Thirteen years ago, Wajahat Malik and I were both cast in a Seattle production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The show played for two and a half months to sold-out houses and peachy reviews and morale among cast and crew ran high. A number of us became close and cast parties frequently wrapped at 5:00 a.m. Malik (he went by his last name because Americans usually mangled his first) was a natural raconteur and delighted us with tales of growing up in Pakistan’s Mansehra Valley, where he and his friends sometimes listened to Bob Dylan and Supertramp in his Volkswagen bus, occasionally incurring his loving mom’s disapproval. One of his sisters was a physician, the other a banking executive and photos of his family’s home and the surrounding region were stunning.

Malik returned to Pakistan over a decade ago and has resided in Islamabad, the nation’s capital, for the past eleven years. He’s a documentary filmmaker and writer whose travels have taken him throughout Pakistan and large swaths of the globe. We’d fallen out of touch but had reconnected on Facebook in 2008.

When the horrific floods enveloped Pakistan at the end of July and beginning of August, I wrote Malik to see if he and his family were safe. He assured me they were, but said much of the country was ravaged to an almost unspeakable degree. Immediately, he had delved into the relief effort. Last week I interviewed him via email about the work so far, obstacles he and his compatriots face and why, despite everything, he remains hopeful.

Litsa Dremousis: Since the floods ravaged Pakistan, you’ve been on the ground helping with relief efforts. I can’t fathom what the experience has been like.

Wajahat Malik: This flood was the worst in Pakistan’s history and the devastation it caused was immense, beyond anyone’s belief. Literally, the whole of Pakistan drowned in the waters of the Lion River, also called the Indus. In the face of such calamity, the nation woke up and stood up to face the waters. People gradually came out of their slumber and then people from all over the country started rescue and relief efforts and helped the flood victims who had lost almost everything. There were too many hopeful acts of self-sacrifice and philanthropy to mention here. The horrific act that happened was when some ministers and local feudal lords in the Sind province used their clout and illegally broke the embankments to turn the flood waters toward the poor settlements in order to save their own lands and palatial farm houses.

LD: Some of the people you’re helping were incredibly poor before the floods. Do you think they have a chance at any sort of decent future? That is, with some kind of food and shelter and schools?

WM: Of course, it is always the poor and downtrodden who bear the brunt of such awesome calamities. Their lives have changed for the worse and the future looks quite bleak for them as the state of Pakistan cannot cope with the scale of the disaster economically. The flood victims have lost their houses, the crops and cattle stocks have been wiped out. Cultivable land has been either washed away or has silted up. Schools, bridges and roads have been inundated. The whole infrastructure has collapsed and it will take years and billions of dollars to rebuild what has been lost. Two million people have no shelter and are surviving on the hand-outs of the flood relief operations. They will have to be housed and rehabilitated. But the big question is, “How?”

LD: Has it been difficult to remain focused in the midst of so much death, loss and illness? How are you coping?

WM: Of course it is hard to carry on with your life when there is so much death and destruction around you. The images of the suffering millions in the flood waters haunt you all the time. When I sit down to eat at home, I feel guilty somehow and feel depressed.

LD: Have you seen anything you view as a miracle, not in the religious sense, but that it was inexplicably good in the middle of so much horror?

WM: No, I have not seen any miracles with my own eyes, neither have I seen footage of such a thing. But it is a miracle that Pakistan, despite the problems that it is plagued with, is still coping with a disaster of such a huge magnitude.

LD: On the flip side, what’s the cruelest act you’ve seen so far?

WM: Again, it would be those of certain corrupt and tainted politicians of the Sind province who, in order to save their land and palaces that they had acquired by sucking the blood of the masses, drowned the poor to save their riches. There is an enquiry commission that has been formed to investigate these criminal acts.

LD: What would you like those of us outside Pakistan to know about the floods? From what I’ve read, illness is spreading rapidly. Do you have loved ones who have become sick?

