Islamabad, Pakistan: Wednesday March 13, 1996: On Monday I had gotten up in Evergreen at 4:30 a.m. to catch the plane to New York. It was a long flight from New York to Amsterdam, Netherlands. But it was an even longer flight from Amsterdam to Islamabad, Pakistan. I had time in Amsterdam to get off the plane, stretch, and walk around while they cleaned and refueled the plane.
I landed in Islamabad early this morning—Wednesday, March 13. That is a long time to be in the same clothes with no chance to shower. Fortunately the Marriott hotel in Islamabad had a record of my reservation even though there was a small verbal fight when they tried to charge me nearly twice as much as when I stayed there only a little over ninety days ago. Lucky for me I had my hotel receipts with me from the previous trip as overwhelming and prevailing evidence.
At 9:00 a.m. after having breakfast at the hotel, I checked in with the US embassy in Islamabad. Throughout my travels I have found that it is a very wise policy to touch base with US governmental officials upon arrival in a given country. I know that a lot of travelers ignore that policy and just go about their business. But I check in with the embassy and tell them why I am in the country, where I will be, and for how long. I then have a reference point and a face-with-a name relationship in case any problems arise or I am in need of some quick advice. The officials appreciate my cooperation since, in a way, they are responsible for me as a citizen while I am in the country, and they are always eager to give me any tips on what to watch out for and where and where not to go. Additionally, it is a comfort to my family and office back home if they know that the embassy can get ahold of me in case of an emergency at home.
The meeting at the embassy went well. We talked about Project C.U.R.E. and what I hoped to get accomplished. The lady I met with at the embassy, Sherri Worthington, is an economist. Following my meeting I had a taxi driver return me to the hotel. My trip back to the hotel was delayed for about thirty minutes while we waited in traffic watching a military parade go by, displaying all the latest Pakistani war machines. The national military parades its stuff not only to warn the people to stay in line, but it also builds confidence that the present government in power can take care of its people well and protect them from the threat of outside powers.
The day before I left Evergreen, I had received a fax message from Senator Raja M. Zafar-al-Haq, a senior senator in the Pakistani government and secretary general of the World Muslim Congress. He was the man I had met on the airplane from Karachi to Amsterdam on my previous trip to Pakistan. I had shared with him what God has done in my life and how I consider myself to be the happiest man in the world. He had then invited me to contact him if I ever return to Islamabad so that we could have dinner together. The fax I received from him was a response to my communication informing him of my return trip and my desire to meet with him.
When I returned to my hotel, I called the senator’s office, graciously thanked them for the fax message, and confirmed that I would be available at the senator’s suggested time of 2000 hours on Monday, March 18 (2000 hours means 8:00 p.m. … I hope).
Monday is the day I will be returning from Quetta to Islamabad on my way out of the country. I am really delighted about the opportunity and the senator’s response. And I am looking forward to once again being with this very important man of the Islamic world.
Thursday, March 14
Following breakfast at the hotel, I caught the airport bus to the Islamabad International Airport. Our route took us along the wide, six-lane thoroughfare in front of the gorgeous white parliament buildings, the president’s complex, and the prime minister’s huge layout, as well as many other beautiful government and foreign-embassy buildings.
Islamabad was built from scratch starting in 1961. It was decided that the city of Lahore, the most natural site for the capital, was too close in proximity to India, being just sixteen miles from the border. So the government decided to build Islamabad as the capital. It was built on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, a city that dates back some seven thousand years. By now the two cities have intertwined, with a combined population of over 1.5 million people.
The airport is a pretty typical Third World major airport. That means it is dirty, well used, and overrun with lots of milling folks. I was about two and a half hours early for my flight, and passengers, I was told, were not allowed in the terminal until just prior to boarding. But I really didn’t feel like sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk with the other locals, nor did I feel like “mingling” for two and a half hours.
So even though I was traveling on a cheap economy excursion ticket, I walked down the roadway, where there was a separate building with a VIP lounge sign on the front and many guards with automatic weapons balanced on their hips, and I told the man at the door that it was necessary for me to sit down inside the VIP lounge for a couple of hours. Guess what? He let me in!
