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Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on July 14, 2008

I write this blog post from the comfort of an air-conditioned American airport, and while I enjoy being able to drink from the water fountain and not having to carry trash around in my pocket all day waiting to see a trash can, I must admit that I miss the flies. Swatting two in one swing off of a soldier’s back while waiting to board my flight out is something I’ll be able to smile back on for awhile.

Being in Delhi for those couple of days after our Agra-Jaipur excursion and before our return to Kashmir allowed me to fully appreciate Kashmir in a way that I really was unable to do in my first stint. First off, I could not thank God enough for the weather here after a couple of sweat drenched nights in Delhi. More so though I am appreciative of the beauty and serenity of the landscape, a great contrast to the crowded, polluted streets of Delhi and the endless cacophony that accompanies them. I remember remarking to Kashif and Hiba about how much more peaceful Srinagar was than Delhi, nearly completely amnesiac of being unable to leave the guesthouse premises due to the danger of being stoned or shot at just a week ago. Such is the schizophrenic nature of what I have come to know as Kashmir, pristine yet polluted, calm yet with a hot temper (kind of like me ;). Most of all though, I appreciate the kindness and sincerity of the people, and being stared at in awe for my height rather than being sized up for how much money I could be taken for. I appreciate standing out like a sore thumb but feeling like I am accepted and at home in Kashmir rather than being a stranger in a strange land in Delhi. Seeing the Yaqub’s grandfather come by on his bike to greet us out on the street with his weathered smile was a great feeling, I really hope that I will someday see him and his family again.

KashmirCorps part two has been awesome for me. Arif (yes, I’m finally spelling your name right) and I were able to get a lot of work done, finishing our ground work at Lal Dad and also setting up possible projects at the Children’s Hospital as well. Compared to Lal Dad, the Children’s Hospital felt like the Mayo clinic. It was significantly cleaner, though still a far cry from anywhere near acceptable by modern standards, and was a lot less crowded, as far as the halls go. However, when it comes to patient load, the Children’s Hospital is right on par with Lal Dad, also forced to carry multiple patients in one bed. Dr. Kanjwal hooked us up with some very helpful doctors and administrators in the hospital, and we were basically able to gather similar data that had taken us weeks and several visits at Lal Dad in essentially two trips down to the Children’s Hospital. We toured the hospital, which I might not have been able to stomach had I not been exposed to the conditions of Lal Dad two weeks earlier. I was not able to see the neonatal ward at Lal Dad to compare, but the neonatal ward at the Children’s Hospital was a sight for sore eyes, I can only imagine that the condition of Lal Dad’s is worse. Tiny newborns were lined three and sometimes even four to an apparatus intended to be used on a single baby. In one room, three babies were laid on an office desk since no proper bed or crib was available. Normally neonatal wards have very restricted access; anyone entering would need to be sterilized and scrubbed to protect the immune systems of the infants, and family members would only be able to look on through a window. However, due to understaffing, the hospital only has 2 technicians to run equipment that normally requires a staff of ten people, so the family members are allowed, perhaps even required, to attend to provide attention and care to the babies and assist in anyway possible. Overall we made good contacts at both hospitals and will hopefully be able to acquire and send some much needed equipment, but it is clear that major systematic changes are needed across the board for the entire Kashmiri health system.

We left Kashmir on very different terms this time, our terms. I did not sleep much on the last night. I sat awake while the rain poured outside, thinking about my experience and slowly packing, reflecting over all of the stuff I had, how little I appreciated it, and how much more grateful the Kashmiris were for what they had. How hard they had worked for whatever they had, and how little I had done for what I have in comparison. Even the things that I had with me that I was fond of, I knew there were people here who would appreciate them more and deserved them more than myself. I ended up leaving almost all of the belongings other than clothes that I had brought with me to Kashmir. I finished packing as the call for Fajr prayer came, just barely beating a power outage. I decided to catch one last prayer in the small mosque down the road. The walk down to the mosque was an eerie one, the storm clouds had blocked out the moon and the only light I had came from the periodic lightning strikes. After I was nearly certain I had missed the mosque and over walked, I finally made out the loudspeakers outside the mosque door. I can only imagine what the old muezzin was thinking as I stepped into the dim candle light of the prayer room, my 6’6” frame draped in a yellow plastic poncho to escape the rain. I stayed in the mosque for awhile, praying that we would not forget that which we had seen over the past few weeks and for help in fulfilling our intent to continue our work when we returned home. When I emerged from the mosque, the thunderstorms had given way to a rainbow. As I walked back to the guesthouse, I was amazed that I had been able to make it to the mosque with dry shoes, somehow avoiding the huge puddles all over the road the dirt road. I got to my room and went to sleep, hoping that I would one day be able to return to Kashmir, the place that has given me a glimpse of both heaven and hell on earth.


One Response

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  1. Arif Rashid said, on July 14, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Yes, the desk/neonatal bed was quite a sight. I did not even realize there was a third infant there till Dr. Kanjwal pointed out “See three infants there…”

    All the more saddening.

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