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6076Kashmir Earthquake: Embracing a sister village in need - Seattle Times, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    Dec 20, 2005
      Embracing a sister village in need
      By Janet I. Tu
      Seattle Times staff reporter
      First of three parts


      PUTHIAN, Pakistan — They meet atop a hill of rubble,
      this Seattle-area printing company owner who grew up
      privileged in Pakistan, and the Pakistani villager who
      lost her daughter and her house in the October

      Kamran Salahuddin has traveled more than 9,000 miles
      from his home in Redmond to this remote village in the
      foothills of the Himalayas, and to the doorstep of
      Hafeeza Zaheen.

      Only there is no doorstep. Hafeeza's front door now
      rests atop the rubble that once was her family's small

      Like most of the other buildings in this village of
      1,000, it was destroyed. And among the estimated
      80,000 killed in the quake were Hafeeza's 5-year-old
      daughter, Sultana, and six other village children who
      couldn't run fast enough from their schoolhouse before
      it collapsed.

      "She's gone," Hafeeza says. Now "I only have two."

      Kamran, himself a parent of two young children, has
      heard many such stories since he arrived here. Of the
      human losses he can do nothing. But of the losses of
      shelter, clothing and a normal way of life, he intends
      to do a great deal.

      Kamran is director of the Pakistan Association of
      Greater Seattle, which has taken the first steps to
      adopt the entire village complex of Bugna, of which
      Puthian is a part. The goal is to get residents of
      greater Seattle involved as well, embracing the Bugna
      Village Complex as Seattle's sister village.

      The association hopes its effort will spread
      nationwide, with Pakistani associations in other U.S.
      cities also adopting one of the thousands of mountain
      villages damaged by the quake.

      So here Kamran was last month in the village of
      Puthian, with two other association members and a
      group of workers from a Northwest company that's
      donating sturdy fabric buildings shaped like Quonset
      huts to serve as temporary houses, schools and a

      Their challenges, and those facing villagers, are

      The remote villages are scattered along steep terrain,
      some houses accessible by narrow, unpaved roads with
      hairpin curves; others only by foot. Even before the
      earthquake, villagers made do with only sporadic power
      and a water system that only sometimes worked.
      Extended families typically lived together in two- or
      three-room houses made of stone, mud and wood.

      Now many are sleeping in small canvas or nylon tents
      that are inadequate for the snowy winter, when
      temperatures can drop as low as 10 degrees. With their
      clothes, shoes and food supplies buried in rubble
      along with whatever money, jewelry or other valuables
      they possessed, many are unsure what they will eat
      this winter, let alone how they can afford to rebuild.

      Hafeeza worries whether her 9-year-old son, Basit, who
      has tuberculosis, will survive the bitter cold.

      In seizing upon its "sister-village" idea, Seattle's
      Pakistan Association was looking for an area where it
      could make a tangible difference. It wanted to select
      a village or two, determine the needs, and get to know
      people like Hafeeza.

      At 25, Hafeeza is thin, her face weathered by a harsh
      environment and a rugged life that have made her look
      far older than her years.

      Yet she is striking, with big, dark eyes that shine
      warmly when she smiles, which is often when visitors
      come. You would not know her sorrows unless you asked.

      She offers tea to guests and insists they have bowls
      of noodles sweetened with sugar, though she's just
      finished telling you — because you asked — that she
      has only five days of food left. Her husband is often
      gone for weeks at a time, working as a hotel cook
      hundreds of miles away.

      Reaching Hafeeza's home from Seattle requires a
      30-hour plane trip to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital
      city. From Islamabad, it's a four-hour drive on a
      paved highway that leads to Muzaffarabad, the capital
      of the portion of Kashmir that's controlled by
      Pakistan and close to the epicenter of the quake.

      About 21 miles before Muzaffarabad, a narrow, unpaved
      road to the right curls steeply up the mountainside
      for about seven miles to Bugna. It's the largest of
      about eight villages that make up the Bugna Village
      Complex, which lost more than 100 of its 8,000
      residents. While the numbers were far higher in cities
      closer to the epicenter — some 33,000 died in and
      around Muzaffarabad — most surviving villagers lost
      their homes and belongings.

      The toll of the Pakistan earthquake
      Number dead in the Oct. 8 quake:
      Official toll is about 73,000; other estimates range
      up to 86,000
      Number injured: About 128,000
      Number displaced: About 3.5 million
      International aid: About $6 billion pledged, most in
      U.S. aid: $510 million pledged.
      How it compares: Other recent quakes in the region:
      Afghanistan 2002 — 1,000 people killed; India 2001 —
      30,000 killed; Taiwan 1999 — 2,500 killed.

