Friday, August 16, 2013

Greg is given 'Overwhelming' hospitality ..Three cups of tea

Someone had tucked a heavy quilt over him and Mortenson luxuriated in its warmth as he noticed the outline of several sleeping figures. Late in the morning, Haji Ali's wife Sakina saw him stir and brought him a lassi and fresh baked chapatti and sweet tea. She was the first Balti woman who had ever approached him. He thought perhaps she had the kindest face he'd ever seen. She stood waiting, saw him wolf down the breakfast and she brought him more. If he had known how rarely they used sugar for themselves, he would have refused the second cup of tea. He also noticed that the quilt he slept under, made of maroon silk was the best in Haji Ali's home.

In the afternoon Mouzafer arrived pulling himself along in a box suspended from steel cable strung two hundred feet above the river. This contraption saved half a day of hike, but a mishap meant certain death. Mortenson also discovered that Mouzafer was well known throughout Karakorum. For three decades he had served as one of the most highly skilled porters in the Himalayas.

They both left Khorpe and met up with Darsney and made the long journey down to Skardu. But Mortenson felt something tugging him back to and he returned as soon as he could arrange a ride. From his base at Haji Ali's home he settled into a routine. He saw how this tiny oasis was the result of staggering labor and admired the hundreds of irrigation channels the village maintained by hand.
Noticing his condition Ali ordered that one of the village's precious big rams slaughtered. Seeing the ardor with which the meat was devoured, Mortenson realised how close they lived to hunger .

At first he had thought that he'd stumbled into a sort of Shangri -La. Many westerners passing through the Karakorum had the feeling that the Batli lived a simpler, better life than they did back home in the developed countries. The reality was different. Every home had a family member either suffering from goiter or cataract. Children were malnourished. Twaha's wife died giving birth to his daughter seven years ago. The doctors were seven days walk away in Skardu and one out of three children died before their first birthday.

 A very concerned and grateful Mortenson began to give away what ever he had, a stove, a jacket; his small possessions.  But it was the medical supplies he carried along with his training as a nurse that proved most valuable. He set broken bones and did whatever he could with painkillers and antibiotics. Word of his work spread and the sick around Korphe would send for Dr. Grieg as he would be known thereafter.

One day he expressed a wish to see Korphe's school and saw a reluctance in Haji Ali and persisted, finally he was taken there. While the location was breathtaking, there was no school, actually no building and the children, seventy eight boys and four girls kneeling on the frosty ground to learn. The Pakistani government did not provide them with a teacher. The village could not afford a full time teacher, so they shared a teacher with another village.

The children sang the Pakistan's national anthem which ends with, 'May the nation, the country and the state shine in glory everlasting. This flag of  crescent and the star leads the way to progress and perfection.'

But during his recuperation, Mortenson had frequently heard villagers complain about the Punjabi-dominated government, which they considered a foreign, lowland power. Combination of corruption and neglect had siphoned off what little money was meant for the people of Balistan. They found it ironic that the Islamabad government would fight so hard to pry away this piece of what had been Kashmir from India, while doing so little for its people. It was obvious that whatever money that reached this altitude was earmarked for the army, to finance its costly standoff with the Indian forces along the Siachen Glacier.

I have no idea how it is in our part of Kashmir, but it is for sure a lot of money is being spent in this costly standoff  between the neighbors.

The visit he had made, to measure himself against, climbing the K2 and to place a necklace of his departed sister, felt beside the point. There was a much more meaningful gesture he could make in honor of his sister's memory. He promised Ali he would build a school in Korphe.

As I began to blog about the book, Rangaraj had a comment; There has been a lot of controversy with his activities. It is however recognized he did some good with the schools. Many of the claims with his later activities have been questioned by his close associates. He was on the media TV etc and did not present a good picture. I also read his book and also listened to him on the radio and TV and was impressed initially. Actually Chaya gave me his book. Rangaraj

The story so far, multi-layered, does not give us a clue to this controversy. The back-cover of the book, in fact, grabs our attention with its claim: 'The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban's backyard.

I am really curious to know how much did it really help the people who were in need of schools. The word Taliban makes you wonder about the present situation in places like Korphe!

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