27 Sep 2010

VOC News senior journalist and Drivetime presenter Shafiq Morton is in Pakistan, travelling along with the Al Imdaad Foundation on its latest aid mission to the flood-ravaged region. This is his account of his second day on the road, delivering aid.

DAY 2: Leave Islamabad after sunrise. Its leafy roads are still empty, the surrounding hills hazy in the soft light. Schoolgirls in white gather on corners. Garishly-decorated trucks move out of the alleys. We pass a cricket field. We move through the roadblocks into the outskirts of the city. A motorcyclist covered in milk cans clanks over a pothole next to the bus. Soon we are out of the city. The road is good and the terrain opens up into rolling hills dotted by trees and the smokestacks of brick kilns. It is 6 hours to the Indus lowlands and the Punjab, our next destination. Four hours sleep since Sunday, time to take a nap. Ouch! Pothole. Bounce, Bounce. We descend into the Indus Valley. Colourful trucks wheeze up the long, steep pass. It's low gears either way. A woman herds buffalo next to a dusty village. We see rice paddies, orchards, sugar cane, millet and maize. A tractor chugs along a dusty road. These are not the flood-zones, but when I see the fertile richness of the soil, I begin to understand what has been lost further on. This is earth that has been tilled for thousands of years in a timeless symbiotic relationship with the seasons. To wash it away obliterates life, and the very hope of life. The Al-Imdaad Mission pushes on over the Indus plain towards the flood zone. The sun is high now and outside it's mid 30 degrees celsius. It's a big country - nearly 180 million people live here. Kilometre after kilometre of villages, small, ornate roadside mosques and even karamats whizz by. We pass queues of donkey carts, riki-tikis and coughing techni-colour trucks. No brakes here, just the horn as a scooter with a whole family astride it buzzes by. The villages line the road. Dirty, dusty, smelling of livestock but full of texture and life. Poor yes, but friendly, curious and noisy. Carts full of sugar cane clop by. A man in a crisp white kurtah pedals his ancient Raleigh bi-cycle in the burning sun. No place for Englishmen here. Mechanics grovel in the oily dust under the bellies of tractors. A young man sells luke-warm Seven-Up. A woodcutter sweats in the shade next to a huge pile of timber. A bricklayer builds a wall whilst chatting to his friends. Poverty doesn't mean that people can't be busy. The road is getting bumpier now. And narrower. A huge bump sees me sending off the story by accident as my finger slips on the keyboard. Where was I? Aaargh! A bus with 'Allahu Akbar' on its bonnet is overtaking a tractor loaded with sugar-cane. One problem. We're in the way. Fortunately, we're not going too fast and there's a metal-friendly solution as our driver takes avoiding action. Road gets better again. Our driver honks his horn as he overtakes a scooter. We're on our way to the Punjab. VOC (Shafiq Morton)
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