Dear Nana, Dada, Dadi, Nani, (my grandparents)
I never knew you. I either met you during fleeting moments of my childhood or I met you through stories passed down by my parents. And yet it was only your memory alone that bought me back to this troubled land with such eager determination.
This year I was blessed to discover that many years ago you too had written diaries of living in this land now known as Pakistan. You described the unimaginable struggles of your lives, the hardships you faced and how your strength overcame them. You described the changing times of British India, the social and economic difficulties, the upheaval and uproar of the political instability. You described what life is like when you are homeless and penniless but more importantly, you described how life is when you are not hopeless, not loveless. Your writings were inspirational and beautiful to me.
And so during my own difficult times during this journey, it was thoughts of you that kept me going. In every hungry moment, I remembered your hunger. In every tired moment I remembered the thankless hours of manual work you did just to pay for a small meal. In moments of sadness, I remembered how you still succeeded.
But most importantly, in moments of utmost frustration, when I looked up and saw the lives of the people struggling around me, man, woman or child, I too saw your lives within theirs and it pushed me to try harder, that by being here with these people, I was still connected to you.
And so when I found the time, I visited your final resting places, as I promised myself I would. And I prayed you were happy, in peace high above the starry skies and in peace within the hearts of all those that still and will always remember you fondly.
With love always
My journey in Pakistan has come to an end but the journey of the medical project I have been involved with has only just begun. In the context of these unprecedented floods along the entire length of the seemingly all destroying Indus River, it is merely a small project, assisting only a fractional percentage of the vast populations whose lives have been so severely affected.
But in the context of those small number of people that the project is reaching out to, it really is a matter of life and death, of fighting preventable disease, of improving battered lives and livelihoods, of giving help and hope to the somewhat hopeless and helpless.
Friends and family on my return have all commented on the great work I have performed and yet it does not feel this way. Indeed the chairperson of Doctors Worldwide (a fellow orthopaedic surgeon!) arrived in Pakistan the day before I left. He also thanked me and commented on my personal achievements during these difficult times.
I denied that I or we had achieved anything yet. A project that fails to realise its potential is not a worthwhile achievement no matter how great or poor the start. The clinic we are running is at a tipping point. It can either crumble if its supporting foundations are removed or it can become stronger, developing a solid grounding to provide vital care for these impoverished people long into the future, long after I and we all have forgotten about them. It will always need support and energy, your support, my support and our collective energy for many months if not years to come.
More volunteers from the UK have arrived and are working in the field, taking the project further, dedicating their time and love to the people of Pakistan. One of my regrets is not being with them to help the project blossom. My last request to the Chairman and the new team as I said goodbye was to make sure they go onto fulfill its purpose and truly become the great project it has the potential to be. They promised it would and I hope I will be able to keep you all updated on its positive progress some day in the future.
As I made my final way to Islamabad airport, the driver I had worked with for four weeks mentioned how every one of the local staff members was sad I was leaving. I asked him why, mentioning that there was a whole new team to keep them busy. He answered it was because I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I did not fully understand this but it reminded me of a time when a student nurse in South Africa described me as having the Zulu word for humanity. It was another comment I did not quite understand.
I do not believe there is such a thing as true altruism. And in reality, my motives are purely self serving. In a time of floods and earthquakes, of wars and suicide bombings, of visible famines and diseases on TV, of extreme poverty and inexplicable injustice against the innocent, I am merely acting to find my place and peace within this strange world.
In a world where its people would rather seek more comfort for themselves at the expense of others, where its people highlight and exploit the minor differences between themselves rather than embrace our overwhelming similarities, my motives are merely to try and understand why this is so. If by chance, my actions help or improve the lives of others, it is simply a side effect of my personal quest to belong in a world I still do not understand.
I did not always display my writings so frivolously. They are truly only written for me. As a child, as a teenager and as an adult, I would write and release the words trapped in my head and heart and happily throw them away, emptying the space, ready for the next batch of invading words.
I was only recently convinced by someone to display some of these writings for some equally crazy people in this world who actually wanted to read them, again a concept I do not understand. And so for those readers that have joined me on this journey, and those that have responded with the countless messages of support whilst writing this diary, I am truly thankful and humbled by your support. My words would not be able to explain my gratitude.
I am hopeful however, that in the future, there will be a day I no longer need to write such long winded explanations, that I can quietly go about my way without such ramblings. I am hopeful it will be the day I too will have found my peace,
With love always,
PS - The end! :)