The best of hard times – 1

(Survival manual/9. Additions/The best of hard times -1)

Who was looking for hard times, yet there they were: stories from Somali, Pakistan, and Sarajevo.
(Image below: 2011 Somalia refugee camp.)

1.   Somali man recalls horrors of fleeing famine
29 July 2011, Associated Press, By MALKHADIR M. MUHUMED
“DADAAB, Kenya (AP) — When al-Qaida-linked militants learned that Ahmedhashim Mawlid Abdi and his family were planning to flee Somalia’s famine, they threw the 40-year-old father of seven in jail for two days.
Over the next 17 days, as they made their escape, a gang of gunmen robbed them of the little food they had, Abdi’s pregnant wife was raped in front of him, and his 7-year-old son died of starvation and disease. They were even attacked by a lion.
When they finally made it to the Dagahaley refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, their struggles were far from over. Food rations in the overcrowded camp are “just enough to survive on,” Abdi said. And the future is uncertain.
As Somalia’s famine unfolds in the middle of a war zone, some 2.2 million people are in peril in an area controlled by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab that is inaccessible to aid groups.
In an extended interview conducted in Somali with The Associated Press, Abdi describes the drought-ravaged region he and his family escaped and the plight facing him and tens of thousands of other refugees in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Q: What your life was like in Somalia?
A: We were nomads and lived off our sheep and goats and cows. During the rainy seasons we drank their milk, and during the dry seasons we sold some of them and used the money to buy food, milk and sugar from the local market. We were also farmers.
Conditions have changed. Several seasons passed without enough rain. It is God’s act, not human’s. The current drought in Somalia has affected us in every possible way. It affected our animals and farms and our lives. The ongoing conflict in our country has also added to our problems. When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.
Q: What did you do after you lost all your animals and the rains still did not come?
A: We fled to the nearest town, Afmadow. We have a Somali saying that goes: A town has many ways to give you a new lease on life. But Afmadow was in a completely different situation when we arrived. It was in the hands of al-Shabab. The militants harassed anyone they believed was opposed to them. I did odd jobs, like fetching firewood from the bush and building houses. But when the going got tough, I decided to flee with six children. I left two more children — a 4-year-old girl and a 20-year-old — with relatives.
Q: Did al-Shabab prevent you from fleeing the country?
A: Yes. We sneaked out in the middle of the night and headed to an area far away from our actual direction so the militants couldn’t trace us. They put me in jail for 48 hours after they suspected me of leaving the town to head to Kenya.
Their logic is: Kenya is a Christian country and if you go there, you’re a Christian. I was released after local elders intervened. They kicked and slapped me on the face. They even dragged me like a corpse. They said to me: ‘You are an apostate,’ a word that angered me very much.
Q: Tell me about the perils you faced?
A: We faced hunger, thirst, danger and exhaustion. It took us 17 days to arrive here (at Dagahaley refugee camp). One night a lion almost ate me before I scared it away with my flashlight. Along the way, I carried my 5-year-old daughter on my back and 10 kilograms of rice. My wife also carried a 2-year-old daughter on her back. She was four months pregnant. Luckily, we found relatives on the way and they relieved us of the goods by allowing us to offload them on the donkey-pulled cart.
Q: What was the worst thing that happened?
A: The worst experience we faced was when gunmen ambushed. The gang robbed us of the little food we had with us and raped our women in front of us as if they wanted us to witness their horrors. The gang was made up of 15 gunmen and we were five families. They raped all the five women. While some men raped the women, others kept watch over them. That ordeal was the worst I have ever faced in my life. I once thought of looking for ways to get a gun to take revenge.
Only three days after that I lost my 7-year-old boy to hunger, exhaustion and disease. He came down with a severe fever and cold but got no treatment. He died at night as we rested. His mother cried a lot, but I accepted God’s will. I didn’t cry.
Q: How do you see your life as a refugee here?
A: The refugee life is not easy. What I found here is different from what I was thinking of before I came here. I thought a refugee’s life in Kenya was like a paradise. I thought that there will be plenty of food. But the rations we receive are just an amount on which we can survive. Not a satisfactory one, but in fact better than the destitution in Somalia.
Q: How do you see your future now?
A: I have high hopes that things will improve. No condition is permanent. I believe in God and pray that he improves my life. I’m hopeful that my children will also get a proper education and help me in the future.
Q: Are you thinking of returning to Somalia at any time soon?
A: Yes, if — and only if — it becomes safe. I will return to Somalia only if a full peace dominates there. It is my country and the country of my father and grandfathers. But if it remains as it is now, I will go to any other place where I can find peace.
Q: What is your advice to other Somalis still in the country?
A: I say to them: Believe in God and pray a lot to save you from the problems you’re currently facing. No place is better than your home country.
Q: Any word for the international community?
A: The world should take the Somali problem seriously. It was dragging on and on without any solutions. The world should help Somalis. They have suffered enough.”

