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The Human in Me
Author's note: I have always written about places I don't know of all that well. This is my first story set in my own home country. I want to express my thoughts on a number of issues, none are controversial or offensive rather deal with humanitarian causes. Read and comment, feedback means a lot.
I was on the plane and no one could do anything about it. The plane was now out of their reach and that meant so was I. Was it really that hard to let me go and do what I wanted to? This question kept pestering me all throughout my flight from Chicago Illinois to Islamabad Pakistan.
I was going to return to the land of wheat colored people, spices, chunri and varying topography from the deserts in the west, beaches in the east, plains upland and mountains up north. I was going to a land of people who resembled me in so many ways more than anyone from my adopted country ever had.
The ocean beneath me reminded me of the journeys my ancestors would have fore took so many times , some in rackety old boats made of wood, some in bigger and more updated ships; among them were two I had known very well ,my grandparents Maria Jamil and Fredrick Jamil. Once the plane would land I would not only step onto the soil my ancestors had inherited; but most importantly the soil I was due to inherit but was taken away from before it happened.
I was flying by Emirates and was due to land in exactly four more hours. My heart raced as I held onto the small brochure I had picked up at the Pakistani Embassy and prayed to dear lord that I would succeed in my mission.
From the moment the plane landed to the time when I was standing with the international immigrant’s at the immigration I only felt one thing, pain. I closed my eyes and pictured the airport shaking just as the rest of Pakistan had shaken a week ago. It was the most destructive earthquake in Pakistan’s history and a few days later efforts of salvaging all that possibly could be was going on.
The volunteer group I was with had already arranged for transport which was very fortunate because I didn’t feel up to scouting the vicinity of the crowded airport in search of a taxi. It was cool outside as autumn always is and I couldn’t wait to explore more parts of the country’s capital. The bus driver had turned on the heater so the bus was nice and warm.
The airport was a few kilometers from the main city and before any of us jetlagged group of 20-25 years knew it we had arrived at our hotel, Serena. It was a five star hotel and the staff was polite as they are at any other hotel. We met the manager and he told us all about the security of the hotel and assured us of the reliability of the structure of the hotel.
I felt an immediate pang of sadness. A similar well reputed building had collapsed a week ago. Hundreds were killed.
“We can assure you that no earthquake is capable of bringing this building down. It has been built according to International standards and security and safety are our top priority.” Said the manager proudly and our leader shook hands with him.
We were taken to our floor and were divided into groups of two roommates each that meant we occupied five rooms. My roommate, Vijaya was Bengali by nationality but her parents had immigrated to USA like mine had.
“I hope we get to visit some of the affected areas today.” She said as she plopped down on her bed. I nodded and sat down on mine. “You have been awfully quiet Raina.”
“I just have a lot on my mind.” I said with a friendly smile looking out the window.
“I know,” She put one hand on my shoulder “we all do.”
I picked up the calendar from the side-table. “13th October” I read out loud. Outside the clouds were collecting again. It threatened to rain. I couldn’t decide whether it would help the people buried under mounds of rubble or not. I shrugged and went to the bathroom to wash my face. By the time I got back Vijaya was fast asleep. She had apparently only lied down but being exhausted from all the traveling had dozed off. I took off her shoes from her feet and covered her with a blanket.
She truly looked Bengali as she lied there, still for once. She had striking brown eyes and thick jet black hair. Her skin was also dark, darker than mine in fact but she never fussed about it. We spent a good amount of time talking on our flight and I got to know many things about her. For one she too was on summer break. She was doing her bachelor’s in accounting and second she was here just like me to help the earthquake affectees. But unlike me her parents hadn’t raised any objections rather sent a good amount of cash to be distributed among the many now desolate people she would come across throughout her trip.
I wrapped myself in a shawl and went outside to look around Islamabad as much as I could from the balcony. The view was stunning. The Margalla Hills stood majestically in the backdrop of the city and clouds hovered about its’ various peaks. It was lush and green. But as soon as I looked a little more to my right I saw what I was sure to see, a collapsed building and hundreds of people all around it trying their best to salvage what they could from the site of devastation. The sun was just about setting and once it did their task would only get more difficult.
I cupped my hands together and prayed. I started weeping and I took out the Bible and recited it for the first time in three years. I searched for a way out in the book that promised so much. But all I found was a thread of hope to support only myself with and that too was a blessing.
“It’s mad Raina!” exclaimed my father when I told him I was going to go to Pakistan. “It’s dangerous and silly.”
“Silly? Dad people are dying! The country needs help. My country needs help.” We stood nose to nose, both alphas of the family trying to persuade the other.
“It’s not your country Raina. You weren’t even born there for Christ’s sake!” He said in his gruff voice. His hands were planted at his sides firmly and his gaze was dominating as it gets whenever his paternal instincts would react.
“But you were and so was mom.”
“We left that country years ago. This is your home now.”
“Dad,” my voice softened as did my expression “I love this country to death. It has given me so many opportunities. I would give my life up for it given one call. But, right now the home of my ancestors calls for my help. Imagine just how many people I would be helping. Wouldn’t you like your daughter to give to those that need it? Is it not what you always taught me, to always help the needy?”
“You could get hurt there.”
“I could get hurt here too. I have to do this dad.” He walked away from me and stood by the window looking outside his broad and strong shoulders drooping.
“It’s my country too.” I whispered. It started to pour outside and I could smell ginger cookies baking in the oven.
It was seven p.m. and time for dinner. The group was probably collecting downstairs at the lobby, ready to go out and eat at a local restaurant. I changed into a pair of clean jeans and kurta with a dupatta (cloth worn around the neck) and headed downstairs. But unlike the rest of them I took a cab and went to the building that I had seen collapsed from my balcony a while ago. I was here to help, might as well start now.