Quetta, Pakistan: Monday, December 4: Dr. Buzdar wanted to take me out of the city to follow a valley where all the fruit orchards were located. There were natural springs that flow out of the dry dirt mountains surrounding Quetta, and the springs plus the snowmelt in the spring fill the gravel riverbeds and water the valley of the fruit trees. Apples and peaches are grown there and marketed throughout the province. Dr. Buzdar explained how beautiful the valley is in the summer months. People bring their families out and just picnic under the orchard trees to escape the desert sun in Quetta.
Another favorite family spot was Hanna Lake. It is a natural lake surrounded by dry dirt hills and mountains. Dr. Buzdar had his driver stop at one of the recreation sites, and we got out and walked for about thirty minutes. I thanked him for bringing me to the spot, but he thanked me for giving him the legitimate excuse to get away from his work. He had no other doctor to cover for him, and he literally worked days and nights in the neurosurgery department. That afternoon he really began to relax. We talked about his traveling to San Diego, California, in April for a medical convention. I told him what San Diego is like and to be sure to try some of their authentic Mexican restaurants while he is there.
We came back to the Serena Hotel to finish making plans for dinner, but when we arrived, a messenger was waiting to inform him of an emergency situation back at the hospital. The phone system in Pakistan is terrible, and there are no such things as beepers or cellular phones. So the messenger had simply been waiting for him at the hotel. Dr. Buzdar said that if he could get away, he would meet me at 8:30 p.m., but he was not sure what was in store for him.
By 9:00 he had not come, so I went to the restaurant and had some soup and fried bread for dinner. By the time I arrived back in my room, he had called and said his surgeries would not allow him to get away, but he would meet me for lunch the next day at 1:00 p.m.
Tuesday, December 5
At 9:00 a.m. Dr. Zehri came to my door, ready to take me for meetings at the Sandeman Provincial Hospital. During the night it had begun to rain. The sky was very dark, and we got drenched just going from the hotel to his car, which was waiting out front. He told me that the rain typically lasts for only two days but usually comes after the fifteenth of December. I told him I was glad it rained, and that I could be there for the two days that it would rain that year.
The hotel complex at the Serena was very heavily guarded and fenced. Likewise, the hospital complex was very heavily posted. After a quick tour of the departments, we were ushered into the office of Mr. Zafar Isbal Qudir, secretary of the health department for the provincial government of Baluchistan. He introduced us to his two deputies, and I once again told the story of Project C.U.R.E. I quizzed them about the government’s attitude toward taxation of incoming humanitarian goods, and they assured me that all I needed to do was to get any supplies to Karachi, and from there on they had all the necessary friends to take care of everything else.
From Sandeman Hospital, Dr. Zehri had his driver take us to the Bolan Medical College. Almost all of the professors teach at the medical school and practice at Dr. Zehri’s hospital. The school is right now in the middle of building an adjacent 650-bed hospital, and except for the concrete structure, they are going to need everything. The medical school started in 1972, and I was totally amazed at what they have already accomplished. They have built a fine facility and have a very good medical library. When I asked them if they had any possible way to get a CD-ROM library started, they took me to the back room of the library, and the sharp, young librarian showed me the library’s computer. They have the only Internet address in all of Baluchistan Province, including all the military. The military comes over and uses their e-mail if there is an emergency. Their online server is the UN. Their address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I was really impressed and told them I might have some extra copies of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine reference book that I could donate to them.
By the time we finished touring the medical school, it was 1:00 and time to meet Dr. Buzdar for lunch at, of all things in Pakistan, a Chinese restaurant. It was the first time I had Chinese food prepared with an overabundance of curry … but it was very good.
