Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. For the first time ever as a mom I am neither with any of my children or with my own mom. I have hungrily devoured messages, emails, and phone calls that are filled with love and words of affirmation of this amazing and difficult task called ‘being a mom’. In honor of my own mom, who I am fortunate enough to still have on this planet, I post this piece that I wrote a number of years ago.
To My Mom
I remember sleeping on the rooftop of our house in Ratodero. We would wake at dawn when we heard the call to prayer from the nearby mosque and despite your maternal pleadings, we couldn’t go back to sleep.
I remember being tucked into bed at night, you would read me a story, kiss me, and then sit by my bedside and sing. It’s what I missed the most in boarding school.
I remember that first trip on the train party. In my memory I had just turned seven years old and we were in Hyderabad. I cried tears from my soul the entire way to the station. As the train pulled out, I stopped crying and you began. I never saw your tears and it wasn’t until later that I heard about them.
I remember you never let anyone call me chubby, even when I was.
I remember our fights. Stone-faced cold I could be to my mother. And I think I may have been the child that could bring on your fiery temper better than the others. I remember your forgiveness. Sometimes I think we both thought the fights would continue forever, but we were wrong.
I remember the picture you hung on our wall, a snow scene of New England, reminder of your home so far away from the desert of Sindh. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that there must have been times when you missed your home so much that it hurt.
I remember seeing you every morning. No matter how early I got up, you were up earlier, praying and reading your Bible, strength of your soul.
I remember your presence in the first couple of weeks of me becoming a mom. Your common sense wisdom was a gift.
And I remember the first time I realize that you were aging. I fought it. Because if you were aging it meant there would come one day when you would no longer be available to talk to and ask questions of; to pray for me, my marriage, my children.
But you are still here and still speak into my life. So today I remember that I want to Thank You publicly and privately, from my heart.
Happy Mother’s Day. On this day it’s good to remember.
For a long time I have wanted Cecily Thew Patterson to write a guest post for me. I first met Cecily when I returned to Pakistan with my husband and we were working at the boarding school I attended through high school. At the time Cecily was a pretty, outgoing girl who already had the marks of a strong woman. Cecily is now a beautiful and strong woman. I hesitated asking her for a post because I know she has several writing projects going on, as well as many other hats to wear. But today I get to introduce you to Cecily and her writing as she takes us into a struggle many of us have – the poverty challenge. She shares personally and poignantly from the perspective of someone raised in Pakistan.
Like Marilyn, I grew up in Pakistan. Like Marilyn, I also went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains. And I’m guessing that I was like Marilyn in the way that all junior high kids resemble each other. We all have to work out who we are by facing challenges. Some will make us grow and fly and others will make us stumble and fall.
Clothes were the challenge that made me stumble and fall.
While none of us were wealthy, some people in our school did better than others in the clothes department. I felt like I always had trouble trying to look nice. There weren’t any western clothes shops in Pakistan, I didn’t have a lot of things sent out from Australia, so whatever I could get that was a bit fashionable was really precious to me. I couldn’t just replace a ripped shirt or update old shorts. I had to take care of my stuff. I really wanted to look nice and fit in so I tried hard.
The reason I was at boarding school was because my parents lived in the Sindh desert in a tiny village. There were no local schools for me to go to so my brothers and I went away to study. Even though our school was not in a well-to-do area of Pakistan, and there was plenty of poverty around us, it was still always a big shock when we went home to the village for our three-month winter holiday every year.
The poverty in rural Sindh is confronting. People are extremely poor, many living in traditional mud huts. There’s no power and no piped water and not much transport. Everything is done by hand. Some people my parents knew were so poor they couldn’t afford to eat more than twice a day. They didn’t even have any sugar for their tea.
Most people had two sets of clothes; one for every day and one for weddings. And because the weather was extremely hot for nine months of the year, many people didn’t have any clothes that would keep them warm in the winter.
It was a hard place to live. And I had a soft heart. I really wanted to help. It broke my heart to see people struggling so much when I had everything I needed and wanted. I really wanted to make a difference.
An opportunity came when we went out to a town called Mithi to visit some friends. This family had brought in a big load of second-hand jumpers and jackets and were going to give them out to a few specific villages that were really poor.
