On Saturday morning October 8, 2005 at 03:50:38 (UTC), a massive earthquake struck Pakistan and parts of India and Afghanistan. It was the strongest earthquake in the area during the last hundred years.
It was just the beginning of Ramadan, fasting month of the Muslim calendar. I received a call for duty in Pakistan. I am the type who will never say no when there is a need, so within hours of flight, I reached Pakistan. Battagram, to be exact.
The earthquake was by far the most destructive disaster in the region. Reports indicated that close to 80,000 people were killed and at least 50,000 more were injured in the northern areas of Pakistan, in the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, in the Indian-controlled Kashmir (known as Jammu-Kashmir), and in Northern India. Thousands of houses were destroyed.
I spent few good months serving the people of Battagram, one of the few badly hit region. Battagram is located north (about 8 hrs driving) from Islamabad. Based up in the mountain during harsh winter was a great challenge for me. There were times when the temperature went down as low as 14°C and being a true tropical inhabitant, the temperature was killing me.
I was assigned to implement a project named ” Project 3000″ funded by a Malaysian foundation to feed and ensure that 3000 affected families in Battagram have enough food supply to survive throughout the harsh winter. A bare land of dry field soon turned into a food distribution center. In a month we found and identified more than thousand families for the program and by mid of 2nd month we have reached the target. With the support of 40 local staff, a big project as such would sure attract the eyes of some who would want to take advantage. I was the only expatriate in the team and I was the team leader.
One morning, I woke up to find the camp unusually quiet. As I was about to get ready for the day, I heard unfamiliar voice outside my tent so I peeked out. It was not a good idea as two guns were pointed to my head the moment I did that.
What would you do when the situation happen to you?
I didn’t understand a single word they said and what they wanted. I got dressed and walked out from my tent. Two more gunmen appear and was told to sit; with four guns pointed at my head. This is the moment that any humanitarian, NGO, UN personnel or workers never wanted to face or happen to any of their staff on the field or in line of duty.
And it happened to me.
My entire life flashes in front of my eyes. I thought, “this is the day that I am going to die.” To die at a gun-point. 4 gun-points, to be exact. The world seemed a complete silent to me with a slow-motion effect where you only hear the heart beat and then the clock stops ticking, just like in a movie. I watched the camp with heavy heart and thought that would be my last view and sight of this world.
The rebels were yelling and shouting at me in a weird language but I reckon that it was Patan. They confiscated my stuff and equipment from my tent. I obeyed as that was the only choice I have. One of them handed me my satellite phone and asked me to make a call, which I did.
“I am busy, I am in a meeting now. What ever you do, when you got out from this alive, don’t speak to BBC, CNN or Malaysian media. Nak kena jaga maruah dan nama baik TSM (1) and the foundation,” the voice on the other end responded when i told him what happened.
“Pandai-pandai kau la nak setel hal ni…..nanti kalau kau hidup kita setel and compensate la untuk jaga maruah TSM (2).”
TSM first, my own life later. He was not even there and that was a “very great idea”. If only I survived.
What if I was half-dead?
Or simply dead?
Anyway this is my ride blog. Not my humanitarian story. The book about the nightmare (with pictures) will be published. When? Let time tells and decide. Just want to share my experience.
Anyway, I am still in one piece. To date, the compensation promised has never been delivered to me nor the balance of my salary for the mission. I am not a materialistic kind of guy and I don’t really care if they don’t pay me a single cent but the point is, some people take it easy on other’s people life that they are willing to make empty promises to just get their ass off the hook. The sad part was, they don’t really care if i was alive or not.
Here are some of the pictures from my mission in Pakistan.
(1) We got to protect the dignity of TSM.
(2) Settle the situation on your own, if you are alive, we’ll compensate for covering the good name of TSM.