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Tag Archive: "travel"

From Louvre museum, Paris to Dhan Mondi, Bangladesh, in search of beauty & justice!

Narration by: Shariq Ali
May 25, 2012
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By Shariq Ali

I was the integral part of a long queue in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum and the entrance was not open yet. This long and curved line had all the colours and shapes of ages and sizes with multi-linguistic sounds and multicultural representation of tourists from all over the world. In this bright and sunny and very pleasant morning, the curved human queue was looking like a rainbow of people in the characterless background of the tarmac of the museum courtyard. While standing there, a thought struck my mind that one day, the tarmac of geographical, nationalistic, racial and political divides will be under the feet of the rainbow people of this world. That would be a delightful and bright day. And it is worth waiting for!

That pleasant sunny morning in Paris is now more than two decades away from me, but I still remember the excitement to explore and understand the meaning of beauty in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and to see the real Venus De Milo for the first time in my life.

The breeze in the courtyard was as fresh and as young as I was at that time. The long wait did not bother me at all. The man ahead of me in the queue was an US businessman. The conversation went on a mutual footing and in a confident mode but I deliberately avoided disclosing my programme for the rest of the day.

Being single and a full-time student, I was travelling on a meagre budget. But I had enough saved Francs (the French currency before the Euro) in my wallet to buy the ticket for the museum and for the rest of the places I planned to visit that day. My haversack was heavy but manageable as it contained everything for my trip to Paris. The next step in my journey was to catch the train to leave Paris from Saint Lazare. My train was scheduled to leave Paris at two am.

I was a free man on the streets of Paris that day for about eighteen hours after leaving the hotel early that morning. Three main course heavy meals for the entire day were in my haversack. Fresh from the oven of a Parisian bakery, a very long French bread with a lot of cheese inside. It was cut into three equal pieces with an accompanying bottle of orange juice to facilitate swallowing. The plan for the afternoon siesta was on any available bench alongside the Seine River ensuring a full view of Eifel Tower and River Seine at the same time. The plan was mainly dictated by the budget than by the taste.

That day in Paris, the main and the reverberating theme of my thoughts, all day, were beauty and justice. What is beauty? Does it have anything to do with justice? Why do some societies and doctrines encourage both and some seem to behave in the totally opposite direction?

A young mind was asking difficult questions. Perhaps it is a norm for the insecure beings on the streets and for those who are hungry to ask difficult questions!

After so many years after that morning in Paris, the same topic emerged once again in our conversation. This time, it was a very pleasant evening in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and all four of us, me, Tom, Shobha and Redouane, the members of the Interburns team, were walking alongside the lake in Dhan Mondi and none of us was hungry or insecure and not even very young now (sadly!), but surprisingly, we all were still discussing and struggling to answer the same difficult question which I asked myself in Paris about twenty years ago.

We all came to Bangladesh from different corners of the world and this evening`s agenda was to be part of an evening organised by our working partner in Bangladesh, the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF). We arrived to the venue twenty minutes earlier than the event and hence decided to enjoy this pleasant walk and the philosophical talk before the official start of the evening.

The chief organizer of this event was Monira Rahman. She is the Executive Director of ASF. Monira is an extremely enthusiastic Interburns colleague and a very decent human being. She is a very close friend to all of us.  Personally, she is so close to me it is as if she is just like my real sister. And I always feel so proud whenever she calls me Shariq Bhaiya in her very pleasant Bangladeshi accent!

Monira`s passionate journey started in her country Bangladesh, when she saw a girl whose face had been destroyed by a man throwing acid. She was shocked and very angry. But she is the kind of person who knows how to channel her anger constructively in order to serve a noble cause. Since then, she and her organisation, ASF, have fought non-stop to save girls – and boys – who have been the victims of attacks using acid or petrol dousing. And the great thing about her struggle is that Monira and ASF have managed to half the number of acid attacks (50% reduction) in Bangladesh and their success has been statistically proven.
Above is a memorable picture of a proud brother with two heroic sisters from India and Bangladesh. Shobha`s noble contribution to humanity deserves another story in future. Monira has received many international awards of high repute including a Human Rights Award from Amnesty International in 2005 for her courageous fight to put an end to acid and petrol violence in Bangladesh.

The evening was attended by the dignitaries, politicians, human rights workers, writers and intellectuals, the members of the general public and most of all, by a large number of acid survivors. It was an open air arena and a perfect place for such an event. Proceedings included speeches, songs, cultural dances and music, freeing of balloons and candle lighting in support of the struggle against this heinous crime.