I was excited to be invited to join in. This was going to be my first real hands-on experience of helping people in dire need and I was feeling nervous but also a bit righteous at the same time.
Out we went one evening in the landrover to the villages. We gave out all the jumpers and sweaters. But then we realised there weren’t enough for everyone. Some people had to miss out.
And then someone tugged at my sleeve and pointed to my jumper. I didn’t speak her language but I knew what she was saying. “Can I have that jumper?” she asked with her expression and her body language.
I was shocked. I was wearing a turquoise sweatshirt that I loved. It had come from Australia, it was my favourite colour and it went with heaps of things. I only had six sweaters and this was my best one.
But the woman tugging at my sleeve was asking if she could have it. She had no sweatshirts and there were more people in her village who had none as well.
What would you have done? Would you have given her the jumper? Or would you have kept it?
Throughout junior high school I met a lot of challenges and many of them were opportunities for me to grow and fly. This woman, tugging at my sleeve, was the challenge that made me stumble and fall. Flat on my face.
I said no.
I gathered myself up and I moved into the landrover where she couldn’t reach me. I talked to myself and told myself that it was ok, that I couldn’t be expected to give up my own sweater, that if I had given it to her my mother would have been cross because she couldn’t have replaced it, that I needed it for school, and besides, it wouldn’t be good if I didn’t look after my own things. I told myself that the woman would be okay, that she was probably just a ‘taker’ and that she shouldn’t have asked.
I still wish, 25 years later, that I had taken off my turquoise sweatshirt and given it to the hungry, thin woman who asked me for it.
And I’m still struggling to know how to respond when I come face to face with real people who have bigger needs than I do. I wish I was more generous, but I’m scared of what might happen if I am. Pray for me.
How do you respond to poverty? How have you responded? It’s a hard but necessary conversation so join in through the comments.
Author Bio: Cecily Paterson is trying to live an uncluttered life, although she feels like she’s behind the eight-ball to begin with in having four children and a recalcitrant dog to feed and keep happy. Cecily is an author, most recently of Love, Tears & Autism, a memoir of the five years following her son’s diagnosis with autism. She’s a fan of honesty and candour and always tries to tell the truth. While she grew up in Pakistan, she’s very happy now to live in small town Australia and would prefer not to move for a long time. Cecily blogs at Cecily.Mostly. Check it out!
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Shikarpur is a city in the Sindh area of Pakistan that I have mentioned in earlier posts. It has figured prominently into my past; a place where best friends and favorite families lived and a place that was home for me during my high school years. It is also the place where I was based for flood relief in October a year ago.
While growing up, periodically someone would talk about the days when Shikarpur was a beautiful city with gardens, roses, and large homes gracing the streets. It was a banking city, a financial capital strategically located because of its accessibility from Central Asia and West Asia. History points to this being a city with culture, trade, architecture, and green space. Shikarpur was described as the capital of “merchants, money changers, and bankers”
When Pakistan gained independence from India and established itself as a separate Muslim nation, hundreds of thousands of Hindus were displaced and journeyed to India to begin a new life. Just as Hindus left, Muslims entered and Shikarpur continued to grow. I don’t know when Shikarpur began to lose its beauty and former glory. Part of the change came with partition and strained relations with India, but well before that time of transition and war, the city was not what it had been in the 1800’s. A time where horse-drawn Victorian carriages carried the wealthy to the Shahi Bagh gardens complete with a zoo that had cheetahs, lions and wild boar.
This was a Shikarpur I never knew. While walking through the bazaar, if you look up, you can see faint glimpses of the former glory in old, beautifully crafted windows. Then as your eyes shift and take in the surroundings at eye level, they will see tremendous poverty, crumbling buildings, trash and general disarray. When I reflect on Shikarpur I am saddened for what used to be a place of beauty – a place where gardens and lawns were valued and developed for people to enjoy.
What goes into the demise of a city? How does a place once known as a banking capital with lush gardens become a place that is valued by only those who live there? History is full of descriptions of cities that once were places where life was happening at economic and social levels, cities known for their beauty and culture. Now they are crumbled ruins, their value in what was, not what now is.