      Sources: Pakistan government's Federal Relief
      Commission, U.S. State Department, The Associated

      A base camp has been established in Bugna by a
      nonprofit organization called Human Development
      Foundation (HDF). Founded by Pakistani Americans, HDF
      is working with the Pakistan Association of Greater
      Seattle on the sister-village project.

      Farther up the mountain is Puthian, a village of about
      1,000, where 13 died. Like the other villages, it has
      no center, its far-flung houses connected by footpaths
      shared by villagers and goats. From any point you can
      see surrounding mountaintops already dusted with snow.

      Hafeeza's house was right next to the school where her
      daughter died.

      The villagers all remember the morning the earthquake

      "I see everything moving left and right, houses
      falling, people crying."

      "I felt the house sink downward. My grandmother was

      "I feel it is the last day of life.

      I pray to God."

      Hafeeza was cutting grass to feed her two buffaloes.
      "I ran to my children," she said. "I saw my son
      running toward me, crying: 'Mommy, mommy!' "

      The schoolhouse, for children up to grade 5, had
      collapsed. Older students in one room made it out, but
      seven little ones in another room did not.

      The mothers began wailing. Other villagers heard them
      and ran to help. They clawed through rocks, collapsed
      wooden beams, books and shoes, trying to find the
      children. Hafeeza ignored the pain in her injured leg.
      "I was digging for my daughter. I didn't even know I
      was hurt."

      It took two hours to find Sultana's body.

      After the earthquake, it rained. The ground trembled
      with aftershocks.

      A few Pakistanis from other areas hiked in with water
      and biscuits, and the government cleared the roads
      several days later. A week after the quake, HDF
      arrived to set up medical care and distribute food.

      Hafeeza passed the first days in a daze. One night,
      distracted by sorrow, she accidentally splashed
      herself with scalding tea, leaving a hand-sized scar
      on her chest.

      Sultana and her brother, Basit, often walked to the
      store together and played house, serving family
      members "rice" and "tea" made of twigs and water on
      broken dishes.

      Now Basit, wispy thin, with huge eyes and a matchstick
      neck, sometimes asks: "Where is my sister?"

      Hafeeza tells him: "She went to God."

      It was his own faith that brought Kamran from his
      Redmond home to what's left of Hafeeza's doorstep.

      A founding member of Seattle's Downtown Muslim
      Association, Kamran believes in giving to those less
      fortunate, something he teaches his sons, ages 7 and

      Kamran, at 45, has black hair touched with silver and
      wears elegant suits that add to his distinguished air.
      His is a typical suburban life, he says. He owns
      DigiCopy 'n' Print across from Seattle Center, and his
      wife, Sania, is an assistant teacher in the Lake
      Washington School District. On weekends they attend
      their sons' basketball and soccer games.

      He grew up the only son of a high-ranking
      government-official father and a mother whose family
      owns hundreds of acres of farmland in Punjab province,
      about 500 miles south of Islamabad. They had drivers,
      guards, cooks and personal attendants.

      He was sent to English-speaking schools in Islamabad,
      where his friends were upper-class Pakistanis and the
      children of foreign diplomats. When his family became
      the first in the neighborhood to get a TV, he watched
      "Leave It to Beaver" and later became a fan of the Bee
      Gees and "Saturday Night Fever."

      It wasn't until he arrived in the United States for
      graduate studies at Oregon State University in
      Corvallis and then City University in Seattle — and
      got involved in Pakistani student groups — that he
      began to learn more about his culture and faith.

      In the early 1990s, Kamran and other local
      Pakistani-American professionals founded the Pakistan
      Association of Greater Seattle, which now has more
      than 1,000 families on its mailing list.

      After the earthquake, association members were
      concerned that relatively little relief money was
      coming in for quake victims. In the two weeks
      following the earthquake, for instance, Portland-based
      Mercy Corps raised $2.3 million for quake relief
      compared with more than $8 million in two weeks after
      the Indian Ocean tsunami.

      Given Pakistan's overwhelming needs, local association
      members felt compelled to help. But "we didn't want to
      just collect money" for other relief agencies, Kamran
      said. They wanted to be able to go back "time after
      time, in three months, six months and report: This is
      what we've done, this is how we've helped the
      village." And they wanted to involve the broader
      Seattle community.

      Thus the "sister-village" idea was born, for which the
      association has so far raised $90,000. It will use the
      money to provide heaters, school clothes, medical care
      and to meet other needs.

      Members also contacted HDF, which reported that no
      other aid agencies were working in the Bugna Village
      Complex, an area small enough for HDF and the Pakistan
      Association's limited funds to make a difference.