 2.  Pakistan Floods of summer 2010
(Image at right: a small area of flooded Pakistan)
“Flood Disaster May Require Largest Aid Effort in Modern History,
Friday, August 20, 2010, ClimateWire, By NATHANIAL GRONEWOLD
UNITED NATIONS — One of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever attempted is now mobilizing to help Pakistan cope with what its government and U.N. agencies are calling the worst natural disaster in modern memory.
Experts say initial assessments show the scale of damage and human suffering left by torrential monsoon rains over the past three weeks dwarfs the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2005 Kashmir earthquake, 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster in Burma, and Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti — combined.
“These are the worst monsoon floods in living memory.”
Top U.N. and Pakistani government officials are now clearly pointing to climate change as the principal culprit.

Estimated losses are immense.
Aid coordinators in Islamabad say between 15 million and 20 million people have been hit, losing their homes, livelihoods or access to basic needs like sanitation, health care, food and potable water.
Officials say about 800,000 to 900,000 homes have been destroyed or made unlivable. The government believes 4.6 million have been left homeless in just two provinces, Punjab and Sindh.
Areas in the country’s north and northwest have been hardest hit, especially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where several communities have been cut off from the outside world after floodwaters washed out key bridges. About 70 percent of bridges and roads have been destroyed here, officials report. Pakistan’s government says little transportation infrastructure remains in the Swat valley, the scene of intense fighting between the army and Islamic insurgents in 2009.
More than 17 million acres [26,562 square miles, or a square 515 miles by 515 miles on each side. -Mr Larry] of farmland was inundated, Qureshi said. U.N. officials figure that more than 200,000 head of livestock have been killed in the flooding. And the nation’s cotton crop, an important source of export earnings, has largely been wiped out after 1 million acres of the crop was lost to floods in Punjab.
The flood disaster could also exacerbate global food prices, in particular wheat. The government of Pakistan says the season’s harvest is pretty much gone and 1 million metric tons of wheat that was sitting in storage is now gone . Droughts in Russia, Australia and Canada had already sent wheat prices soaring in recent weeks.
Officials are so far refusing to estimate what a larger recovery effort will cost once immediate needs are met, but all agree that the price tag will be tremendous.

A.  A Spirit Of Survival Amid Devastating Pakistan Floods
August 5, 2010, NPR, by Julie McCarthy
<http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128994533>
The flooding that left a trail of destruction in northwestern Pakistan is now sweeping south through the Punjab, destroying crops and threatening more lives. But even in the face of calamity, there is also the spirit of survival.
Nearly 155,000 homes in the northwest alone have been damaged or simply swept away in a stunning show of nature’s force. As the floodwaters recede, many villagers have been forced to claw through mud to retrieve what is left of their belongings.
Siraj Begum managed to survive Pakistan’s deadliest floods on record. Her entire village of Mohib Banda was submerged, and she found shelter in a school crammed with 200 families.

