My Rickety Road Trip to Tharparkar By Rakhshi Memon, Trustee UKMAP
Today is 8th April 2017. 9 am the coach arrives with the Connect team and we set off for Thar. I cannot describe how I am feeling? So excited to visit Bhorelo village where UKMAP, s first solar water filtration plant is Mashallah functional now, I am taking the technical team to sign off the project at last!! A bit of apprehension too; as not at all sure what to expect – this is also my very first visit anywhere rural in Pakistan.
As we come out of Karachi, the way is very dusty – I can already taste the sand the landscape parched. We pass little Dhabas (village food cafes), normally the Connect team on their visits stop for lunch at one of these Dhabas but today they have made arrangements at Badin Gymkhana as my foreign constitution may not be able to stomach the Dhaba food – felt such a woose but thought yes, let’s be sensible it is a three day trip so don’t want to be ill and be a burden on the rest.
We pass Dhabeji outside Karachi where I am told there is a beautiful lake called Halaji – OMG I remember hearing about this lake from my parents. They spent many fishing weekends here before we were born.
Crossing Gharo and suddenly there are palm trees and farmhouses. Can’t get over the contrast!! We could easily be in Morocco or Tunisia.
At Thatta, we pass a small stream – goats grazing and men bathing and washing clothes. Village women in vibrant dresses with matkas on their heads (water utensils) walking towards their villages. They must have had to walk miles in this sweltering heat (40 degree Celsius today) as there was no habitation in sight just miles and miles of dry, muddy sand. We could have been in a Bollywood movie. I never imagined I could ever experience anything like this.
We have reached our first stopover, Makli 18th century graveyard. over a 1000 years old and the largest in Asia
At the graveyard three little beggar girls came begging I promised them biscuits and bananas I said don’t beg and they stopped begging and walked quietly with me whispering to each other “don’t beg, we will get biscuits”, when we got to the coach I asked them to wait at a stop and that I will get the biscuits they obediently stood in a line and waited. Once they got the biscuits they walked away happily sharing the biscuits and bananas. It made me realize they were not professional beggars’ just hungry children needing food. My heart went out to them
On our way to Badin we passed miles and miles of sunflower fields all flowers facing the sun as if paying homage to the Lord. This was Golarchie village just before we got to our 2nd stopover at Badin
We had a lovely lunch at Badin gymkhana. The manager a young man very efficient and hospitable, mobile phone attached to one ear giving instructions to his staff.
After a short rest, we were on our way to Mithi where our base would be for the next two days.
On the way we passed rickshaws with music blaring, tractors decorated with truck art, boy shepherds herding goats and cows. The road dusty and rickety all way along. Lorries speeding along the road – some even said on the front – King of the road and it seemed they certainly were. As they raced past, others had to give them way or else………
Just arrived at Mithi, where we stay for two nights. The place seems a bit spooky bits of it derelict but our rooms are very comfortable. We managed to occupy the chief minister’s room. Once settled, we sat out under the moon and the stars. The sky so clear and the stars so bright
The rest house is very comfortable had a good night sleep. Breakfast in the morning was puri, daal, omelette & halwa.
All set for our visit to the solar water plant in Bhorelo village Tharparkar so excited and honoured to be representing UKMAP. Don’t know what to expect but full of great anticipation.
In the morning we were met by Nandlaal who is head of the press club. He and his son Naqsh Kumar (Lucky) accompanied us to Bhorelo. Lucky aged 8 years took a shine to me and followed me around. He was such a dab hand at using my iPhone and video camera – I made him our official photographer.
Along the route from Mithi to Umerkot, a small township. Homeland of Shah Abdul Latif Bhattai famous poet and a Sufi saint. Till today villagers educated and illiterate alike; recite his poetry. The villagers accompanying us narrated the story of Marvi and her love for the homeland.
We drove past Royaldo trees which are very rare now. Its wood is used to make furniture. We also saw Guava and Baer tree plantations but these were very sparse amongst the sandy barren land
To reach Bhorelo village, we covered 70 kilometres. All through the route, we noticed that there was no public transport. Later on, during our return journey we realised what a miracle mobile phones are.
Our arrival in Bhorelo was such an emotional occasion, all the villagers were gathered by the water plant eagerly waiting to greet us. Their faces beaming and their big grins welcomed us
There were donkeys and camels with their mushaqs, they had travelled from other villages as Bholero mashallah now have more than sufficient water to also share with neighbouring villages.
At the RO (reverse osmosis) plant, I drank water from the clean well it was lovely. There were tears of joy rolling down our cheeks.
Below at the side was salty water which was used for washing utensils, a wall by it and then water for cattle. There was also the original well nearby which still had salty water. The water there was used by cattle, for bathing and for washing clothes etc.
The plant supplies to over 700 households (nearly 4000 people) and 10000 cattle drink water from there.
The village committee and the villagers were waiting with rose petals and asked me to cut the ribbon. After that we said a prayer and took photos all round. The technical team checked the plant and passed it.
We sat on a charpoy under a tree and the village people narrated stories of how it was before they had the water plant. They told me that the cattle died due to lack of water and birds dropped dead from the sky due to thirst.
They said before the water plant, three people from each household had to come to pull one mushaq of water but now just one person needs to come at an allocated time and get their water.
