Not in Chitral, please

By Maureen Lines [caption id="attachment_1787" align="alignleft" width="260" caption="Maureen Lines"][/caption] “When your work is in Chitral, why do you have your office in Peshawar?” Reasonable enough question, especially coming from a foreigner or even a Peshawarite. A Chitrali, perhaps, might have some understanding. My Chitrali driver, Afzal, rented out to me an itty bitty house on the edge of his compound. It had two very small rooms, a latrine and a postage stamp sized garden. One room had plastic  sheets holding up the ceiling and in the middle of the floor was a small kerosene stove. The other room, larger and more strongly built, became my bedroom. Save the Children donated me a metal filing cabinet, metal shelving, a desk and a bench which I still have. Afzal gave me a couple of chairs and his teenage daughter became my filing clerk and accountant. I was in business. I had no phone, no typewriter (this was before the days of the internet) or fax machine, but I was definitely in business. In the evenings, I enjoyed sitting outside on the small scrap of cement edging the grass, watching the sun’s last rays on the mountain ridges. There was, however, one slight problem — scorpions! They were both very big and numerous. Every night, we had the scorpion patrol. Afzal would bring down his brother or sons and they would hose down the mud brick walls and the cement path. For two winters and one summer, I ‘enjoyed’ my office, albeit in the winter I had to share the filing cabinet with a nest of mice. But, when one early summer’s day, I came in from outside and a large green snake slithered from the roof over my shoulder, I called it quits. All was not lost as Afzal rented me a small house inside his compound; some time later, I bought a computer and installed a telephone but… the lack of electricity, the overloaded telephone network, the deterioration and unreliability of PIA and the Lowari closing every December until spring, made running an office very difficult. In the year, 2010, after my mother died and I sold our modest house in the UK, I rented a property in University Town, Peshawar, for the express purpose of having a viable office at last. Although my home has always been Birr, I could no longer put up with the constant difficulties and irregularities of running my office, which constantly afflicted the Chorales. They are, to quote their own words, second class citizens. A few bureaucrats, whom I know, will respond quickly to an SOS, if it is in their power to do so, but why should people live on an emergency basis? At the moment the telephones do not work, now DSL can be added to the list, electricity can be off for weeks at a time, so mobiles are useless as are the wireless loop. Some years, there have been water shortages. (There are now promises of power stations and water projects.) Floods also take their toll on agricultural land, property and lives. If all this was not enough, if one wishes to escape down country, one has to negotiate either the Lowari Pass or the unfinished tunnel. Ah, the tunnel, that famous or should I say notorious tunnel! Those people who do not know me or who are just plain idiots (in the same way hostile fools say I wish to keep the Kalash in the stone age), say that I do not wish for Chitral to be put on the map and that I am against the tunnel. No, I am not against the tunnel, I am against the stupidity of the engineers who chose that exact location, the enormous amount of money spent (and wasted) and the length of time it has taken. No country in Europe would allow the tunnel to remain in its present appalling condition. There is still no lighting. Water, although less than last year, when my vehicle rode through huge troughs, is still dripping from the roof and making large pools. The tunnel entrance on the Dir side has a very visible earthquake fault showing on its rounded arch. That and water sediment led one American geologist to tell me, many years ago, that the tunnel was not a viable proposition. On the Chitral side its location at Zirrat defies all logic. Already a number of scouts lost their lives in an avalanche a few years back: an engineer, some buildings and equipment were swept away by floods on another occasion. Eventually, someone realised that maybe it was not such a good location, especially as it was still in the zone of heavy snow. When vehicles came out of the tunnel, immediately they were bogged down. Now wisdom has prevailed and another entrance has been built lower down, beyond the area of heavy snowfall. It is hoped that the Provincial government will make this project a priority and forget the endless environmental degrading flyovers.–Dawn  ]]>

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