Acid violence has been common for some time, but before ASF established in 1999 with Monira as its Executive Director, this issue was not recognized as a matter of violation of human rights. In the organisation’s early years, there was more than one acid attack every day in Bangladesh. Today, there are only half as many attacks. But the goal is for no-one – no child, no girl, no woman and no man – to be attacked with acid or petrol by the year 2015. ASF helps survivors to live an active life, with dignity. They not only provide legal and humanitarian support, but also offer plastic surgery to them, if necessary.

Most of those affected are girls, but women, boys and men are also attacked. Often young girls are attacked with acid for spurning a marriage or love offer. Attacks on men, but also on women, often arise out of disputes over land. Many young children are attacked because they were sleeping with their mother, some babies are acid attacked by their father because of being girls.

A very important thing to note that evening was that the survivors themselves are the greatest activists against this kind of violence. ASF is dedicated to raising awareness and preventing acid attacks and providing survivors with medical and legal aid. Interburns provides the educational and training support to the ASF medical staff and team members.

According to Human Rights Watch, domestic violence in Bangladesh is “a daily reality for many women”. This is true for the entire developing world including my own country Pakistan. Having such a mission is truly noble and ASF, Bangladesh, has shown tremendous success in significantly reducing the incidence of Acid Violence in Bangladesh.

We all were very proud to be part of that evening in Dhan Mondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh and showing our solidarity with the victims of acid violence and celebrating the great success ASF has achieved in its on-going struggle. It was a real honour to stand side by side with the acid survivors in their commitment and struggle for dignity and justice. By singing the songs together and holding their hands that evening, and lighting the candles of hope together, we affirmed that we are honoured to be part of this noble struggle for human rights.

While sitting in that open air arena in Dhan Mondi that day, I realized that beauty and justice goes hand in hand. Beauty may apparently seem only the matter of pleasure to the mind or senses. But in actual fact, it is not only the harmony of form or shape or colour and its aesthetic balance but, in its most powerful form, it is the intrinsic human sense of upholding what is just!

Without the principle of moral rightness in action in our attitudes and without the conformity to truth, fact, and sound reasoning as individuals and societies, we will never be able to achieve or preserve the excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality. Beauty and justice go hand in hand!

Acknowledgement: Most pics are original in this write-up but few pictures used are borrowed from the freely downloadable picture websites to suit the description.  Author is grateful and acknowledges the contribution of the original work by these websites.

A passion to give the Mount Everest

Narration by: Shariq Ali
April 14, 2012
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The brave journey of Greg Healey

Narration by: Shariq Ali

Greg was alone in his temporarily erected tent in the first base camp to Mount Everest. He was still awake that night in his sleeping bag which was placed higher up than any of the mountain in the Rockies This was his last of the fourteen acclimatization nights in this base camp which was necessary for him to spend in order to achieve the optimum body physiology to proceed further in his expedition to conquer Mount Everest.

The starry night above his tent was calm and serene. But his mind was busy reflecting about the recent past and also about the possible challenges in near future. Chomolungma, which means “Mother of the Universe” as Tibetans calls the Mount Everest, was in front of his eyes.  He felt as if his challenger, the five and a half miles above the sea level big summit, the highest in the world, has just smiled at him for few seconds. He looked inward at his passion, his inner strength as an experienced climber and at his inner core of a decent human being and then he smiled back!

 Greg had a purpose in mind and nothing could have stopped him now. He wanted to give the gift of his courage, his conquest of the big peak, to alleviate the suffering of burns victims. He was determined to conquer Mount Everest to raise funds for Interburns and other charities.

Greg is a member of the board of trustees of Interburns and for me, as one of the Co Founder of Interburns, and for the entire Interburns team, his climb was a matter of pride and he was duly treated as a hero in our recent meeting in Nepal.

It was a pleasant, slightly chilly but sunny afternoon in the suburbs of Kathmandu while Greg was telling us about his courageous expedition for the big peak. Being a very busy banker in the past and now a very successful businessman in London of an annual turn over of more than 6 million pounds, his typical working hours were 18 hours a day for six days a week. He continued on the same pace for seven years. Though he enjoyed working and learning from very successful CEOs of the business world, but then felt exhausted from this rampant pace of life for years. His life was duly asking for a change. After few months of necessary physical training in Britain, one fine morning, he found himself along with his expedition team in Kathmandu.