Following lunch Dr. Zehri had to attend an important meeting to determine the medicine purchases for 1996. Dr. Buzdar offered to show me the marketplaces of Quetta, and I asked if we could go shopping for carpets. Everyone in Baluchistan is related to everyone else … really! And Dr. Buzdar had a friend he had operated on a short while back who had promised him the best of treatment in return if he ever needed hand-woven wool carpets. So Dr. Buzdar took me to the man’s carpet shop. I purchased three carpets, and Dr. Buzdar bought a fourth to give to me as a gift. I could never have expected to get such quality carpets at such a price. Now I have an entirely new problem—how am I to get about three hundred pounds of carpet back to Denver? Oh well, I will work on that problem tomorrow.
Later in the evening, Dr. Zehri came by the hotel and brought me a wonderful gift to take to Anna Marie. He also brought with him a copy of his passport. We had talked at lunch about my helping him secure a visa to the USA so that he could travel with Dr. Buzdar to San Diego in the summer to attend a medical meeting. He had never had a visa to the USA and was afraid that he would probably never get one. I had said that I would be happy to invite him and sponsor him by claiming that I needed him in the USA to check and approve of the medical items we were donating to Pakistan. I felt it a compliment that he would ask me to help him.
After Dr. Zehri left the hotel, Dr. Buzdar called and said he had just completed his surgery schedule and asked if I was still up and wanted to get a cup of coffee. We met, and he was concerned about making sure I had no problem getting all the luggage on Pakistan International Airlines. Dr. Buzdar is a close personal friend of the manager of the Quetta Airport and also a close friend of Pakistan Airlines’ regional supervisor. We talked over coffee until after 11:00 p.m. in the hotel lobby, and he left me saying he would be by at 10:30 a.m. to personally see to it that everything went well.
Wednesday, December 6
The next morning the Serena Hotel was swarming with military ruffians. It was still raining, and the front parking courtyard was jammed with military vehicles loaded with soaking-wet tents and army gear. The troops seemed to be some kind of special-forces group, all of them wearing red-and-white-checkered and black-and-white-checkered head wear like Yasser Arafat. Some had camouflage pants and shirts, but most were dressed in long white tunics.
I was the only one who even slightly resembled European descent in the whole restaurant. My guess is that they were high mucky-mucks who had just returned from some raid mission with the Taliban forces up in Afghanistan. Needless to say, I was quite respectful and careful that I didn’t do anything that might irritate them—like singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Quetta is a city that is not equipped to handle rain. Raining two days in a row left the city a giant mud puddle. The open sewers had all backed up, and the streets were running with trash and debris. The cars had a rough time even getting down the streets, but the funniest sights were the little motorized rickshaws that would almost disappear out of sight when they would drop into a deep, unforeseen pothole hidden by the high water.
But the rain had let up by the time Dr. Buzdar arrived to pick me up at the hotel. In fact, the haze had lifted, and I could see snow capping the brown, barren mountains surrounding the city. Actually, it was all quite pleasant. There was a freshness to the valley, as if it had just experienced a once‑a‑year bath. Dr. Buzdar’s driver loaded my prize carpets into the car, which scarcely left room enough for the three of us to manage a ride to the airport. There, to his word, Dr. Buzdar had me prechecked in, and they whisked my things through with VIP service. We had an opportunity to sit and summarize things before I left. He gave me a copy of a letter he had already sent to his neurosurgeon friend in Minnesota in the USA telling him of me and requesting that he try to locate the funds needed for shipping the containers to Quetta.
The Pakistan International Airline flight left about noon, and I headed for Karachi. Everyone had warned me that Karachi is a city where one needs to be extremely careful. Lots of people from India had migrated there, as well as many refugees from the Afghanistan war. Karachi is a big and dirty seaport city with lots of desperate folks. Kidnappings and murder rates are very high. No American should travel there alone. I was pleasantly impressed with the airport, however. It was quite large and clean and well guarded, and lots of porters were there, eager to do anything for a few rupees.
I stayed quiet within the airport during my transfer. I was not so fortunate with my extra baggage at Karachi. Without a Dr. Buzdar there, Pakistan Airlines charged me $240 for the additional two pieces I had.
Next Week: Perhaps, I discovered the real reason for my trip to Pakistan.