker at 3:45-am - crazy - now I seem to just sleep through it. Last Sunday, Ali a DOSTI staff member, took us on a "day-off" excursion to Abbottabad for shopping and a lunch at his aunt's. It was the BEST meal I've had in Pakistan. Mild curry chicken stew, cooked rice with raisins, a melon-like fruit, a rice pudding dish, and green tea with whole cardamom seeds - all was seasoned well. Generally the food is spiced HOT and overcooked - at least the things we can eat. They eat with their hands and one should only use their right hand to put food in the mouth. I've resolved back to a spoon or fork since I'm left-handed. It was fun to go into town - we shopped for music CDs and DVDs and even software - things here are very cheap = DVD movie is about $1.50 and even software for PC's is about 30 cents - (pirate copies)! It was kinda of a "boys day out" - I'll never forget Sulemin and Ali screaming and making the driver
pull off the road to jump out of the car because they saw a spider on the car's floor board.
The pictures capture a moment in time, but substract from the senses - sound and smell - I realize then I look at them. We are in the last big push to get as much as can done before we leave, so the next 8 days will be full. Hopefully things will continue to run as smoothly as they can and we'll have a standing strawbale structure with roof by next week! Not bad for 28 days!
Troy, Graham and Darcey
(Final email update: June 4, 2006)
Well we finally departed Pakistan - I'm writing this email during the flight to London. The last week was a marathon race to complete as much of the strawbale building in Jabbori as possible. When the clay foundation was completed and most of the strawbales made, we were ready to start stacking bales. The process seemed simple, though we had the local labors and an instructor from the CTTC in Mansehra come to the village of Jabbori for the day. We made good progress with the first wall though the narrow 12 inch bales become unstable at 4 courses high. We bamboo pinned the wall at the 4th course and were able to complete one half of the building by the end of the day. Meanwhile we needed to have lumber milled for the top plates, windows and door frames, as well as the trusses for the roof. Timber is very scarce and it proved to be another stumbling block... Another interesting observation, we were building the strawbale structure right next to the local doctor's house. I saw IV's hanging through the window, and a couple times saw them carry covered bodies out on beds - seemed like "life and death" were next door neighbors... Maybe the new "life" is our strawbale building - paving the way for a new sustainable building method for Pakistan. We each signed a dollar and a rupee, stuck it under the first bale, then had a group prayer...
The Pakistani "yes" and "time"Language and culture can clash! Ali, my Pakistan friend helped us with the differences between "Urdu" and English. He asked me how does Urdu sound? It's melodic and sounds somewhat like it's spoken with an argumentative tone... He said," English sounds of "respect". That in mind, we learned through time that "respect from" meant that any question we asked was followed by the answer, "yes!" So we would continue believing positive responses equaled agreement, understanding, and consensus. "Yes" really could mean yes, maybe, no, or not today but soon. So we would think a task was done, but in reality was no way near completion. Even translation seemed to create this phenomenon! A simple "yes or no" question, would generate a 15 minute discussion in Urdu with little agreement. We had major delays... finding clay, buying timber, milling the timber to size and quality, to when and how it would be delivered to the sight. Will it come today? YES -YES! Tomorrow? YES. But really it was maybe or no show. Time too seemed to be an odd concept. We ended up calling it "Pakistani Time" Here's the formula... 5 minutes Pakistani time = 1 to 2 hours US time. Add in the sit down for tea or lunch while you wait those "5 minutes" and simple things whittled our day away. We realized we brought our american timetables and values to a different land. Things did improve once we learned how to ask a question and how to follow through on our requests - The best solution - learn Urdu!
The American Dollar and ImperialismCurrency conversion 101... 60 rupees (RS) equals $1 US dollar. The labors made 250RS per day. I bought a shovel at a hardware store for 120RS. Lunch for 6 people costs 360RS. We needed the metal strawbale machine modified and offered 1000RS for the welding students to complete the changes in one day... after I thought and expressed that maybe this might be not the best method of motivation. For an American, things are cheap in Pakistan. I felt we needed to be culturally sensitive to fact that using the US dollar power could be abusive in the eyes of a Pakistani. We agreed to use money as a jesture of a "gift" or "appreciation" and not Imperialism. It's hard to see so many people living in poverty and to flaunt money casually. At the end of the project we gifted all the tools and gadgets we brought over to the labors and the people who helped us. Waseem, one of the laborers, got Graham's graphite hammer. He eyed that hammer from day one, and on the last day he smiled, and said, "magnificent!"
