Sunday, 28 October 2007

News from Kashmir

Friday 12 November 2007

We arrived Islamabad at 6am local time just 10 minutes later than expected time of arrival in spite of leaving London one hour late. We were met by sister in law and were driven to her house to freshen up and rest until shops and bank opened. After visiting bank and buying cakes we drove to Kashmir. This is a long drive of over 3 hours and we arrived at 3.30pm.

It was thought that this day would be the last day of Ramadan, the month of fasting but unfortunately everybody was disappointed. The end of Ramadan is declared at the sighting of the new moon but unfortunately nobody had sighted in anywhere in Pakistan even though it had been seen in Europe and Saudi Arabia the previous day. Hence there was to be yet another day of fasting in Kashmir and Pakistan.

The end of Ramadan is celebrated with the festival of Eid. This is the equivalent of the Christian Christmas and the biggest celebration of the Muslim year. After breakfast the men visit the mosque for Eid prayers then they go around visiting all the neighbour’s houses. The women also go visiting but not with the men. At each house you are given refreshment. The children are also given ‘eidie’, which is a gift of money. Young children go from house to house alone and one group that visited us said they didn’t want any food just eidie please!

Visiting the neighbours was quite a feat as the houses are built on the side of a mountain. People there are as agile as mountain goats and I had to be assisted by my young nieces to reach some of the houses.

The last visit of the day was to my husband’s elderly 84 year old uncle who lives practically at the top of the mountain. We were driven there by my brother in law in his jeep. There was a tarmac road part of the way but the last 10 minutes or so were along a dirt and stone track. Even being a passenger was hard work and extremely bumpy. The roads are all very narrow with sheer drops down the side of the mountain if you wander to near the edge. It is amazing that somebody so elderly lives in such a remote place and walks the mountains with ease.

The second day of Eid is for visiting relatives who live further afield. Once again this required a journey in a jeep to visit one family. Their house is on the top of another mountain and is in the process of being rebuilt following the earthquake of 2005. Only the basement was left undamaged the upper floors were completely flattened. They are building a very big 4 bedroom house on top of the original site. I can’t imagine why anybody would want to build there again after such a disaster. It looks too dangerous to me especially for the builders trying to do the work. The family living there has had a bad few years. My husband’s brother in law’s father, who is very elderly, lives there with his daughter in law and 4 children age from 14 to 3. Their father died suddenly when the youngest child was a small baby. Then earlier this year the children’s grandmother died too. They must have some money if they are rebuilding the house but generally I think things are quite difficult. They don’t even have piped water and have to carry it every day from a well 10 minutes walk away.

We visited three further families that day and had lunch with my husband’s cousin who he hadn’t seen for 40 years. They also had other visitors who were an English couple who are working with the teacher’s training scheme at the Pearl School nearby. On talking to them we discovered that one of them used to live less than half a mile away from us in Wales. What a small world we live in!

I was going to put some pictures here but have very slow connection so they will have to wait until I arrive home.

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