terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Muzaffarabad, Part 2

Originally uploaded by Terz.

I preferred the other sign (only for the poignancy of it), but couldn't get a shot off before the van we were in passed it. The other one said, "Welcome to Muzaffarabad. The Beautiful City that is Gateway to the Kashmir Valley."

We were at the bridge for about fifteen minutes, with all four vehicles in the convoy, while the next leg of the journey was discussed. Finished my smoke and took some pictures of the area. It seemed to be military-controlled with armed Pakistani soldiers everywhere (directing traffic mostly - and most traffic seemed to be heading into Muzaffarabad).

The other drivers had gathered around our minibus when we arrived to take a look at the damaged side. Our driver shows them the hubcap that had been ripped off in the impact - proudly, it seems to me. It was decided then that our driver would travel on in the goods lorry and the guy in charge of the whole operation would drive us the rest of the way instead. The journey after that was more uneventful, but it took a while for my hands, white-knuckled throughout the earlier leg from holding on to the handles too tightly, to recover.

We arrived at the city limits at about sunset, just after the Muslims travelling with us broke fast. By then, we had already passed several families camped by the side of the road, across from where their homes used to be, now crumpled and fallen in a heap of debris. The smell of decomposition is heavy. It's horrifying realising that these people are still living near destroyed homes where the bodies of their loved ones are still trapped amidst the rubble. Many stretch their hands out in supplication: for food, water, tents, blankets - anything to help them survive the nights.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

Even now, the weather has turned. It was hovering about the 20 Celsius mark for most of the journey, but as we neared the city, and with sundown, the temperature had fallen markedly to about the sub-tens. We were snuggled in our warm gear but these people are still in the clothes on their backs when they fled their homes. Some had blankets, but they all look awfully thin against the elements.

We lose two vehicles in the convoy in the dark. The city is still without electricity. And people wander the streets, at a loss for where they could go to spend the night. Our vehicles pull into Neelum Stadium, where the Pakistani Army has set up a helicopter landing pad in the field and a command centre and wait for the missing vehicles to find us.

It is another half an hour before we arrive at the base camp, only a little further up from the stadium. The UN compound is based at the former premises of the Army Public School (APS). The school is heavily damaged by the earthquake (in all, about 90% of buildings in Muzaffarabad are damaged) and the only buildings left around us are three buildings, one of which is where, we're told, we could take cold showers and use the toilet facilities - facilities which, until we got there, weren't cleaned on a regular basis, so stepping into any of the cubicles meant stepping into something nasty. Mostly, I'm just glad I'm already constipated by this time; I don't quite fancy being in another unsafe building doing my business, especially when after-shocks are still hitting the area.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

It's a warm welcome by the members of the first team. The Singapore team is nestled near the entrance to the compound, in between the crates of equipment brought by the Swedes and the WHO and WFP camp.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

The rest of the night is a blur of setting up tents, assigning sleeping places, dinner, briefings, smoke breaks, talk cock sessions to lighten the mood and generous portions of Irish coffees (3-in-1 mixes with shots of Uncle Jimmy Black). By that time, the temperature's fallen to a level that I'm decked out in four layers of clothes, my fall jacket, beanie and gloves. I try not to think about the people who don't have the same level of comfort as us.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

It is well past midnight by the time I decide to turn in for the night.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

Related Links:
Flickr Photoset

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9


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