      Another piece fell into place when Anchorage-based
      Alaska Structures offered to donate more than 100
      fabric buildings. The structures, used as military
      buildings and disaster-relief facilities, are designed
      to withstand extreme climates. The company asked
      Kamran to accompany its workers to Puthian and Bugna.

      A few days later, Kamran, two other Pakistan
      Association members and about 25 Alaska Structures
      employees arrived in the Himalayan foothills and began
      putting up the fabric shelters. At first, villagers
      stood at a distance, but soon they pitched in to help.
      Schoolchildren crowded around wherever they went.

      "I saw how little they had," Kamran said. "But every
      single home we went to, they offered us tea."

      When pressed, some spoke of their losses. Kamran would
      translate, having to pause at times because he was
      overcome by their stories.

      "They don't know what the future holds or how to plan
      for it. So they are going day by day."

      When someone dies in these villages, neighbors and
      friends usually help the bereaved family dig the grave
      and bury the dead.

      But after the earthquake, "everybody had their own
      dead," said Yousaf Kiani of Bugna, a 50-year-old
      laborer who lost his mother and two children. Among
      the few possessions he salvaged was his mother's gold
      velveteen dress. He shows it to visitors, holding it
      to his cheek.

      There is no central village graveyard. Rather, the
      dead are buried in small patches of land — three
      graves here, six there. Yousaf buried his mother and
      children up the hill from his home.

      Hafeeza's family buried Sultana next to a cousin in
      the field across from her house. Hafeeza wants to put
      a marker on the grave but cannot afford it.

      She visits the grave twice a day, remembering how
      Sultana would sleep beside her in bed. Now and again,
      she finds items in the rubble that belonged to her
      daughter — a sandal that now sits on a high ledge in
      the family's makeshift stable; a barrette with an
      orange flower that she spots in the mud while talking
      with visitors. "Sultana's," she says, wiping mud from
      the flower before tucking it away.

      But she cannot spend the day grieving.

      Like many village women, she wakes around 5 a.m. to
      start a fire. She make tea and roti — a flat bread
      made of flour and water — for her family's breakfast
      and prepares her 7-year-old daughter, Muqatas, for
      school. Though educating their children is important
      to villagers, Hafeeza's son, Basit, has not gone to
      school since the earthquake because the nearest one is
      now more than a mile away, and he's too frail to walk
      that far each day.

      She will also cut grass to feed the family's two
      buffaloes and two goats, gather firewood, cook and
      wash the dishes. And, sometimes several times a day,
      she and other women walk to a village well or a stream
      far down the mountain, returning with water carried
      atop their heads in silver urns.

      Two years ago, each household contributed about $4 for
      a system to pipe water closer to their homes. But
      that, too, was damaged.

      Some of the village men work in cities such as
      Rawalpindi, Muzaffarabad and Lahore. As a hotel cook
      in Lahore, Hafeeza's husband makes about 2,500 rupees
      a month (about $42). Because round-trip bus fare
      between Puthian and these cities can cost close to a
      day's wage, they usually stay in the cities for weeks
      or months at a time.

      Other men stay in the village and do construction
      work. A few are retired government servants. Some are

      These days, though, most are staying at home to clear
      the rubble and prepare for winter. "God help me," said
      Yousaf Kiani, the villager who lost his mother and two
      children. "Snow is coming. I have no money."

      Few villagers complain, said Dr. Aneeta Afzal, a
      Pakistani-American psychiatrist from Louisiana who was
      volunteering at the base-camp hospital in Bugna.
      "There's not a single word for depression in our
      culture," she said. "But there's definitely depression

      The villagers usually come for physical ailments or
      bring their children, saying the young ones have a
      burden on their heart. Only after Dr. Aneeta questions
      them about their losses does their grief come out.

      Some talk of the earthquake as being a test from God.
      Others say it was God's punishment — for thieves in
      neighboring villages, or not praying devoutly enough.

      "Something is wrong with me and the people here,"
      Yousaf says. "God knows better what is wrong."

      Most villagers are sleeping in the shelters provided
      by Alaska Structures or in small tents they got from
      HDF, the Pakistan Army or elsewhere.

      The few stone-and-mud structures that have been built
      since the quake are mostly for sheltering precious
      livestock — buffaloes and goats that provide milk, and
      chickens that give eggs and meat.

      Humans can stay in tents, the villagers say, but where
      would animals find shelter in winter if they didn't
      build them one?

      Hafeeza's family members hastily built such a stable.
      They gather there by day to cook and eat over a fire,
      letting the animals in at night while they retreat to
      their tents.

      The government had encouraged survivors to stay in
      tent cities that have gone up at lower elevations. But
      even at relief camps, there are problems: flimsy
      tents, crowded conditions and disease.

      Few have gone from Puthian or Bugna. "All my life, I
      lived here," Hafeeza says. "I will not leave alone my
      mother and other relatives. Everybody here will stay
      here in winter."

