A region of tragic stories and personal warmth
Seattle Times staff reporter
It's one thing to read or hear about the numbers. It's another thing when numbers have faces, names, stories.
Numbers — such as the approximately 80,000 people who died in October's Pakistan earthquake — are abstract, too hard to get your hands around. But not when you remember that those numbers involve 80,000 individual stories.
Here are some more stories from Bugna and Puthian that linger in my mind:
Imtiaz Ahmat, 42, of Bugna, is taking care of six children, ages 3 to 16, after his wife was killed in the quake while shopping in Muzaffarabad.
"I am taking care of them like a mother because there is no mother," Ahmat said. He hasn't had the heart to tell his two youngest children that their mother had died. When they ask where she is, he tells them: "Your mother is seriously injured. She's in the hospital."
Yousaf Kiani, of Bugna, lost his mother and two young children. Now, his family is living in tents with their belongings, such as a large wooden rice spoon, tied to trees because there is no place else to put it.
He had been to see a village leader the morning we met him. The village leader had asked if he needed anything. "I said: 'I don't need to take anything.' " When we questioned that, Kiani laughed ruefully and said: "Really, I need everything. I lost everything. But I never say that to the chairman."
Mohammed Rafiq, of Puthian, lost a daughter and his home and is facing hard economic choices. He is considering selling his buffaloes, which provide his family with milk, because there is no place to keep them now. But no one in the nearby villages wants to buy a buffalo. And villagers who went recently to Muzaffarabad to try to sell their buffaloes had no success.
"Maybe nobody takes my buffalo," he said. But he has to support a family of eight and "I have no money, no savings."
Dr. Aneeta Afzal, a psychiatrist from Louisiana, came with four other Pakistani-American doctors to volunteer at a hospital/medical clinic in Bugna.
Afzal and the other doctors divided their time in Pakistan between the Bugna clinic and those run by other aid agencies in cities such as Balakot and Muzaffarabad.
She doesn't know if she can get the stories she's heard in the various clinics out of her head. There was the man who told her about seeing his son stuck in rubble after the quake. But he couldn't get his son out. It was starting to get dark and wolves were coming and he had other children at home he had to protect.
The next day, when he returned to get his son, he found his son had died.
"Just today, I saw four patients," Afzal said one afternoon. "I don't think I can see any more. Just horrible stories. ... There were just so many kids who died."
I didn't know what reception I, and other Americans, would get in Pakistan. But the people's warmth and graciousness touched me deeply. They had almost nothing, yet gave so much — their food, their time and the stories of their lives.
And they were excited to meet Americans.
"Village life is different now because there is aid now, progress," said Zawar Ali Khateer, 21, a university student who was back home in Bugna. "There was no hospital. Now there is a hospital. Now Americans have come."
Another university student, Ajmal Hussain, 23, said: "We are thinking this will be a very difficult time for us. We are not thinking people will come help us from America."
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company