As usual, when I left for Birir two months ago, friends both here and online said the same old mantra, have a nice time and plenty of peace. I don’t think my life in Birir has ever been peaceful (except for a few stolen hours with my dogs on my travels up and down the valley) as there have always been plenty of problems or sickness to overcome.
BUT now, the problems are no longer isolated or can be solved by one individual. Since 2010, climate change has struck the Kalash valleys and the whole of Chitral. I am not exaggerating when I say the people live in fear. After the terrible flood in Urtsoon (one of my favourite valleys) a few weeks ago, the people were busy sacrificing goats and cows and I had a big row with Bau for selling a new milking goat we had bought so as to appease the gods!
True the goat gave little milk and no one had become attached to it, but…… the story soon spread around the village much to everyone’s hilarity, except mine! (a few days later, the story grew, when one of our two cockerels kept getting his timing wrong and I used to grumble at him, and then suddenly he disappeared – the night before, we had chicken which I had refused to eat, as I was suspicious. My suspicions were correct…. the latest flooding was around Birir in a flash and caused no end of merriment. I did not speak to Bau for quite a while that morning much to the amusement of all who visited the house).
This story, however, has made everyone worried. Added to that news has come through of goat rustling in Bumbaret leaving the people anxious, the police and army nervous and yours truly grounded in Peshawar. But there is no peace and quiet for me! Telephone calls, emails, even visits in this terrible heat of people begging me for water pipes and latrines.
I also have patients to bring down but am holding off until the weather cools.
It is not only climate change, but the way of life is changing and is becoming more difficult in many ways. The same thing happened in England some hundred years back or even longer.
Most people think I live in paradise…yes, I could go through a long string of adjectives supporting that, but….this is also now a land of floods (more died this spring in Urtsoon), earthquake and economic problems, plus we are on the border with Afghanistan – the two sides of the coin.
When I roamed the valley with my rucksack of medicine on my back and my dogs beside me, I knew every path, every water channel; there were no hedges, walls, fences to impede my progress. I was welcome wherever I went and I never felt that I was taking a bite of food from someone which would leave them hungry. At Tak Dira’s we constantly had a diet of cheese, yoghurt, milk, buttermilk, butter, and so on. Rice was a luxury which I would bring in after a visit to Chitral.
When I came to live in our village, there were only two houses – the one where my dear friend Guereni adopted me (and Sainisar, Tak Dira’s daughter’s husband built me a lovely room) and her sister’s house. Now there are fifteen. Everywhere, there are hedges, fences, walls and barricades….. The population is going up. Eldest sons marry and leave the family home, the agricultural land is shrinking, goats are dying from unknown diseases, water springs are drying up and pipes are destroyed by age, floods and earthquake.
So, now we have electricity. We are lucky in that we have a fridge, a bread oven and an electric ring. I can bring up cheese and milk from Peshawar; we do not need to use so much firewood. Many people now have jeeps (thanks to timber smuggling) but the jeep track becomes worse every year although constant work is always underway.
Children are becoming educated (after a fashion….) but without college degrees where will they find work?
The people need help….. but recently when a wealthy business man managed to obtain money from the government, it landed in the hands of the leaders – read money chasers – and although protective actions were taken, it then landed up in the hands of contractors, notorious for their corrupt ways and bad work.
To all of you, I think it will come as no surprise that our medical project, especially the patient programme is very, very popular. I am not exaggerating by saying that we have saved lives, prolonged lives, helped people to recover from very serious problems, others simple ones but if left could have proved fatal. Many children have been involved and those children are happy and leading a normal life – that is all but Libia, my Peshawar driver/pa’s small daughter. She has muscular atrophy. There is no cure, and all we can do is to try and make her life pain free and give her the chance to have some normality. To compound the issue, her mother not only suffers from crippling Rheumatoid arthritis, but just had a back operation which was not successful.
Besides Libia and her mother, I have two patients in Birir waiting for me to bring them down to Peshawar. One needs an operation on their tonsils and the other has a major sinus problem. Approximately £250 to £350 for operations including money for medicine, minder and hotel.
This is not something most of us think about too much but since Brexit the £ has dropped 15% against the Rupee thus costing £150 for every £1000 remitted to Maureen which is causing considerable problems.
PATIENTS PROGRAMME SUMMARY
There are unending demands for medical help and we will never have enough funds to meet all requests but on average we need around £500 per month. At present, HKCA has £250 in its restricted medical fund account.
Someone just reminded me I have to think of the dispensaries – to stock them for the winter!! Sure it seems a long way off, but not when you are looking for funds….
We just have so many patients, but if the jeep tracks are blocked then the people face a problem. To stock them with enough simple medicine for the main winter months will take around £750 plus another £50 for rent and salaries for the dispensers. This is just for simple, basic medicine for children.
The road now to Shaikhonondai is completely broken so it is imperative that they receive help. In the summer months they used to be able to trek down, but even now it is difficult due to the terrible track caused by floods last year.
WATER PIPELINES AND IRRIGATION CHANNELS
Earlier I made mention of the fact that springs are drying up and pipes have been destroyed or damaged by the floods and earthquake. With your help we were able last year to carry out temporary repairs on the water pipeline in Rumbur. In Birir the water pipeline is old and rotten. It was originally put in to service two houses. The population has increased and now there are 17. A new water pipeline into the 17 homes in Birir is now urgently needed which including taps, joints etc will cost around £60 per household. At the same time a small protective wall around the spring will be built to guard against contamination.
The progress of the school is going fine and here are some photos. We have joined the third room on to the second so as not to cut any more trees. We now have our registration framed. The other day before I left, I interviewed three possible teachers. We have hired one for the primary school and are moving the experienced teachers up to the middle school.