THATTA: With her kohl-rimmed eyes and a smile as enticing as the birth of a star, Nadia, a 10-year-old girl from Sujawal, peered at me through a crowd of children that had surrounded us during our visit to a relief camp in Makli on Saturday.
The Express Tribune had sent out a team of volunteers to the camp to distribute relief goods with the hope of spreading some Eid joy among the flood survivors who had been huddled there for over two weeks.
As we handed out the packages to each tent, Nadia tugged at my shirt persistently. I stop and look down at her. I ask how she was coping.
“Can you give my family a bag too?” she asked in a small voice. I asked where her tent was. According to the plan, we were giving the packages directly to families living in tents, as opposed to a crowd of hungry, charged survivors. This ran the risk of a mean scramble around the truck or worse, baton charge. Those families who weren’t in tents would unfortunately have to be overlooked for the time being.
She looked up at me with the widest eyes, as if the answer to that question was the most obvious thing in the world. “We don’t have a tent. It was destroyed in the rain last night. We’re out in the open now.”
I told her that unless she was in a tent, we wouldn’t be able to give her family a package. We just didn’t have enough. There were 1,100 tents and we were barely able to provide relief to one-third of the people there. Despite hearing this, she kept smiling as if she had understood.
As we distributed the packages, women came out of their tents to hug us. “You are the first ones to hand out the relief goods to each tent,” said a middle-aged woman from Alam Kot. “Usually it’s total chaos. Half the people get away with food for three families, depriving the rest of us. This is a good system.”
Another woman, with a toddler hoisted in one arm, began chatting with me loudly in Sindhi. I tried to explain that I couldn’t understand what she was saying, when I heard a familiar voice start translating. “She’s saying she has never seen aid being distributed equally before over here,” said Nadia. “They’re all very happy.”
As we made our way around, the condition of each tent seemed to deteriorate with rain water seeping in through the openings, and insects crawling inside. And yet, somehow, these people didn’t seem to have any complaints.
“We’re being taken care of. We have food to eat three times a day, that’s more than we can ask for,” declared a man from Alam Kot, in his late 50s, with a humble smile.
“We’re comfortable out here. The doctors who have been sent are very good to us,” said a young mother of four, who had arrived 15 days ago from Sujawal. “Our children are being given proper medical treatment, for which we are very grateful.”
We had gone to the camp expecting distress and disappointment but left after being greeted with the exact opposite. As we made our way back towards the van, Nadia ran over and tugged at my shirt again. “I told you to go wait in your tent or you wouldn’t get the bag,” I teased. She giggled and hid behind her tiny palms. Then, slowly peeking out, she whispered, “I already got one.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2010.