There are two approaches to the big peak. One is from the Tibetan or northern side which is technically easier and the other from the Nepalese or southern side. Unfortunately because of the unexpected closure of the Tibetan border, his team has to change the plan and take up the Nepalese route and then approached from the Tibetan side. The area near the first base camp is as baron as Afghanistan, he was telling us.  During acclimatization process, one has to travel about seventeen miles at least six times covering a height of more than one mile vertically and this takes strenuous 12 hours walk every day. This routine is extremely demanding physically but prepares you for the ordeal ahead.

Without careful preparation covering all aspects of the expedition and various potential dangers ahead, such an adventurous undertaking is unthinkable. Food and equipment has to be up to the mark especially in the final part of the climb when one is totally on his own and no infrastructure whatsoever is available.

During the acclimatization process walks from the first base camp, one comes across many vertically oriented icy masses. They are not looking so big in the picture but may be about 100 meters in height.

Once the team have completed the acclimatization process, we reached to the next base camp. The next camp is at the height equal to Kilimanjaro. 

One can see that even at this stage of second base camp, there is still a reasonable infrastructure in place. But once the team has to move forward from this point, the story becomes one man, one tent and one stove. It’s then ones technical ability and tolerance and strength, and that is the only infrastructure available from this point onwards.

From this base camp the team was now faced with a thousand meter vertical ice wall in front of us. It is about 12 hours hike and mostly vertical but there are zones of flatness one has to pass through.

If you look at the picture underneath carefully, you can identify black dots in the background of icy flatness. These are individual climbers in the background of this vastness.  The main battle here is mental and psychological. The mind start wandering in the vast loneliness where even continuous walking is not changing the scenery.  Keeping your mind on trek becomes as difficult as your route navigation. The other looming danger is avalanches. This region is typically avalanche prone. The patch we passed through avalanches two years ago and killed some of the local Sherpa.

After this mental battle, there are few very difficult obstacles one has to cross. One of the big killer and remarkable obstacle is to cross multiple crevices on the way. One has to cross them through self-created bridges. There is no chance available for any error. These crevices are hundreds of meters deep. You make your own bridge by joining ladders with ropes. Then you throw them hoping that these will cross over and hit a secure other end. You then also throw a rope on the other side as a fall back to hold it if the bridge breaks down.

Then you come to a climb which is extremely steep and the main problem is that you cannot stop. There is actually no place to stop as everything is so vertical even to take a sip of water. It is about eight-hour vertical climb during which time, it is even impossible to drink anything let alone having anything to eat.

Surprisingly at this point if there is no cloud in front of the sun, temperature can go as hot as 23 degree centigrade because the sunlight is reflecting on to you directly. Although the usual temperature at this point and the gear one is wearing is appropriate for minus forty. This temperature variation in itself is a huge problem at this point.

Then we finally reached to the summit ridge which is then attacked on the summit day. On the summit day, one has to take three major climbing steps each consisting of many hours climb. Second step is the most difficult one.  It is a 100 meter totally vertical climb on the icy and slippery wall. Technically it is very difficult at this altitude in a temperature of minus forty. And at this point of  the second step, my body was only fed on dehydrated food for many days. To boil a litre of water at this altitude can take two hours. And during a day, the body looses 8 to 10 litres of body fluids. Because of a continuous climbing process, one do not have time to replace the fluids and therefore I was significantly dehydrated even at the start.

At this stage of climb, seeing dead bodies of previous climbers is very common. One of a previous climber George Mallory`s body is probably very close to this second step. You have to cross this zone of death and one come across many dead bodies and sometime it is impossible to avoid stepping over them. It is obviously not easy to manage your emotions.

The summit day virtually takes about 24 hours and I took almost no food and no water and was also not slept for two days before the final two steps. Ideally one wants to complete the second step before the sunrise.  Sun rises at about 4 am at this altitude. Unfortunately I reached there at 4:30 am and I had to complete the final climb during the sunlight. This is worse because this is exposed terrain and if you look down it is about 4000 meters drop.

And the valley below you see is called rainbow valley. It is because of the colours of gears of dead and fallen climbers. This makes it an extremely emotional moment but one cannot afford emotions at this point. Because if your adrenaline pumps into your body, your oxygen consumption rises and your oxygen cylinder is your limited life line. Therefore, one has to control the emotion for a simple reason to survive.

And then finally, one gets to the top.

Surprisingly although it was the most exciting moment of my life but very soon a dreadful thought takes over the mind that now there is an extremely difficult journey ahead, back from the summit to the base camp.