      The challenge is making sure that everyone who stays

      As of earlier this month, some 50 families in Puthian
      had yet to receive any kind of shelter. And those who
      had still had to contend with the cold.

      The fabric shelters erected by Alaska Structures keep
      out the wind, rain and snow but they are still cold,
      and villagers cannot build fires inside for warmth,
      for cooking or to gather around as they did in their
      houses before the quake.

      Richard Hotes, president and CEO of Alaska Structures,
      says the structures are designed to keep heat in — as
      long as there is a heat source. The company didn't
      bring along bulky heaters because "we were moving so
      fast," trying to get the shelters up before the snow
      hit and hoping to find the right heaters in Pakistan.

      Hotes and the Pakistan Association plan to get heaters
      to the villagers by the end of the month — gas heaters
      if they're safe to use inside, or perhaps wood stoves
      with exhaust systems. One Bugna village leader hopes
      the village can soon build metal-roof structures with
      stone walls in which people can build fires. The
      problem — and it's a huge one — is that no one has the

      The Pakistani government has announced it is
      compensating quake victims the equivalent of about
      $400 for a damaged house, and about $2,000 to build a
      one-room shelter. Each family is also supposed to get
      about $1,600 per death. Government representatives
      have visited, but no one in Puthian or Bugna has
      received compensation yet.

      And building traditional houses here is laborious.
      Village men must cut chunks of stone from the
      mountains and haul them on their backs, carry mud up
      steep trails and cut down trees for beams and doors.

      Hotes plans to send 300 more fabric shelters by the
      end of next month, along with heaters, shoes and warm
      school uniforms, and to return to the villages himself
      in January. He wants other corporate leaders in the
      United States to "adopt a mountain" as well — to
      travel to Pakistan, assess the needs and get their
      people involved.

      Other supplies are also needed.

      Although HDF is distributing cooking oil, flour and
      sugar about every 15 days, some families are missed,
      and there is never enough. And the hospital it set up
      at the base camp can use more drip stands, oxygen
      tanks and drugs for everything from scabies to
      pneumonia and — in Basit's case — tuberculosis.

      After rising earlier than usual one recent morning to
      complete her chores, Hafeeza focused on getting her
      son to a hospital in Muzaffarabad for a blood test.

      Basit was diagnosed last spring when she took him in
      for a fever and a cough. "Sick, febrile, emaciated,"
      the doctor wrote on his medical chart.

      Instead of playing cricket with the other village
      boys, Basit remains at her side, straying only short
      distances to explore or toss a Frisbee.

      Because the bus ride to Muzaffarabad costs about 60
      cents, Hafeeza and Basit hoped to catch a ride in an
      HDF ambulance that was to transport a 90-year-old
      woman with a broken leg to Muzaffarabad.

      Others from Puthian were hoping to do the same,
      including a man accompanying his wife, whose arm was
      broken, and his son who, since the earthquake,
      couldn't remember his way home from the store. They
      all squeezed into the ambulance that day.

      Beyond that, though, the future is less certain.
      Basit's TB has progressed, and the drugs he likely
      will need cost more per day than his father earns. A
      base-camp doctor said he would look at what medics in
      Muzaffarabad recommend, and try to take care of Basit.
      But he can't make any promises.

      Now, two months after the quake, camp doctors are
      seeing more routine cases than traumatic ones — sinus
      infections instead of broken legs. Village schools
      have resumed, and the men are talking about returning
      to jobs in the cities. Still, it's hard for villagers
      to make long-term plans when they must first survive
      the winter.

      Back in Seattle now, Kamran is on the phone
      constantly, trying to get hundreds more
      extreme-weather shelters to the area within the next
      few weeks. He has identified villagers he talks with
      regularly. They tell him how families are faring and
      what they need most.

      He's worried that hundreds still don't have sturdy
      shelters. And he's concerned that quake-relief aid is
      still lagging — the U.S. government, for example, has
      promised about $510 million, half what it has pledged
      for tsunami relief.

      The association has a goal of raising $1 million for
      the sister-village project by next September. It is
      advising another Pakistani-American association in
      California that wants to establish its own sister

      Kamran is humbler now, he says, grateful for
      everything he once took for granted. Seeing how rural
      Pakistanis live "was quite an eye-opener."

      Kamran plans to return to the villages this spring,
      driven by images that linger in his mind: collapsed
      roofs everywhere, school books buried in rubble, and
      Hafeeza's smile as she offered him tea.

      Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272

      or jtu@...

      Thomas James Hurst: 206-464-3894

      or thurst@...

      Staff researchers David Turim and Miyoko Wolf
      contributed to this report.

      Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company