Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dera Ismail Khan - Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

As i have begun to do some travelling in the rural parts of Pakistan, i have come to realize that more often than not what you experience from these visits is a lot different from what your perceptions were. Earlier this month, i had the opportunity to be in Dera Ismail Khan and it was an incredibly pleasing experience. It was a work related visit and i was to visit on of our partner NGOs active in that region called FIDA. In particular to visit a handful of biogas plants that were built with RSPN support in 2007.

We got there in the evening after a 5 hour drive from Islamabad passing through Mianwali and the Chashma Barrage and in DI Khan we were graciously assisted in finding our way to the FIDA guest house by the local towns. Its a small city and directions are inevitably given with reference to the nearest petrol station to the destination. Cell phones are jammed in the city for the past 12 months due to suicide bombings and other terrorist activities. The city is not far from the hills and plains of Waziristan where terrorism is supposedly abundant. You would assume that gun carrying, bearded men with vile looks would be the most common thing in the streets. However i was surprised to see women freely moving around by themselves in the city and no gun-toting person to be found.

The first person to meet us there was a local person possibly linked to intelligence agencies and working on counter terrorism activities. The Fida staff prepared for us some delicious 'Sohbat', a local dish of flat bread and chicken eaten traditionally by all from a single large dish. The weather was surprisingly pleasant and we actually got to sleep under the stars on the charpais which was very relaxing and a good change.

We had a hearty breakfast and a really invigorating discussion with an ex-police officer who spoke of his efforts in making the city a better place by exposing eliminating druglords and other thugs from the area. We then set out to see the biogas plants in UC Mandra which is a small island in the Indus River. The boat ride was fantastic and gave me an opportunity to devour some local watermelons. The plants, despite the lack of supervision or quality control were in good working condition and the households were very glad when we helped fix some of the underlying problems.

Another area we visited was in UC Karai which seemed to be staunch supporters of religious zealots with a not so handsome reputation. Nevertheless, all but one of the plants were in good shape and we were happy to see that 3 year old plants were successfully running in the area.

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