I arrived in Quetta shortly after 3:00 p.m. and rode to the Serena Hotel, where I checked in.
It just dawned on me … seldom have I been involved in such bizarre circumstances. On January 25, 1996, I notified Dr. Shafi Mohammed Zehri, medical superintendent of Sandeman Provincial Hospital, Quetta, Pakistan, that Project C.U.R.E. had selected the hospital to be the recipient of approximately $500,000 worth of medical supplies and equipment. I informed him of the estimated time of arrival of the shipment into the Port of Karachi, the vessel sailing voyage number, and the name of the vessel. I included any other pertinent information and sent it to him by fax.
I received no reply immediately but did not give it much thought, since I had sent the message during Ramadan, the Muslim holy time. So I again sent the message on January 31 … No reply. I began sending the same message frequently. Each time my fax machine verified that the hospital fax machine had indeed received the transmission … and yet no reply. Eventually I had Dr. Rich Sweeney send the package via e-mail to the only e-mail-receiving computer in Quetta. Again, no response.
It was getting close to the time I was to leave on my trip to Pakistan. It was also getting close to March 10, the estimated time of arrival for the $500,000 cargo container into the Port of Karachi. I was worried. I had visited Jabil Abbas Jilani, at the Pakistan embassy in Washington, D.C., in February. I decided to call him and see if he would help me. He was very receptive and understanding and said that if I would fax him the entire package, he would see to it that it was delivered in Pakistan, and he would additionally call to verify its receipt. I thanked him and, based on that assurance, departed Denver for Quetta.
When I arrived in Quetta today, I had fully expected someone to meet me there from the hospital, since I was certain by that time that they would have had time to prepare for me and would have made reservations for me at the Serena Hotel as I had requested Dr. Buzdar to do.
I got off the plane, walked to the terminal, slowly looked over the crowd, and spotted no one with a sign or a smile of recognition on his or her face. I proceeded outside the terminal. It was raining … an extremely unusual phenomenon for Quetta’s high-desert location. I stood under the terminal awning until almost everyone had exited. I kept an eye on the driver of the Serena Hotel bus who was holding an identification sign. He apparently was there to pick up someone who had reservations at the hotel. No one approached him, and as he turned to leave in his bus, I caught up with him and let him know I needed a ride to the Serena. I decided that if no one was there to meet me, they had probably had the bus come out to pick me up. It all seemed validated when I was the only passenger.
But when I went to the registration desk at the hotel, they looked through all of their records and assured me that I had no reservation there. Regardless, I talked them into renting a room to me. But all of the events seemed so strange.
I unpacked all my Pakistan notes and files from my previous trip and immediately set about calling Dr. Zehri, Dr. Buzdar, and the hospital. No one answered at Dr. Zehri’s home or office; all I could get from Dr. Buzdar’s office was a fax tone; and the hospital person I talked to said that Dr. Zehri was no longer head administrator at the hospital and would, furthermore, not be back until November. They said that Dr. Buzdar was out on holiday until next Wednesday.
While I was looking through my files, I realized that I had not brought along any of the paperwork pertaining to the shipment of the container. And now I was becoming convinced that no one in Quetta knew anything about absolutely anything.
I finally was able to talk to Dr. Roohullah M. Qazi’s niece at a phone number he had previously given to me. He is the deputy medical superintendent at Sandeman Provincial Hospital. But the niece said that he had no home phone, and additionally, he was out of town until Saturday morning.
It was now getting late in the evening. I was pushing my luck, because Fridays and Saturdays in Pakistan are sort of do-nothing days for Muslims. I had to make contact with someone before tomorrow. I called back to the hospital and left word that it was imperative for Dr. Zehri, Dr. Buzdar, Dr. Qazi, Dr. Mohammad Nasir, Dr. Malik Kasi, or Dr. Rafique from pediatrics to call me as soon as they could be contacted. I received no response.
Next Week: Was I Being Separated Out From the Rest of the Herd?