Five Rupees to Heaven
Our Great Adventure with the Lord
mountains. Silk Route. Karakoram Highway. Wool-cloaked men.
Herds of goat and sheep. One would think this is a National
Geographic special. And it could have very well been one.
The MARCH Team Pakistan left Manila on 15th November into
what we would now describe as an adventure of a lifetime.
Night in Karachi. Shem and I, along with Drs Sam, Gerry,
Josie, Evie, arrived in Karachi at half-past nine. And what
a strange thing it was! The moment we went into the Arrival
Area of the Karachi International Airport, literally every
head turned with all eyes staring at us. We could not help
but think, What did we do wrong now? There
were piles and piles of men queued up at the Immigration
Counter. Maybe that was their way of saying hello?
almost an hour in that queue, we were surprised to get special
treatment especially after they saw our passport stamped
with a visa indicating relief work as our
purpose for visiting. We breezed through Customs and were
ushered into the Departure Area for domestic flights. Our
flight to Islamabad was at five the next morning. We found
ourselves a couch each, got comfortable, and rested our
exhausted bodies from the long travel. Islamabad was a two-hour
flight from Karachi.
Into the Rubbles of Balakot. It was 7C in Islamabad when
we alighted the plane. Imagine the shock our bodies got!
It was 32C when we left Manila. Ashfaq, a retired Pakistani
army pilot, met us outside the Arrival Area. He was the
only one who responded to the churchs appeal for
volunteer interpreters for this group of Christian doctors
from the Philippines. Later on, Uncle Ashfaq proved to be
more than a mere interpreter. He became our guardian
were later joined by Ashgar Ali (an elderly Pakistani preacher
from Lahore) and his lovely daughter Dilnawaz. Crammed in
an old van, all nine of us (including the driver) set off
to Balakot, known as the Gateway to the Kaghan Valley. Balakot
is a seven-hour drive from Islamabad.
picked up Dr Iqbal, Dilnawazs contact person in Balakot,
at a bus station in Rawalpindi. Dr Iqbal serves as the Liaison
Officer for most foreign aid workers in that area. The guy
could talk. And he talked endlessly during the entire travel
was nightfall when we finally reached the SAHARA for Life
camp our home for the next two weeks. SAHARA is
an acronym for Services Aimed At Health and Awakening in
Remote Areas. A non-profit organization founded by popular
Pakistani singer Abrar Ul-Haq.
Evie and I were in one tent. Shem, Sam and Gerry were on
the next tent. Father and daughter Ashgar and Dilnawaz were
on another. Within an hour of our arrival, there was a little
girl that was hit by a speeding vehicle and was taken into
our camp. The Pakistani doctors who attended to her said
she was only badly shaken and bruised. But Drs Gerry and
Sam knew better. They spoke loudly to each other in the
Visayan dialect but uttered their own diagnosis in English.
When the Pakistani doctors overheard them talking, they
rushed the little girl to the nearest field hospital run
by the UAE military. True enough, there was a fracture in
the girls neck. Early on, we had a glimpse of what
our next few days working with them would be.
Ruins of Balakot. Balakot is probably the worst-affected
area by the 7.6 earthquake that hit northern Pakistan on
8th October. Ninety-nine percent of the town was destroyed.
Two-thirds of its population were buried under the rubbles.
Balakot is known all over Pakistan as shrine to Muslim warriors
Syed Ahmed Shaheed Brelvi and Shah Ismail who laid their
lives fighting against Sikhs in the 18th century.
stench of death was all over the place. Quite hard to imagine
how great the wailing was soon after the earthquake hit.
It was as if a bomb was dropped in the middle of that town.
Up and Away. Jabra.Kanthia. Chamber.Sarer. Hangrhai. Ganila.
Meekali. Madi. Patangi. Pattika. Jamoo Naka. Ganool. Dhairy.
Manoor. Bonja. Jiraid. Kapi Gali. Garlat. Dandar. Banphora.
Showal. Garlat. Nara. These were the villages we served.
Some were a few kilometers from the base camp. Most were
up in the mountains roughly twelve thousand feet above sea
level. The American Chinooks were flying a little below
the mountain village of Jamoo Naka this one being
the most difficult trek we undertook. We had to go on foot
that day because a landslide blocked the road leading up
to this village. Dr Evie had to literally drag me up that
mountain. Inch by inch we climbed. And fifteen minutes after
we got to the top, there was a strong aftershock, which
we later found out to be intensity 6 on the Richter scale.
ward off our fears, we would sing all sort of songs during
the drive through the steep, winding mountain roads. We,
of course, tried not to sing When We All Get To Heaven
or Nearer, My God To Thee. We were convinced
we were not going to heaven yet; well, at least not in Pakistan.
Amidst the Infidels. Perhaps the one thing
that kept us going each day was our daily, morning and evening
devotionals. Our songs and praises echoed through the Kaghan
Valley and the Karakoram Range. Shortly after our Muslim
co-workers first morning prayers (at five in the
morning), we would gather up in the girls tent to
sing songs and to share Gods words. It had become
a morning routine for us especially when the temperature
continued to drop down. We would be up so early to either
go to the bathroom, have a cup of coffee, or to switch on
our portable heater (for only fifteen minutes at a time!).
night, after supper, we would meet at the Examining Room
or Mess Hall for our evening devotionals. After a few days
of doing these, our Muslim friends started asking questions
about what we were doing. At times, when some of them would
sit with us for supper, they would let us say grace in their
of Gods Healing Grace. Shem, the only physiotheraphist
in the Team, had this male patient who severed the nerves
on his wrist. He was crushed by a boulder during the earthquake.
Each night that young man would show up at the Camp for
his therapy session with Shem. On our last evening in Balakot,
that young man could hold a pencil and write.
Sam dressing the wound of an old woman who had to be carried
into the camp on her bed. It almost looked like that scene
in the Bible where a sick man was lowered from the roof
while Jesus was inside the house teaching many people.
Gerry treating a man which was pierced by a rock on his
back. Shem said he could not even bear to look at the wound.
It was so deep and huge.
Josie rushing out to attend to a pregnant woman at one in
the morning. It was a case of incomplete abortion and the
patient had to be taken to a hospital which is in the city
of Abbottabad, 60 kms from Balakot.
Evie cleaning the gangrenous foot of an old woman. The patient
could not feel anything anymore.
could go on and on with all the amazing stories that God
allowed us to experience in our two weeks in Pakistan. Besides
the freezing temperature, the makeshift toilet/bath, the
treacherous drive into the mountains, the filthy cups and
plates, the fiery-hot Pakistani dishes, the not-so-pure
bottled water, the MARCH Team Pakistan came out unharmed
and immensely blessed from this trip.
could not be more thankful for all the prayers that were
lifted up to the Father. It was by His Grace that we were
able to serve as His ambassadors in Pakistan. It was through
His Love that we were able to show compassion to the many
people that we met in this trip. And it was by His Hand
that we made it safely back home. To God be all the glory
A taxi in Islamabad charges 5 rupees per kilometer.
Article from Dr. Gigie
Article from Dr. Sam Cariaga