PAKISTAN JOURNAL - 1995 (Part 1)

NOTE TO READER: The intriguing story that I want to share with you about our involvement in the dangerous country of Pakistan weaves its way through two separate international assessment trips. One trip began in late 1995 with my busy itinerary of meetings in New York City, then on to Tashkent and Andijon, Uzbekistan, then finishing the trip in northern Pakistan. The other journal covers the return trip to Pakistan in March 1996. I will jump into the adventure here as I was leaving Uzbekistan and heading for Islamabad, the capitol of Pakistan.

Islamabad, Pakistan: Saturday, December 2, 1995: I was up early. Ted and I walked to a main street in Andijon and caught a taxi out to the airport, where I caught another Russian Yak-40 jet  back to Tashkent. This time, upon my arrival, Peter was there to meet me. We caught lunch from the street vendors, and I prayed a lot that I wouldn’t ingest anything bad from the street food into my system. We had some additional meetings with Guy and his wife and eventually made our way back to the airport for my trip on to Islamabad, Pakistan. On that flight I had a window seat and a great view as we flew south over Tajikistan and Afghanistan into Islamabad. 

Upon landing in Islamabad, a most incredible thing happened. I cleared passport control, customs, and security and went to the front of the airport to look for a Marriott bus to catch a ride to the hotel. About that time another man came up also inquiring about the hotel bus. He was just flying in from China to Islamabad. The director said that it would be another forty-five minutes before the bus returned. I told the guy that I was also headed for the Marriott, and I would split the expense of a taxi with him so we wouldn’t have to wait around in the dark. When we got into the taxi, I introduced myself and said I was from Colorado in the USA.

He looked at me kind of funny and asked, “What part of Colorado?”

 I told him Evergreen, and he laughed and said he was from Boulder. We couldn’t believe it. What would those odds be? Then I began to understand some working of providence. He quizzed me extensively about Project C.U.R.E. and told me he also had homes in Shanghai, China, and Hong Kong. I asked him what in the world he did. He reluctantly told me that he was Marcus W. Brauchli, China bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Asia Wall Street Journal. But then he changed the subject quickly and continued his inquiry of Project C.U.R.E.

He asked, “Has anyone ever written this up?”

I said that only some of the local folks had done some things.

“This is a great twist of goodwill in business instead of all the same hard stuff,” he replied. “Would you mind if I did a story on Project C.U.R.E.? Who knows, it just might help you get your needed supplies.”

Two guys in a cab in Islamabad on a dark December night, both from Colorado—much more than coincidence!

Marcus insisted on getting the whole taxi fare, and I made him promise that I could buy lunch sometime over the Christmas holidays when he came to visit Project C.U.R.E. and see the warehouse. I went to sleep with sugarplums dancing in my head. I’ve always wanted Project C. U. R. E. to keep a low profile and just do its work. But there might be some providentially arranged exposure coming at a very strategic time.

Sunday, December 3

Sunday morning I dressed and went down to breakfast at the hotel. The Marriott in Islamabad is really nice. My mind kept making the comparison between the Andijon bathhouse procedure and the nice warm shower at the Islamabad Marriott.

I went to the US embassy, checked in, and told them why I was there and where I could be reached for any messages or emergencies.

When I realized that my flight was due to take off at 11:00 a.m. instead of 1:30 p.m., I about panicked. I had not packed or checked out of the hotel, and it was already past 10:00. While I was paying my bill on my way out of the hotel, I asked the cashier how long it took by taxi to get to the airport.

He said, “At least thirty minutes, perhaps longer if there is heavy traffic.”

The next Marriott bus did not leave the hotel until noon. I then asked him if he would please contact the Quetta Serena Hotel and make sure I had a reservation and to have the hotel bus please pick me up at the airport. He assured me that he would take care of everything.

I ran out the hotel door and down the block, where the taxicabs were stationed. I had to haggle the price with several different drivers who wanted thirty dollars to take me to the airport. While I was still walking toward their taxis, I said I would pay fifteen. Finally I got one who said he would do it for twenty. I agreed to that only if he would get me to the departure gate in twenty minutes or less. Guess what! The thrill of the fast ride was well worth the twenty dollars, even if the ride would have just been for fun. He pulled up in front of the departure gate at seven minutes till 11:00. He earned his twenty dollars.

When I ran inside the airport, fortunately there were no longer any lines, and I sailed through the check stations and got to the gate just in time. If I had had all the grief I encountered at the Andijon or Tashkent airports, I would never have made it.

One scene I do remember very well, even though the taxi driver was flying fast, was that of the recently bombed-out Egyptian embassy located just a few blocks from the US embassy in Islamabad. Some terrorists had run a small truck totally loaded with explosives into the Egyptian embassy just a few days earlier. The only thing that was left was a crater in the ground where the embassy had stood. I don’t remember how many people were killed in the explosion. I thought, Some of these foreign places, like Pakistan, are getting almost as violent and uncontrolled as terrorist America.