The Women of PakistanHmmm... so how do I reflect on this subject. One word. Suppressed. Granted the cultural differences and our location - but most married women were cloaked all in black from head to toe if in public. Oh, yeah the daytime temp - 100 degrees. Darcey asked if the woman whose office (Population Control Family Center) where we had lunch each day in Jabbori - would help her pick out fabric for a local dress to make and was told Rosina was not "allowed" to go shopping, so Darcey would have to pick out the fabric or they could send a lower class women with her. Period. - so what happened was the shop had a lower class male bring fabrics to the office so Darcey and Rosina could pick out fabric together... The women who made our lunches would cover their faces, avert their eyes and cower in the corner as we sat down to eat. It was very uncomfortable at times. Generally, once the women got to know us men they would relax a bit. Some women were westernized, but generally somewhat conservative. The whole thing was just odd to me.
Cold Showers28 days, 3 hot showers. The bathroom generally consist of a single unit - squatting toilet, shower,and sink area. Not fun. Luckily Graham and I shared a european toilet and Darcey had to "squat"! The sad thing was that the men shared this bathroom with us and after Graham bought a new "high quality" toilet seat - the men would climb up on the lid with their dirty sandals and squat on it! Just crazy. The lid had muddy footprints on it every few days... The water was gravity feed from a tank on the roof from a pump in the basement. If someone forgot to fill the tank, no water, no hot water and after a hot day working, we learned to like cold showers and waiting for water in sweaty dirty clothes. I thought about the workers in Jabbori - most probably had no running water, no hot water, and no electricity. After their day ended, I should have little to complain about, you learn to survive.
Friendly childrenThe children loved to meet us. Now I know how the" Piped piper or Michael Jackson" must feel - no pun intended - but the kids just loved to say hi! They would follow us around, and say "hello!, hello! - what's your name? my name is..." They would laugh and smile - shake our hands and if we greeted them in Urdu, they would flip out! If one kid made friends with us, the next day more would come, then more and more. "what is your country? America! - Oh... and what is your country?... Pakistan! One young boy who spoke very good english -introduced all his friends and sisters, spoke of his family "My father is very poor". We had to stop for lunchtime - 'It's lunch time!" he looked and thought for a moment and he said, "we have no money for lunch?... so the spare change we had went into each hand. Imagine what 10RS can buy.
Our project and teamWe would have liked to get more done before we left - but overall I think we completed much in 28 days. We only took 1 day off to "sight-see". Working on the second side of the strawbale building, during lunch 2 days before we were leaving a sudden strong wind came up and blew down the first half. Disheartened, the team and laborers pulled together the next day and build a better wall in its place. Timber arrived in time for the carpenters to build the trusses and things started to flow as we knew time to say goodbye approached. Luckily for us, Carolina, a strawbaler from Denmark came 4 day before we left for us to hand off to. She'll complete the roof, earth plaster walls and finishes for us. It was great to have transition time and feel confident things will progress. Saying goodbye was hard, despite the ups and downs. I feel both cultures learned from each other. The goodbyes were sad, the workers at the job site "choked up" as we shook hands for maybe the last time. Many people desperately want to leave Pakistan for sponsorship in the US - it was hard to tell them no you can't come with us. We had 2 farewell dinners - one in Mansehra city - with freshly carved sheep in view and prepared, and the second our last night prepared by Gulnaz at the guesthouse. We ate, chatted and had our only taste of ice cream in a month! The last few days before we left, our morning discussions over breakfast - were about what foods we would eat when we returned to the US - One big piece of chocolate cake, eating each bite as slowly as possible! By midnight we packed, discussed the final drawings and finishes with Carolina, and took our last cold showers to leave the guest house at 3 AM for the 3 hour drive to Islamabad International Airport. As we taxied down the runway for departure to London, the flight captain announced," Please cover your eyes and mouth as the flight attendants will spray insecticide before takeoff..." Down the aisle came the can of RAID - only 7 and half hours to London!
PS. Thanks for all the emails of support during this experience. We made it safely to London and had a fantastic first day! Taking a week to sight-see and decompress - returning to the US around June 9th...