ISLAMABAD: Garbage is strewn everywhere as the smell of human waste hovers in the air. Overcrowded tents housing dozens, soaked by rain and sweat.
Workers rush back and forth with cauldrons full of pulao and water coolers, faced with the uphill task of fulfilling the thirst and hunger of thousands. Roads strewn with rice suggest much of the contents of the cauldrons went straight to the ground instead of people’s mouths. Styrofoam boxes, water bottles, disposable cutlery, rags and sticks are scattered across the area.
A mother holds her child as he vomits on the side of the road while hundreds sleep nearby on prayer rugs, carpets, chadors and even the muddy dividers.
The state of affairs in refugee camps is indeed sorry. But this is no refugee camp, at least not yet.
This is the oldest part of the city of Islamabad and the busiest market area in the city. Due to the normal volume of foot traffic in the area and limited waste disposal facilities, the area has never been associated with the rest of the city in terms of cleanliness, but over the weekend, new heights have been reached.
Noor Bibi was holding a toddler while an older son ate by her side. Restoring order to the country was among her key demands. As she explained why she is at the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) march, her teenage son broke the Styrofoam box and threw it on the ground.
Across the road, garbage bins were being used as back support by some participants.
When asked why she thought there was so much garbage in the area, Noor blamed the administration.
“I admit it looks bad and there is a bad smell,” she said, adding, “They (the city administration) should clean the place.”
After moving across the road, hopes that the smell would be more bearable were soon dashed. Here at the PTI rally point, there were fewer tent zones, but garbage more than made up for the difference.
Batons strewn across the road create an obstacle course that is only accentuated by the oily remains of lunchboxes. Moving off road is no help, as feet kept sinking in the mud. The black water in drains passing under Kashmir Highway is decorated with the remains of lunchboxes, bottles and party flags, with one seemingly-unused roll of razor wire on the side.
Amir Khan, a university-going PTI supporter from K-P, tosses an empty box into the drain before breaking the plastic fork with his shoe and leaving it in the middle of the road. He blames the PTI Islamabad leadership for their “poor management” of shelter, food and sanitation. But his expression wavers between embarrassment and confusion when asked why he is littering.
Protesters come and protesters go, but out-of-towners seem to always leave something behind gifts for citizens, especially Capital Development Authority sanitation workers to remember them by.
Change may come, but to rise from ashes, the phoenix will have to navigate through garbage first.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2014.
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