Even as the former glory has faded, there is hope and beauty in Shikarpur. One place where this hope is personified is in a small group of people who work in the Shikarpur Christian Hospital. Pakistanis from various ethnic groups, Americans, Canadians and at any given time various other nationalities, work side by side to provide care to women and children in the region. Though worthy, this hospital will never be highlighted in a news story but day after day the doors open to people who would otherwise have no care. Perhaps it seems but a small glimmer of hope compared to the renowned city that once was, but walk through the bazaar in Pakistan and women, anonymous in their burqas, will walk up to any one who looks foreign and say “Are you from the Christian hospital? That hospital saved my life!” or “When will the hospital be opening to deliver babies again? You have to open! You are the only place that cares”.
While the glory days of Shikarpur would have been a delight to experience, this hospital and the work that is accomplished through the hospital are far greater in the economy of eternity. So despite dusty roads and an infrastructure that belongs more in the early 19th century than the 21st, there is hope. It is a hope often operated by a generator because of frequent power outages, but it shines brightly nonetheless, between a mosque and a Hindu temple off a dusty street full of ox carts, rickshaws and motor vehicles, in Shikarpur.
Blogger’s Note: This post does not do justice to the history and God-breathed work of Shikarpur Christian Hospital so stay tuned for another post that gives more information about this place of hope. For some real-life/in person stories – take a look at The Day the Chicken Cackled: Reflections of a Life in Pakistan by Bettie Rose Addleton. You will travel inside her homes and friendships in Shikarpur and other parts of Pakistan.
From the time I can remember we had two types of quilts in our home. One type was lovingly made by women in churches in the United States, given periodically to my parents as gifts for their home in the far away land of Pakistan – a land understood by church goers primarily through slide shows and the eyes of my parents. I am convinced those quilts were made with prayer and our good in mind. The quilts were hand crafted so well, and provided such warmth, that this past year two of my children absconded with a couple of them as a means of comfort against Chicago and New York winters.
The others were completely different, from pattern, to fabric, to the circumstances of those making the quilts – they were Sindhi rillis. Sindhi rillis are generally of brighter colors than the more muted choices of quilters in the United states and the patterns are more complicated and geometric. They graced beds, couches, floors and even served as picnic blankets throughout my life in Pakistan. Rillis are not only beautiful, they are warm, they are artistic, and they offer economic opportunity for women that is not dependent on weather or other circumstances external to the home.
Rillis, like many crafts in Pakistan, are made for practical use and the creator doesn’t realize how beautiful and unique they are. Like many things in my childhood, I didn’t always realize how beautiful they were. As I went into junior high I began favoring the synthetic, fluffy, comforters, purchased on sale out of a Sears catalogue, made not for warmth but for show. My mother kindly conceded to this (and I might add other requests reflecting my age) probably thinking “what a waste” but allowing me this “all things American are better” attitude, recognizing I would outgrow it. Future interactions had me expressing the opposite view of “all things away from America are better” until the pendulum settled in the middle. The point it, I didn’t see rillis for what they were – a beautiful craft, skillfully created with minimal materials and maximum ingenuity.
My appreciation for rillis grew as I got older. The difficult patterns and stitches executed by women in villages who were illiterate amazed me. This weekend I saw a clip of a YouTube video from a friend that shows a beautiful slide show of rillis accompanied by music. It brought me once again across the ocean to a different place and time. Most of all it took me back to the women behind the rillis – women who were true entrepreneurs in their homes and villages. It also brings me back, in gratefulness, to my childhood and the warmth, beauty and comfort that I experienced, so well represented by the Sindhi rilli.
What are things from your childhood that represent comfort? Better still, what do you have appreciation for now, that you didn’t in your childhood? Join the conversation in the comment section!
A guest post for Communicating Across Boundaries called Bright Pink Razais written by Robynn Bliss is a great piece about the comfort of Indian quilts. If you haven’t read it already, take a look!
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The readership of this blog was initially built through those who cared deeply about Pakistan, her people, her land, her resources and her future. Because of that, I will continue to beat the point home on the help needed of any variety, be it prayer, finances and on site work. I am hopeful that I will be able to go again in the next 6 months.
The Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report published this information last Friday on their weekly summary:
Two million Pakistanis have become ill from malaria, diarrhea, skin diseases or snake bites “since monsoon rains left the southern region under several feet of water, the country’s disaster authority said Thursday,” Agence France-Presse reports. “More than 350 people have been killed and over eight million people have been affected this year by floods that officials say are worse in parts of Sindh province than last year,” the news agency reports.
According to the WHO, a lack of access to clean drinking water has set off some disease outbreaks, AFP notes (9/22). “Officials have also expressed fears … that the problems affecting the southern province are only getting more acute,” BBC News writes. The U.N. last week launched an appeal for $365 million to help aid those in Sindh and Balochistan provinces affected by the flooding, the news agency notes (9/22).
The Boston Globe captured, in pictures, the human need around the world as a result of too much water. They rightly point out that water, so essential to life worldwide, has caused misery and tragedy in many places of the world in recent months. Take a look at what the Globe has captured in “Too Much of a Basic Need”
There are no words for what you will see and feel. I don’t bring this up on a Friday to depress, but I do bring it up to remind myself, and others, to do what we can to help.
Blogger’s Note: My wonderful partner in friendship and health care, Carol Brown, has a busy few months ahead as she and her husband prepare to go to Oxford and begin the Institute for the Study of Religion in the Middle East. My hope is that as I give her a shout-out in this blog (read: shame her publicly), she will realize she can squeeze in a trip for flood relief with me (even as she marries off a daughter, sells a home of many years, and prepares for a totally new life – not too much to ask, is that wrong of me?)
Just one year ago a flood devastated much of Pakistan, sending the country into crisis. It’s time to look back and remember as well as continue to understand the current needs and situation in the country.
Aid agencies continue to voice concern about the relief efforts and the rebuilding that continues to take place. With this years monsoon season beginning, there is no infrastructure in place that can handle further flooding and devastation.
Looking back, last year’s floods affected approximately 20 million people and killed over 1700. In any country, these floods would have created a crisis and a challenge, but in a country that already had multiple needs, they created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. And now, one year later, there are still hundreds of thousands without adequate shelter, food, and work.
Oxfam produced a report “Ready or Not: Pakistan’s resilience to disasters one year on from the floods” that details the need and warns that the country is not prepared for another disaster. They urge the international community to come together in aiding Pakistan and ensuring that some of the aid go to developing measures that decrease the impact of disasters. The most urgent needs are developing flood resistant housing and “early warning systems” at the local level.
I have attached links to several excellent articles as well as a slide show below. The photographs were taken in October of 2010 when I, along with my sister-in-law, participated in medical flood relief. They remind me of the need to be aware of the situation and communicate the need to those who can help.
It seems years ago that I returned to Pakistan to take part in flood relief. As much as I wanted to daily hold in my heart the women and children from the villages and camps as well as the images of human need from this catastrophe, life has taken over adding more urgent things to my world.
Recently, while looking at pictures and reminiscing with my parents about Pakistan in general, I was reminded again of the trip and the continued devastation faced by the people of Pakistan. It was after this conversation that I received an email via my parents from family friends. Attached to the email were pictures of trees in the Sindh area of Pakistan, the leaves and branches covered in thick webs woven by spiders. In order to escape the flood waters, spiders climbed into trees and continued to do what they do best. They wove webs with intricate patterns that are strong and sticky serving as traps for insects. Pictures show trees that look like they’ve been decorated for a haunted house during American Halloween celebrations. They show ghostly grey webs over dusty leaves.
The unexpected and remarkable effect is that these webs seem to be assisting in the fight against malaria. Their fight is not with drugs, but with their webs, trapping the mosquitoes that would normally be breeding out of control in the still present flood waters. These flood waters are now still bodies of water, perfect disease-breeding environments.
I stand amazed at this small grace. While assisting in flood relief we gave out Fansidar, Chloroquine, and Doxycycline like it was candy. Fevers and chills were the most common symptoms, followed by skin diseases and malnutrition. Now seven and a half months later, these webs of protection are preventing malaria from becoming endemic, threatening lives and wellbeing.
The flood crisis affected 20 million people through displacement and loss of resources, including homes and crops, and 2000 lost their lives. Pakistan has slowly been rebuilding against tremendous odds. It’s into this context that these webbed trees and the tiny spiders that created them emerge as a small grace in the middle of continuing problems.