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On the plane I had a whole row to myself, so I was free to slide over and get a view out the window for the flight. Quetta is west and somewhat north of Islamabad. There is nothing to be seen but bleak, barren, and dry mountain ranges and desert valleys in that part of Pakistan. Why, for centuries, people had fought for this territory was beyond me. The entire border between Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to be equally as desolate. We flew between two brown mountain ranges to where the rocky valley widened out, and behold … there was the city of Quetta. It is a city with a population of several million, including some of the nearby region, and even from the air as we landed, I could see that it consists, to a great extent, of military bases and ammunition bunkers and vehicles. That certainly confirmed all I had heard about it being a strategic military border town.

Inside the airport terminal I was met by a doctor even before my luggage had cleared through. He was very friendly and escorted me out to where a driver and car were waiting to take me to the Serena Hotel. We had a short time to get acquainted from the airport to the hotel. He came into the hotel and waited to make sure I got checked in all right. Then he left me in my room and said he would be back at 1:30 for a meeting.

Sure enough, at 1:30 p.m. Dr. Abdul Kasi came back and brought with him Dr. Shafi Mohammed Zehri, the medical superintendent of the Sandeman Provincial Hospital. They came into the room, and we talked for about an hour. When they left, they said they would return for dinner in the evening.

I thought dinnertime would be somewhere between 6:00 and 8:00. By 8:30 I figured that I must not have understood correctly, so I went down to the restaurant dining room and had a lovely dinner. I returned to my room by 9:20 and had taken some of my clothes off and begun to read a book, when a knock came on the door. It was Dr. Munir Abdul Kasi, who, by the way, is the resident medical officer general at the hospital. This time he brought with him Dr. Ad Sikander Riaz, head of the Department of Community Medicine at the Bolan Medical College. They were ready to go eat. I informed them that I had misunderstood the time and that I had already eaten. So we stayed and talked in my room. Dr. Riaz started out quite on the offensive saying that he never had heard of Project C.U.R.E. I told him that certainly didn’t surprise me, but I was happy he had the opportunity of hearing of us now.

After about one and a half hours, they were absolutely in awe of what Project C.U.R.E. is doing around the world and the possibilities of working together in the future. They told me that both of them were required to fly to Islamabad for medical meetings the next two days, and they didn’t want to miss the chance of getting acquainted. When they left they told me that there was a big meeting at the hospital planned for 10:00 a.m., and that Dr. Zehri would have someone pick me up about 9:45.

Monday, December 4

The next morning Dr. Zehri himself came with his driver to escort me to the Sandeman Provincial Hospital. The meeting was held in Dr. Zehri’s office, and there were five doctors who met with me, plus several others who slipped in and out during the meeting. Those present included Dr. Shafi Zehri, of course; Dr. Mohammed Rafique, pediatrics department; Dr. Niaz Mohammad Nasir, professor of anesthesiology at Bolan Medical College as well as Sandeman Hospital; Dr. Hamaadullah Buzdar, head of the neurosurgery department at Sandeman Hospital; and Dr. Roohullah M. Qazi, deputy medical superintendent. They also wanted to know all about Project C.U.R.E. and me, so I decided to give them both barrels. I told them my story about business, writing my book What’cha Gonna Do with What’Cha Got?, doing economic consulting, beginning to ship medical goods into Brazil, and so forth. I also told them that I promised God I wanted to do business the rest of my life that would help other people who were in need rather than becoming richer myself. I explained where we were presently shipping and how much we had shipped just this year. I told them that I considered the entire endeavor a miracle, and that I was the happiest man alive because I had been given the opportunity to be a part of helping people around the world.

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We then got into dealing with filling out the necessary pages of the Needs Assessment Study that I had brought along. All of the doctors were extremely respectful, and Dr. Nasir went into quite a lengthy time of sharing that he had studied the Christian Bible as well as the Muslim Koran, and that what I was doing was helping over eighteen million people who had no money. I let them know how glad I was to have been able to come to Quetta and get acquainted with them. I told them that I would not have been able to come to their hospital had it not been for my scheduled trip to Andijon and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I felt that it was providential that I had come. They all quickly agreed.

Dr. Zehri and Dr. Buzdar then took me to lunch at the Serena Hotel. We talked about their families and mine. Dr. Zehri has five children. The oldest two are fourteen and eleven. Dr. Buzdar has traveled some for medical conventions. He has been to Detroit; Miami; Seoul, Korea; and Thailand and has a very good friend who used to be his professor in neurosurgery and now lives in Hamburg, Germany. Dr. Zehri had to attend some meetings after lunch, but Dr. Buzdar canceled his surgeries and had his driver take me around the Quetta area.

Quetta is a huge military establishment, and we drove past many installations, base operations, and training areas. The military staff college is located there, so all military staff eventually make their way to Quetta to be trained. In the past, Quetta hospitals and clinics had to take care of many war casualties from the border war in Afghanistan.

Next Week: Healthcare in the middle of danger