6076Kashmir Earthquake: Embracing a sister village in need - Seattle Times, USA
- Dec 20, 2005Embracing 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
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
"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
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
It took two hours to find Sultana's body.
After the earthquake, it rained. The ground trembled
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
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
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
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
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
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
Thomas James Hurst: 206-464-3894
Staff researchers David Turim and Miyoko Wolf
contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company