Once in 1992, when Erik [Cheryl's husband] and I went hiking in Gojal in the north of Pakistan, we underestimated the size of the Karakorum mountains and found ourselves dangerously dehydrated and suffering from sunburn. Our lips cracked and our minds played tricks. We looked for help but found no one. We were scared and lost, and after some time we began to despair.
To our great relief, a village woman came upon us and guided us to the home of a local English-speaking schoolmaster in Husseini. Without saying a word, she guided us across the footbridge and held our hands as we stumbled up the steep bank to his home. The schoolmaster and his family kindly took us in and attended to us for many hours. As we sipped his tea and ate his bread, we gradually returned to health and good spirits. Soon, we were talking and laughing and sharing stories. I watched as his beautiful young daughters peaked at us from behind the kitchen curtain, and giggled with them when I caught them looking! The schoolmaster shared the wonderful philosophies of the Aga Khan. We listened, shared our own observations, and debated politics and social norms. When finally we were well enough to return to our lodgings several miles away in Passu, the family arranged for our safe transport.
I have never forgotten that act of kindness, and the many other acts of generosity we experienced on our two memorable trips to northern Pakistan. Husseini was not the only time the people of this region helped us out of a difficult situation, yet it was the first, and remains my most vivid memory of the quality of the people of Gojal and Gilgit-Balitistan.
The January 4th landslide that blocked the river has left 25,000 people cut off from their neighbors. For all I know, that schoolmaster’s home could be submerged under the newly formed lake now. It is for this reason that I must act.
Editor’s note: For information of the readers let me state that Cheryl has a great role in bringing the Attabad disaster to the global media. The reports published by Associated Press and Reuters were made possible by Cheryl’s efforts. [Nur]