There are harrowing tales of loss and of people marching through neck-deep, snake-filled waters with babies and bundles balanced on their heads, but the story of one woman embodies what so many have endured.
Siraj Begum managed to escape the rising water that submerged her entire village of Mohib Banda. The mother of eight found shelter in a private school crammed with 200 families in the town of Pabbi in the hard-hit district of Nowshera. As she describes how she survived, swarms of her grandchildren press in to listen as if it were a campfire ghost story.

The water started coming around 9 or 10 a.m., just as her family was having breakfast, Siraj explains in her native Pashtun. Before long, it had reached the ceiling, so she ran up to the roof. She stayed there for three days, along with six or seven members of her family, waiting for help.
We cry and laugh both. But we laugh because God saved us from death.
An army helicopter buzzed past them day after day but — it sounds almost comical — Siraj says that their fortunes changed only after they figured out how to flag it down.
“Someone told us, ‘You have to wave your sheet and your shawls at the chopper,’ and when we did, they finally dropped some water, juice and biscuits,” she says.

At a time when thousands are directing anger at the government’s failure to reach them in their hour of need, Siraj blames herself for not being plucked to safety earlier. She may have lost everything, but not her self-deprecation — or her wit.
“The reason we were rescued so late,” she laughs, “is because I was waving and using hand signals that the pilot just didn’t understand.”

Despite the widespread fury at the government shared by many in the flood-affected areas, Siraj seems philosophical.
“We cry and laugh both. But we laugh because God saved us from death,” she says.
But there is also fire within this white-haired, toothless grandmother. She joined a protest that blocked the main road in a bid to get the government to clear her village, where she says the stench of dead animals was choking.
“All the cattle and livestock in our village have been killed in the flood, all hens and roosters are dead,” she says. “But the carcasses are now being removed because we protested.”

In the school where Siraj and her family have found refuge, women wash their clothes on the floor, and doctors tend to countless cases of skin infection. She inhabits a single classroom with 25 other people in conditions she could not have imagined even a week ago.
“We can’t sleep here,” she says. “How can you sleep without bedding or quilts? We just lie on the floor, up all night.”
But when the morning comes, amid the calamity around her, Siraj is more likely than not to find something to cheer her. She will need it — more rains are forecast.”

B.  Pakistan floods, one year on: One man’s story of survival
‘redr’, UK, 26 July 2011
<http://www.redr.org.uk/en/Newsroom/Latest_News.cfm/pakistan-floods-one-year-on-one-mans-story-of-survival>
“One year after devastating flooding hit Pakistan, affecting nearly 20 million people, killing nearly 2000 and causing economic losses of £3.5bn, RedR’s Nic Scarborough travelled to Pakistan to find out how RedR trained aid workers are helping communities to rebuild their lives. Here, he talks to one man, Shamshad, about his experiences of the past twelve months.

Shamshad is 48, but I guess he looks a bit older with his grey hair and beard; that and the long summers in Charsadda’s forty plus degree heat. He’s softly spoken, calm and has that kind of look that says he’s been around, endured times, been patient, lived with his lot.
He owns four acres of land and tractor. Right now he’s growing sugar cane. It’s about five feet high and pretty dense. It’ll be ready in September. Until then he’ll be going up and down the irrigation channels he’s made through his field, scooping up a watery-mud and dropping it into the crop’s edges to give it a bit of moisture and keep it on track.
Shamshad wears the Pakistani national dress. It’s a tunic-style shirt worn with loose trousers, all in an off-white shade. His youngest son is a quiet four year old. He too wears the national dress and at prayer time he stands at his dad’s side, copying him, movement by movement. Like father like son, they offer their prayers together.
Anyone of faith would think those prayers were answered this time last year, when Shamshad and his family spent four days on top of a little mud island, barely peaking above the 18ft floodwaters.