WM: The floods have obliterated the country’s infrastructure in terms of schools, hospitals, bridges and roads. Houses have been swept away, farm lands are destroyed and the farmers who were already living at subsistence level have nothing left. We are talking destruction worth billions of dollars. The poor who have lost everything and are sitting under the open skies and in the camps are drinking contaminated water and getting sick. In different areas, water-borne diseases have been reported to especially affect women and children, who are always the most vulnerable under these circumstances. No, my loved ones are fine and healthy, but the camps and shelters of the flood relief victims are rife with all kinds of diseases.

LD: From the outside, it seems much of Pakistan’s political unrest is the result of widespread poverty. Yet you seem to remain hopeful. How and why do you maintain hope?

WM: The Western media keeps harping on about poverty spawning the political unrest and turmoil in Pakistan. It is simply not true. It is the policies of America and its cronies that common people of Pakistan despise. And it is across the board. From the poor rickshaw driver to a person like me who has studied in America and has seen and read the world. We see eye to eye when it comes to the hyprocrisies of America and its allies. No amount of U.S. aid pumping billions to raise the standard of living of poor is going to help build the image of America in Pakistan. I remain hopeful because I know the people of Pakistan are not extremists or terrorists. On the contrary, we are one of the most hospitable people in the world. I am not being overly nationalistic–I’m saying it from my experience as a travel documentary filmmaker. I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and know its pulse quite well. We have been used as a buffer state to further the interests of the U.S. and its allies in this region of immense strategic value.

LD: Specifically, what have you been doing with the relief efforts? I know there’s so much to do–how do you prioritize what needs to be done first?

WM: I have been focusing on some Alpine villages in the Upper Chitral region in the Hindukush Mountains that were wiped out by flash floods. Luckily, there was no loss of life, but the already poor people lost everything. I have been collecting funds and sending food supplies to these villages because they are so far away up in the mountains that they were out of the reach of media and hardly anyone knew of their existence. Well, right now, food, shelter and clean drinking water are on the number one priority list as we are still going through the relief phase. But once the relief phase is over, we will go into rehabilitation and that means a lot of hard work and money. These people will need a lot of money to rebuild their houses and the government will need a lot of money to rebuild the infrastructure.

LD: Are you working with a relief agency or have you and your colleagues started your own group?

WM: I am working with a few dedicated friends and we are collecting funds from all over and sending the money to a friend in Chitral Town who is taking care of all the buying and distribution in Chitral Valley. This friend happens to be the Prince of the ex-royal family of the Chitral region, so it is easy for him to identify the needs of local people and buy and distribute food items locally.

LD: What can those of us outside Pakistan do to help?

WM: You can help by identifying people and organizations who are truly making a difference in Pakistan in terms of providing relief to the flood victims. And then donate money and share ingenious ideas for relief and rehabilitation and keep the issue alive in the minds of your compatriots and media, so that these people can be taken care of. And not forgotten because of donor fatigue.

LD: What keeps you going?

WM: The goodness of humanity and the everyday will to breathe keep me going. We don’t want to perish in the flood waters of despondency and grief. We, as a nation, are still alive and kicking. We proved that in the aftermath of the earthquake of 2005 and we will prove it again. Here is a poem I wrote recently on a positive note:

Pakistan,

your hair is dripping with the stinking flood waters

your eyes are red with the extremist’s rage

your nose is dripping with the snot of bigotry

and your teeth are yellow with the stains of corruption.

Pakistan,

please wash your face

brush your teeth,

wipe your nose

and straighten your beautiful hair

The sun is shining outside

It’s a new day



That morning Jackson woke with an erection like an iron bar.He lay in bed with his eyes closed feeling it throb between his legs.He imagined Céline returning from work, unbuttoning her blouse and pulling the red regulation sash from around her waist with a practiced flick.She’d step down out of her shoes, unclip her metal nametag and toss it onto the kitchen table where it would land with a clatter. He could see her fingers sliding the zip down the side of her skirt, the fabric falling to the floor with that sweet familiar swish and then there she’d be, thin legs and her hands reaching up behind her, leaning forward, unfastening her bra the way she did.

On Fear

By Erika Rae

Memoir

I must not fear. 
Fear is the mind-killer. 
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. 
I will face my fear. 
I will permit it to pass over me and through me. 
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. 
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. 
Only I will remain.

– The Bene Gesserit Litany against Fear / Frank Herbert’s Dune

It is a couple of days ago. I am driving in my Jeep down the mountain road from my house. The sun is shining. The aspens are twinkling. On the side of the road, little sprigs of wildflowers are glowing yellow and purple in the sun. With the exception of the unfortunate necessity for the use of fossil fuels, it is all very Zen.

I must not fear.

I have everything I need. Fresh air, warmth. Anna Nalick is breathing holistically through the speakers. Through the seatbelt, my giant whale belly pokes comfortably. I sip occasionally at the latte my husband made me before I left and replace it in the cup holder beside me.

Fear is the mind-killer.

I am thinking about how everything is going to be OK. In spite of the normal life troubles; in spite of the financial strains. Any day now I will face the all-consuming pain of bringing formidable life into this world and all of the responsibilities that act entails…and I am not afraid.


Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will be a ticking time bomb, or perhaps more accurately, a ticking water balloon – poised to explode dangerously without warning all over carpet upholstery mattress freshly polished bank floor …and I am not afraid.

I will face my fear.

I will be doubled over with pain, internalizing an agony so deep and indescribable that it will find its way out in the form of primal grunts and groans, well befitting a Scottish torture chamber circa 1650… and I am not afraid.


I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

At some point, I will be led to a large tub filled with warm water, in which I will be obliged to attempt to push a human being through a space the equivalent of a cantaloupe through a nostril…and I am not afraid.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. 
Only I will remain.

There will be the breathless moments in which we all watch and wait for that first cry. Will the baby breathe? Will the baby be healthy? Will the baby have the appropriate number of appendages at the ends of appropriate numbers of limbs?

I am not afraid.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Driving alone in the car, I breathe deeply of the fresh mountain air. Everything is going to be OK. I take another sip of coffee and pause in my self-congratulatory thoughts as I detect something rough on my tongue with that last sip. I reach up to extract and hold it in front of my eyes for examination.

It’s a dead spider. Drowned in sweet, milky brown elixir.

…and what do I do?

I freak out.

I am such a chicken shit.


SACRAMENTO, CA-

There was a time when my little sister, Kati, and I were practically inseparable.

Kati loved coming to my house because she got all of the attention. There weren’t seven other kids battling for love and affection. Just her and me.

Rebeccaadler34

Kati spent holidays at my house. I made here green eggs and green milk for St. Patrick’s Day. Donald and I would make Easter egg hunts just for her. She had her own Christmas stocking hanging up at our house.

It wasn’t that my parents didn’t want Kati around. Kati just didn’t want to be around them. My family’s house was always in turmoil. My parents were always fighting. The kids were constantly battling against each other. And Kati, being the smallest, was often lost in the fray.

There were more than a few times when Kati asked if Donald and I would adopt her, but I always declined. I told her she wouldn’t have as much fun with us if we were her real parents because I’d make her do her homework and go to bed early.

No, it was much better this way. I got to be the fun big sister who dressed up like a ballerina with her (sorry no pictures). I stayed up late making her ice cream sundaes and reading her Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I wouldn’t let her watch the movie until after we’d read the book).

One other thing I remember about my years hanging out with Kati was her birthdays.

Rebeccaadler34c

Our family has never been big on birthdays. My mom always said if she let one of us have a birthday party then all of us would want a birthday party. And in my house that amounted to a birthday party almost every month, sometimes twice in one month.

It just wasn’t happening.

But Kati always got a special birthday when I was around. For her third birthday I invited all of my friends out to dinner as though it was my own birthday. We just went to some little diner and I didn’t expect it to be too big of a deal.

But it was. Everybody brought her gifts and balloons and cards. And the waitress brought here a huge sundae with sparklers. And everybody sang Happy Birthday to her.

