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Until It Hurts: A Love Letter to Pakistan

Rabia Ahmed at NY for Acumen's DIGNITY Benefit, July 2009 | Photo Credit: Steven Lau

A few hours ago, I found my father sitting at the dinner table, counting. When I asked, what he was counting, he mutedly replied “Bete, during this week, 63 years ago, my family crossed the border to Pakistan.” I had heard this story hundreds of times before, from my grandmother, my uncle, but usually from my dad. It was a journey etched into his mind, into his bones. It was the story of eating neem plants and walking – lots of walking- along a path to the new world, leaving everything behind for hopes of a peaceful tomorrow.

Years later, my siblings and I enjoyed the humid, sunny, summers in Pakistan. We’d run through the mango groves on a family farm and sip sugar cane juice in the market. We’d play hide and seek in my grandfather’s roof garden and host pretend doll weddings with my cousins. It was a fairy-tale land, a land which welcomed us with open arms whenever we visited. It was truly blissful.

Nevertheless, each year things changed in Pakistan. The cars looked a little different, the music became more rock and roll and the air became more polluted. The only constant which remained was the home of my grandfather on the outskirts of Lahore. With its white washed walls, and lattice door frames, it remained mostly how we left it the year before. The home was five stories high, grand in a modest town, and built around a central open veranda with multiple bedrooms on each floor. My grandfather had a modern above-ground latrine and air conditioner installed so that his grandchildren were not deprived of their essentials. And every summer, without fail, we’d anticipate the monsoons. They’d come in, hastily from no one direction and with quick winds, gusts of water rushed down on us with a certain sense of urgency, and we – well, we’d dance. You’d hear us shrieking and giggling in the same breath because there was no warning, no sign of the hammering waters; just the sudden opening of the skies. It was an idyllic time and we were constantly told to appreciate the rain because it was such a blessing.

But this year, the blessing has turned into a curse, a real test of spirit.

As I sit here some 7,000 miles away from my old summer home, I can’t help but weep for a nation under water. Just the thought of one in five Pakistanis without a home, without a livelihood and without any imminent hope, is simply unbearable.

We’ve read the stories: the tale of a father who tied his son to a tree; of the mother who gave birth to twins in the middle of the storm; of the family who sat by and watched their cow- their livelihood- weaken and eventually pass on. And we’ve seen the staggering statistics – 20 million Pakistanis affected, that’s more than New York State. That’s more than Haiti and Katrina combined. More than Haiti and Katrina combined. Even as I write these words, I’m speechless.

After all, Pakistan is a country divided. It attempts to be modern but is shot at by those clinging to the past. It’s a place where history repeats itself without enough time passing to learn from it. A place where culture and religion constantly fight each other. It’s a place which terrorists now call home and is also a nuclear state. It’s a country that’s lost itself, to itself, by itself.

But it is a country that is loved by so many that summered there; whose parents and grandparents fought to set up homes there, by those who decided to dedicate their lives to helping it reach its potential. Through this catastrophe, Pakistani-Americans are crying for their fellow Pakistanis back home. They’re taking action by running fundraising drives, and putting together media packs and collecting necessary items. They’re keeping one another abreast of activities from the field and are urging all, each and every person they know, to take action, NOW. It’s not just the feeding and immunizing which needs to be done now, but the rebuilding and revitalizing which needs to happen for years to come. It’s in a state of despair, of helplessness, for a people so resilient, so open-hearted, kind and gentle who have never asked for anything, but dignity,

There are people to thank, like Fiza Shah, CEO of Developments in Literacy, who builds schools in remote and hard to reach areas of Pakistan and Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen Fund who still sees the potential, the hope in Pakistan’s people, a single person who leads an organization that invests in the future of a nation. These two women continue to believe in Pakistan, through the heartfelt moments and harrowing sorrows.

So today, I beg, and urge you all to do the same, or at least to take a step. It’s impossible to imagine the devastation from this far away. Soon enough some other news sensation will take over and most of us will forget the little teary-eyed girl or a mother without milk for her twins. We’ll forget that although they didn’t have much to begin with, whatever they once could call their own has been washed away. Their lives are once again a blank slate. What reality once was is now but a dream wrapped in a nightmare. So please, pick up your check book, or log into your paypal account. Buy some medicines or donate some food.

In this time of pain, hurt and suffering, I remember a quote I once read by Mother Teresa: “The paradox of life is if you love until it hurts, then there is no more hurt, only love.” And Pakistan, we love you and we’re hurting for you and that is what I wish for my fellow Pakistanis, only love.

Rabia Ahmed is the Co-Chair of New York for Acumen and the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the NYU Stern School of Business. To find out how you can help, please read this recent post which names a few organizations working in Pakistan that we trust and who need your support. Please also show your support and stand with Pakistan by adding your name in solidarity to http://www.ontheground.pk.

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