Stranded in the floodwaters
When the floodwaters struck – without warning – Shamshad and his son were offering Friday prayers then too. When they came out of the mosque there was water already running at their feet. It wasn’t the first flood Shamshad seen. He knew what he had to do.
The mosque is a mile or so from his house. In just twenty minutes, the floodwaters went from ankle height to head height. He picked up his children, whatever belongings he could manage and, helping his own mother and father too, ran towards a small mud rise, or hill, behind his village.
Standing on the mud rise is like standing on the roof of a large bungalow. Several thousand villagers were crowded onto two of these whilst waves washed around them, every splash hammering against the soft, fragile elevation.
Rain pelted down on them; it was still monsoon season after all. They were literally on an island. The tops of trees poked through the muddy waters at different intervals. The sun was unrelenting. And for days they perched there, marooned, like refugees in an overcrowded dingy in a storm.
“We managed to get a ten kilogram bag of dried sugarcane juice,” says Shamshad. “We ate small bits of it for two days and crushed small pieces for the children and placed it in their mouths. There was nothing else available. We took the floodwater in a pot and when the mud settled we slowly and gradually took the water from the top to drink. We drank that floodwater for two days. We were thinking of nothing, except praying to God.”

 Getting back on his feet
After two long days, a helicopter arrived with food packages. A few kilometres away the government began blasting breaks in the raised motorway between Peshawar and Islamabad. The motorway had been acting like a damn, backing up the floodwaters behind it. When the breaks in the road were made the water began to recede. After two days Shamshad and his family were able to get down from the mud rise.
“When men returned to their houses, a lot of them were demolished or destroyed completely. The ones that were intact were not in a condition to live in,” says Shamshad. From here on they started their recovery.
“It was Ramadan and an organisation called SABAWOON came to our village and gave us 5,000 rupees. They had a store in Charsadda from where we could get food. They also provided us with some tools and wheelbarrows which we could use to start clearing the mud and cleaning our houses,” he adds.
Other local organisations like National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) and Foundation for Rural Development (FRD) began responding to the crisis by helping people to rebuild their houses with cash for work programmes.

Rising from the debris
It’s now a year later and approximately 50% of homes have been rebuilt. Around Shamshad’s villages cement is being mixed, bricks are being laid and houses are rising up from the debris. Infrastructure is also coming back; roads damaged by the floodwaters are being replaced.
For now, Shamshad is living in his brother’s house but knows that things will continue to improve. “With the support of these organisations I will soon be able to build a room for my family,” he says. “And I can do some labour to get some money to rebuild my house.”

3.  The Siege of Sarajevo, 1992-1996
The Siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Serb forces besieged Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 during the Bosnian War.
The Serbs encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 18,000 stationed in the surrounding hills, from which they assaulted the city with weapons that included artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles. The Bosnian government defence forces inside the besieged city were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege.
It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of 525,980. There are estimates that prior to the siege the population in the city proper was 435,000. The current estimates of the number of persons living in Sarajevo range between 300,000 and 380,000 residents.

Advice from a Sarajevo War Survivor:
“Experiencing horrible things that can happen in a war – death of parents and friends, hunger and malnutrition, endless freezing cold, fear, sniper attacks.
1. Stockpiling helps. But you never know how long trouble will last, so locate near renewable food sources.
2. Living near a well with a manual pump is like being in Eden.
3. After awhile, even gold can lose its luster.  But there is no luxury in war quite like toilet paper.  Its surplus value is greater than gold’s.
4. If you had to go without one utility, lose electricity – it’s the easiest to do without (unless you’re in a very nice climate with no need for heat.)
5. Canned foods are awesome, especially if their contents are tasty without heating.  One of the best things to stockpile is canned gravy – it makes a lot of the dry unappetizing things you find to eat in war somewhat edible.  Only needs enough heat to “warm”, not to cook. It’s cheap too, especially if you buy it in bulk.
6. Bring some books – escapist ones like romance or mysteries become more valuable as the war continues.  Sure, it’s great to have a lot of survival guides, but you’ll figure most of that out on your own anyway – trust me, you’ll have a lot of time on your hands.
7. The feeling that you’re human can fade pretty fast.  I can’t tell you how many people I knew who would have traded a much needed meal for just a little bit of toothpaste, rouge, soap or cologne.  Not much point in fighting if you have to lose your humanity.  These things are morale-builders like nothing else.
8. Slow burning candles and matches, matches, matches”

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