Too old to survive the floods

Published: October 8, 2010
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The worst affected by the floods are the elderly and the children. PHOTO: AFP

As I haul four heavy jute bags of relief food items on my back, frantically searching through the hundreds of tents, hoping to give away the relief goods to the ones most in need, my sight stops at an old man sitting with three other elderly women.

They seem old. Old enough to not have the strength to even hold one of the bags I am about to offer them.

As I approach their tent, even before offering them one of the bags, I am stunned at their reaction: These elderly people have tears trickling down their wrinkly cheeks and one of the women hides her face in her hands, trying to hide her ambivalence, pain and joy. My heart stops for a second and I hardly manage to make out the words to ask them in broken Sindhi, “What happened? Why would you cry? I am here to help you!”

The old man, Mir Jamal, looks up to me with a smile, tears still moistening his face:

“We have been living in this tent for 15 days and today is the first day that we have been offered something to eat in our tent.”

“I am 75 years old, I do not have the strength of those young men to push around and fight for survival every time an apparently promising truck of flood relief comes in from the city.”

He raises his hands and I am dumb-founded by the scars on his arms and palms, covered in fresh new wounds.

“This is what they do to you when you try and claim the so-called relief which is meant for you! They push and punch and old people like me who can barely walk, have no chance at getting any relief items for myself or my family,” he says, gesturing towards the women sitting next to him, who by now are opening the bag I had offered them, frantically searching for clean water.

Feeling their misery, I offer them another bag secretly, obviously against the rules, wish them Eid Mubarak and start to walk off to find more tents, when I hear him call me back. I go back to him and to my surprise Mir Jamal hugs me and wishes me Eid Mubarak, offering me a biscuit packet that he found in the relief bag. His gesture moves me in a way I myself do not understand. I just felt my eyes become foggy. Here’s a man who has had no food in days, who is starving, but he does not forget his hospitality. I walk away from the tent, listening to the prayers they call out for me.

The old people at this camp in Makli, Thatta are not the only ones suffering. Children are the victims too. If you think that the hard part for them is over (surviving the floods), you must think again. Surviving the aftermaths of the floods is another journey to hell that these minorities have to confront.

As the relief volunteer hands me a carton of milk, I run off to the camps where I can find kids. I do not have to find the kids, they find me first! Ranging from three to 12-year-olds, all of them run towards me as if I have a magic wand in my hand.

They push me, pull on my shirt and try to snatch the milk from my hands. It was the sheer drive of hunger that had stripped these kids of their innocence, and they only seemed desperate and angry. As I scream at them to show a little discipline, the children refuse to listen. I then pretended to walk away without distributing the milk and to my utmost shock they all sit quietly in a line, careful not to anger the Santa Claus bearing milky treats.

As I ask them why they fight and misbehave, a nine-year old girl looks up to me and says:

“The big trucks come and go. All the men take everything, they store for days, not giving us anything. Sometimes they fight and the trucks leave in anger. We never get any milk or water.”

Listening to their plight I start distributing them the milk cartons till each one of them has two packs. They do not wait for me to return, they do not wait to even sit down, as soon as they get the carton, they tear it open with their teeth and start gulping it like it is milk from the heavens. I wonder if it satiated their thirst. They will become thirsty again.

musabmemon

Musab Memon

A sub-editor on the National desk of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.