Published on Tuesday, June 2, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
A Weaver's Welcome in
ISLAMABAD -- Shortly after arriving in Pakistan, one week ago, we met a weaver and his extended family, numbering 76 in all, who had been forcibly displaced from their homes in Fathepur, a small village in the Swat Valley.
Fighting between the Pakistani military and the Taliban had intensified. Terrified by aerial bombing and anxious to leave before a curfew would make flight impossible, the family packed all the belongings they could carry and fled on foot. It was a harrowing four day journey over snow-covered hills. Leaving their village, they faced a Taliban check point where a villager trying to leave had been assassinated that same morning. Fortunately, a Taliban guard let them pass. Walking many miles each day, with 45 children and 22 women, they supported one another as best they could. Men took turns carrying a frail grandmother on their shoulders. One woman gave birth to her baby, Hamza, on the road. When they arrived, exhausted, at a rest stop in the outskirts of
While there, the weaver struck up a conversation with a man whom he'd never met before. He told the man about the family's plight. Hearing that they were homeless, the man invited them to live with him and his family in a large building which he is renovating. He offered to put the reconstruction on hold so that the family could move into the upper stories of his building.
The weaver was also fortunate to have known, for many years, a family that had sold his art work through a small shop in
When we arrived, older men and boys were outside, ready to unload a truck delivering mats and flour. The generous building owner invited members of our group into his home, on the ground floor, where plans were already being made to turn the top floor into a school for the children.
Several tots led me upstairs to meet their grandparents. The elderly couple sat, cross-legged, on cots. When we entered, the grandmother stood, embraced me, and then softly wept for several minutes. Soon, about twenty men, women and children clustered around the cots. All listened attentively while one of the weaver's brothers, Abdullah Shah, spoke with pride about the school in Fathepur where he had been a headmaster. The village had three schools, and his school was so successful that even Taliban families sent their children to study there. Now, the Taliban has destroyed all of the schools in Fathepur.
He and his brothers wonder what their future will be. How and when can they return to their village? And how will they start over? The crops are ruined, livestock have died, and land mines have been laid. Most of the shops and businesses have been destroyed. Many homes are demolished.
The trauma endured by the refugees is overwhelming. Yet, numerous individuals and groups have swiftly extended hospitality and emergency aid. We visited a Sikh community, in Hassan Abdal, which has taken in hundreds of Sikhs, housing them inside a large and very famous shrine. Nearby, we stayed for several days in Tarbela, where families in very simple dwellings have welcomed their relatives. The townspeople quietly took up a collection to support the refugee families. Some of the townspeople accompanied us to Ghazi, just up the road from Tarbela, where 155 people are staying in an abandoned hospital, relying entirely on the generosity of their new neighbors. Doctors from
Generosity in the face of such massive displacement and suffering is evident everywhere we go. But
What would happen if
Suppose that the
Enormous resources will be spent to "crush" the Taliban, and as always happens in warfare, the bloodshed will fuel acts of revenge and retaliation.
The relationship that began when a stranger took the risk of offering shelter to a weaver holds a lesson worth heeding.
The weaver and his family will never forget the extraordinary, immediate kindness extended to them when a man put his renovation project on hold so that he could help them find shelter in his building.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs