10

day

2011

year

Author: Michael Champion

Waheed, Sabar (the driver) and I go shopping for essential items in the morning. We return to the same market we always go to; it is still bustling but because I am in local clothing and I can make basic conversation in Urdu I find it far less threatening. In fact, I am getting used to the culture and I am fitting in well.

I have organised a tour of two facilities today; they are both owned by Khaqan and Saleha Khawaja. One is a General Hospital giving free and subsidised treatments to the poor, the other is a Dental hospital of the same ilk. The General Hospital is in Rawalpindi – a major city adjoined to Islamabad; the area is dirt poor and many of the houses are clay huts with corrugated tin roofs, I see a beggar with twisted legs shuffling along the road with the help of his hands. We are driven straight to the front door and are received by the Chief Executive, several professors and doctors, its as if it were a Royal visit. The hospital, by British standards, is antiquated, crowded, and dirty. The Chief Executive takes us to every department including radiology, labour, dental, laboratory, blood bank, operating theatre, sterilisation etc. Even though each facility has only one room, the hospital has one hundred beds. Zakia, who has joined us, tells me that this place is remarkably cleanly; the government hospitals for the poor are so bad you have to wear a facemask to stop yourself fainting from the stench.

The Dental Hospital is actually part of another business they own called the Margalla College of Health Sciences. They have 320 students all being taught dentistry alone, paying privately and no doubt, contributing to the success of the subsided Hospitals. Admittedly, within the context of similar Pakistani ventures, I found the facilities here impressive. They employ several of the country’s leading dentists; one I spoke to was trained at Edinburgh University. The equipment is as good as any you would see in a British Practice too. I am successful in getting them to donate two wheel chairs and three beds for the Noon Bagla BHU and after the high profile tour with our entourage of cameramen and lakhees with pads, we leave for lunch.

Saleha books us a table at the Pearl Continental Rawalpindi. We go to the Chinese cuisine restaurant and despite being closing time, they keep it open especially because she has asked.

Finally, we drive to Zakia’s house for tea and biscuits. The conversation in amicable and Khaqan shows me the hand gun he carries around for personal protection. It is a 9mm Taurus and he always leaves the safety off in case he needs to use it quickly. I take out the magazine, cock it and practice. He asks me what gun I have with me and I tell him none. He then asks if I have a security detail and what guns they carry. When I tell him I do not have a security detail he speaks with Saleha and Zakia in Urdu for ten minutes; he is obviously under the impression I should carry a gun, the others obviously think he is overreacting.

Later that night I ask Waheed if he thinks I should buy a gun and he is emphatic that I shouldn’t. The village is a community and they will all be looking out for my welfare. The BHU has a guard called Bashir who will be acting as my nightime security anyway; but he says it is on the honour of the village to make sure I have a comfortable and enjoyable time. I ask him about hunting in Noon Bagla and he tells me there isn’t any. I am surprised and so I ask if there are any tigers, he replies “no”. Any bears? Not that he’s seen. Elephants? Only in India. Any deer? Never reported. Wild pigs, rabbits even? “No Mr Michael, but there are plenty of rats.”

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