I don’t know if she even remembers that now. It was quite a long time ago.

The last birthday I got to spend with her was her ninth birthday (the one pictured above).

I had returned from France just three days prior. But I had promised Kati I’d make her birthday special. I got my other sister, Jess, in on the plan. We decorated my apartment. Set up a karaoke machine and invited both Kati’s and my friends over to celebrate. It wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, but I think Kati still had fun.

About a year later my family moved to Idaho, taking Kati with them. Every year after I’ve told Kati I’ll come visit her for her birthday, but I’ve never been able to make it. I’ve missed three of her birthdays now.

Kati and I had grown apart a bit anyway. I’d been gone in France for eight months and I think she felt a bit abandoned. Also, I stopped having her over as often because my parents blamed me for Kati’s not being baptized.

In the Mormon religion children don’t get baptized until they’re eight years old, ostensibly because they want people to make their own decision as to whether they believe and want to be a member of the church.

As you’ll soon see, this isn’t actually the case.

Kati had put hers off for the first year, saying she wanted to wait until I got home from France. It was a good strategy for her. She got to deflect the attention to me. My dad called me up in Paris and said, “Kati isn’t getting baptized because of you.”

That’s what he said.

He asked me to talk to her, to plead with her to get baptized before she turned nine. I told him it wasn’t that big of a deal and he could schedule it for the month I returned.

I thought Kati really did want to get baptized. I thought she just wanted to wait until I was there for it.

But several months later Kati still wasn’t baptized.


I thought it was just my parents being irresponsible as usual. After all, I wasn’t baptized until I was almost nine too. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my parents just never bothered to schedule it and send out the invitations.

So why were my parents so concerned this time?

Well, it turns out that Kati flat out told them no. She said she wasn’t getting baptized.

Now the pressure was on.

One Sunday evening I went to raid my parents pantry for groceries. When I arrived I was surprised to find my dad and Kati in the living room with two missionaries while the rest of the family seemed to be hiding out in the kitchen.

“What’s Kati doing in there with the missionaries?” I asked.

“They’re trying to make her get baptized.” my brother told me.

“What do you mean? Of course she’s going to get baptized,” I said.

“No, she won’t,” my brother said. “They come here nearly every week and every week she tells them no.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep.”

At this point I went searching for my mom, who was hiding out like everyone else.

She told me the missionaries came twice a month, but Kati wasn’t budging.

People, this is a nine-year-old kid. Children do not tell adults no. They do what everyone else does. And in our family and our circle of friends, everyone else gets baptized.

After this I was intrigued by my sister and her strength to stand up for what she, in this case, doesn’t believe.

Of course, although my heart was swelling with pride, I didn’t tell her that. It would for sure be my fault if I encouraged her on this path.

Moving on…

Today Kati is 12 years old. She’s made it more than four years without getting baptized, even after my parents moved her to Utah last summer.

The missionaries continued to come while they lived in Idaho.

And Kati continued to tell them no.

Every so often, when I called my mother, and trying to not sound eager, I would inquire about Kati and the missionaries.

Exasperated, my mom would say, “The missionaries still come on Sundays. Your dad won’t tell them to leave her alone.”

This week though two of my sisters came to visit and I found out that my mom finally put her foot down.

The story as relayed to me by my sister:

The bishop of their new ward came to my parents with Kati’s church records.

“There seems to be a problem with your daughter’s records,” he said.

“No, there’s no problem,” my mom said.

“Well, it says here that she’s not baptized yet,” he persists.

“Yes. That’s not a mistake,” my mom says.

“Oh, well…”

“No. That’s the way she wants it and that’s the way it’s going to stay. If you send even one missionary to our house I’m going to leave the church for good. I will not allow any of my children to step foot in this church again. Got it?”

And the missionaries have stopped coming.


UPDATE, November 2009: I just learned, via Facebook, that Kati is getting baptized. Apparently all the church had to do was give her some space.