An update from Emily Cain, a saint ben’s member currently in Pakistan
n a long cold night during my recent trip to Pakistan’s Swat region, an area ravaged by flooding in late July, I couldn’t sleep. I was very tired, but a combination of jetlag, over-stimulation, and not enough blankets kept me awake. The upside, the very slow internet was finally cooperating; there in my inbox was the weekly update from saint ben’s reminding me that it was Advent.
Advent felt a million miles away. That day, after a long bumpy ride I had visited with flood-affected families. Families who told stories about their houses and land being totally destroyed, about having nothing left, about their fears as winter came nearer and they didn’t have proper shelter for their families.
Aziz Ur Reham told me his story. “I was the strongest one in this area and I am also falling down,” Aziz said through a translator. “My niece has gone mad and is now in hospital – my children wouldn’t stop crying.”
Aziz and his family have been living along the banks of the Swat River for generations. Like many people, Aziz was proud of his home – and rightly so. On each side of the Swat valley tall rugged mountains jut out against a clear blue sky. Proudly, Aziz says, “They used to call this the Switzerland of Pakistan.” Once a tourist’s destination, the area is now rarely visited. Conflict between Taliban and militants has made the area insecure. Now the landscape has been forever changed.
When the floods came on July 27th, Aziz was the first of his family members to lose his house. He sent his children to his brother’s home higher up the mountain so they would be safe. Days later, in the flash floods that followed, two of Aziz’s other brothers also lost their homes.
The mighty waters that flowed through the area left a palpable void in their wake: where there was once bustling neighbourhoods there are now silent stones.
Fortunately, one of Aziz’s four brothers had a house further up the mountain. This is where Aziz and his nine children are now staying. There are 56 people living in the house, and while there is a strong sense of community in this village and people are doing what they can to care for those in need, nerves are running thin. Aziz talked about the practical challenges of sharing one bathroom and trying to cook in one kitchen.
When asked about his plans for the future Aziz answers through a translator, “I’m totally confused about what to do. There is no money to rebuild. I’m not working and can’t provide for my family. I was a day labourer at a hotel, but it is gone. I used to grow food for my family, but my soil has been washed away.”
Aziz’s words kept spinning in my head. How does one respond to such loss? What does it feel like to own nothing?
The physical changes that the flood made to the landscape are haunting and pervasive in Swat. An eerie feeling came over me as I stood on those stones and gravel where the village – and then the flood water – once was: there is no trace of the village’s former quiet routines. For outsiders, it is impossible to imagine what was once here. For those who call the area home, it is impossible to forget.
And what of this void – is this creation groaning? All I can think is come, Lord Jesus, come. Come and save us. Advent isn’t a million miles away at all, it is poignantly near.
Emily Cain is the communications officer at Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The Foodgrains Bank has distributed food kits to over 25,000 flood-affected families in Pakistan and is committed to helping Pakistan rebuild in the long term. If you are interested in learning more about the Foodgrains Bank’s work in Pakistan, or would like to financially support the relief effort, just click here.