I also visited the choras (houses) and spoke to the village women. The choras were immaculately clean. They had thatched roofs and beams. Each had just two or three carrier bag full of belongings tucked into the beams. The women told me that before the water plant, donkeys and camels had to help pull the water, when they got hot and tired and couldn’t pull anymore, they had to beat the donkeys to make them work, the donkeys would get angry and talked to God and cursed the household and something bad happened. The women said now all the curses have gone away from the village.
The women said now they can just go get the water themselves and have lots of time to do other household chores and also have time to sit and chat with each other. My heart melted. Really, they were grateful for something as basic as having a bit of social time. The villagers were so genuinely pleased to have us there and were so hospitable.
Let me now tell you the miracle of mobile phones I mentioned before. On our way back from Bhorelo we encountered a motor bike accident. The motor bike laid at the side and two young boys injured lay beside it. We stopped and picked them up. . One had minor injuries, my antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer came in really handy to clean his wounds. The other boy had blood pouring from his mouth and nose. What a god send mobile phones were, the villagers frantically contacted the only doctor in the district. It was Sunday and they said it was his day for private practice. Nandlaal got hold of him and convinced him to get to the nearest private clinic. When we arrived with the injured lads the doctor was already there. Later on, we were told that the boy was fit to go home. He was given first aid and sent home.
We were now on our way to Hariyar village where Connect are putting a second solar OR water plant. On route, the villagers had to stop at a wedding event to congratulate the families. Not doing so would have been disrespectful. So we made a quick stop over, Nandlaal and other village elders who were accompanying us went to congratulate and had their picture taken with the groom. Proof that they attended the wedding.
At Hariyar village, the village committee head was waiting to take us to the site. The technical team surveyed the site while I sat and chatted to the village folk.
We arrived back in Mithi for late lunch. Nandlaal had arranged lunch at the Press club. When we arrived at the club, there was a big commotion going on. Apparently, an old woman’s pet monkey had run away and taken refuge in the press club. The monkey was being aggressive so all the staff were too scared to enter the building. Eventually, the monkey was lured away into the back yard where some food was put out to tempt him.
After lunch, we went and bought some hand dyed and hand printed Thar material. This seems to be a dying craft so we were lucky to get a couple of pieces of shalwar, kameez material.
By this time, we were really exhausted so had quick dinner and went to bed to get a good night sleep and prepare for the Sajawal district visit.
Next morning we had quick breakfast and set on our way to Sajawal district
This is part of interior Sindh which was devastated by the floods of 2010 . Connect have adopted 11 villages in this district. I am so overwhelmed by the amazing work this organisation is doing. These are a group of very determined, energetic humanitarians. Nothing seems to phase their passion to alleviate poverty. They continue to work wholeheartedly inspite of the cultural, religious and political challenges. The very high temperatures (over these three days the temperature remained constantly above 40 degree Celsius), lack of roads and other difficulties of an underdeveloped infrastructure. Three of Connect villages also have schools. We are visiting a school in Uros Mohd kkhas keli village.
On the way we passed Darro village, Mir pur bathoro and Mehmood jakro. We passed the Sindh River and the water seemed worryingly low. I prayed to God this was not signs of a draught.
The Connect team told me that in 2010 that these villages and the villages Connect have adopted were submerged in water. As we entered the parched muddy path to Uros Mohd KKhas Keli village. I was told that when the Connect team visited first time after the floods. There were rows of men and women sat along this muddy road. Mothers clutching their babies and nothing else. In the past seven years Connect has rebuild their homes (these were no more than glorified thatched huts) but at least the villagers now had a bit of a roof to shelter their families under. There is a welfare centre and the school, a small building with a lovely pagoda with lush trees. It seemed such a sanctuary surrounded by the parched, thirsty land. Before the pagoda was built the children had to do assembly under the harsh sweltering heat.
By now my head was throbbing with heat and exhaustion. I felt so ashamed of myself. These people have to bear this all their lives and I haven’t managed it for three days. I took a couple of paracetamols and gave myself a good talking to.
The school children were eagerly waiting for us. Their eyes lit up when they saw us and with beaming smiles they welcomed us. As we entered the classroom, they all stood up and greeted us with Asalam Alaikum in a chant. The teacher then brought forward his star students one by one and they read passages, sang the national anthem, did the counting and showed us their work. They are being taught in English, Urdu and Sindhi (their native language). This is the future generation so keen to learn. Hopefully, they will bring about positive change and be the role models in their villages. As we were concluding our school visit here. The school master from the neighbouring visit came running and pleaded with us to visit his village school too. He said the children had been waiting all day to see us. The Connect team could see how exhausted I was and knew they had just scheduled
for one village school but they asked me if I was prepared to visit the other village which was 45 minute drive away in the opposite direction. Of course, I said yes I didn’t have the heart to say otherwise. We got into our coach and went further inside the rural terrain on the narrow muddy lane. The expressions on the children’s faces when they saw us. I couldn’t have missed that for the world. Their innocent faces lit up with delight. They had nearly given up hope of our arrival. Again the school master full of pride brought forward his chosen students who again said the alphabet in English and Urdu, counted up to hundred and recited poems and songs. Oh such joy to have visited these amazing people wanting nothing but the very basics in life. It has been a life changing experience for me. I am so humbled and grateful for all that we are blessed with.
With heavy hearts but hopeful for the future of these little beautiful children we got into our coach outward bound back to our comfortable homes having left a little bit of myself with the people of interior Sindh who are so clear about their loyalties and their love for their homeland.
I am indebted to the Connect Team for providing me this amazing opportunity. Talat, Parveen and Sheelo – my friends for life. Thank you