The only point where I felt extremely emotional was when I was coming down the summit on my third day. I was alone in my tent in the base camp. This is the point when one actually knows that his life is now safe. Below is the picture of that moment.

Along the Nile, in search of a civilised world

Narration by: Shariq Ali
March 12, 2012
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By Shariq Ali

I was woken up suddenly by a knock at the door of my cottage in Jinja, a small town close to the source of river Nile and not far from the shores of lake Victoria. It’s about seventy-five kilometres from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda

It was a real struggle to come round so early in the morning as when I went to sleep the previous night I was totally exhausted after a 13-hour journey from London to Entebbe airport and then a further two-hour drive to Jinja. The purpose of my visit was to attend a week-long meeting of six African and seven other countries. Interburns was hosting this meeting and being one of the Co Founders, I arrived a day earlier to make sure that the necessary arrangements of this retreat were in place.

The knock on the door was gentle but repeated. After about a minute of listless denial and resistance, I finally accepted the bitter reality that I must leave the bed and answer the knock.  When I opened the cottage door, to my surprise, there was no one outside. The fresh morning breeze took no time to freshen me up and I stepped down from the small front balcony on to the small glistening grassy patch in front of my cottage. I saw nothing except a lone nine feet tall tree covered with a fresh generation of newly emerged green leaves.

Suddenly, I discovered them. They were comfortably sitting on one of the horizontally oriented branches of this tree.  Young bright green leaves were utterly unsuccessful to hide these three almost similar size monkeys. One of them was staring at me and showing his teeth with a meaningful smile. All of them had an inquisitive glow in their eyes.

Last night when I arrived here, it was almost to pitch dark to make out any details about the surroundings. But even then, the overwhelming sound of the flowing Nile in the background was the most striking feature of this resort. The morning breeze was very fresh and now, I was fully awake – thanks to my monkey friends – to explore the surroundings.

The view was joyfully inviting and beautiful. I looked around and the first few steps of a four thousand miles long journey of River Nile was in front of me. I started to walk along gently. I was in no rush as there were about two hours still remaining for me to be ready for the breakfast meeting. But it took me few minutes to draw its attention towards me.

The seasoned and very wise river was in its full flow and appeared very self contented and not interested in conversation. As we walked along together for a little while, it seemed to have somehow recognised the similarity between us. The on and on flow of its waves was no different than the unending stream of thoughts in my mind. This commonality soon brought us together and we started to chat.

The river asked me “why are you here for?” I replied “to build bridges across the global disparity in healthcare. I am here as the part of a global team of burns specialists. You may call us dreamers! We are here for five days of meetings of experts representing six African and three South East Asian countries from one side of the divide of our current polarised global healthcare system and the experts from US, Canada and UK from the other.

Though we have all agreed to build bridges across this divide of global injustice which is causing deaths and suffering of millions of innocent people, the struggle now is to formulate plans and strategies to succeed in our mission.

Then I asked the river, And why are you here? ”The river smiled and replied “ Exactly for the same purpose. I’ve been here for so many thousands of years, to build bridges” I said, “But apparently you look like more of a natural divide than a bridge to me, especially when I saw you from the aeroplane” It smiled and said “But the world is not what it appears from above. I will share my story of building bridges with you.

Thousands of years ago, people were scattered as individuals in deep jungle. They were the slaves of their survival, imprisoned in their own personal needs. They learned nothing but cruelty from the surrounding harsh environment. Survival for the fittest remained their guiding principle. People from one side of the river looked at the people on the other side with suspicion and fear. They were obsessed only about their own survival. It was their jungle instinct. This feeling of persistent threat kept them separated from each other and they remained lonely.

I felt the pain in my heart for them and decided to move forward with the help of love. I thought they needed to know how to communicate with each other and how to build bridges. My waters then flooded the banks across the jungle and deserts alongside both edges and converted it into a fertile land. They responded with their intrinsic human goodness and intelligence. Very soon they learned to grow abundant food and created shelters for themselves. Soon, they left the lonely and savage life of jungle and became a community. They developed new skills and learned to explore their environment. Finally they achieved a breakthrough of access to their emotions. They created words and very soon mastered the art of weaving them together into language. This enhanced their strength of exploration and discovery into themselves and in their environment.

 One day, a few of them, a handful of dreamers like you all, discovered something very powerful within their hearts. The power of love and goodness which is the driving force for humanity, in fact, the universe. These emotions emancipated them from fear and suspicion about each other. They found the courage and willingness to build bridges across the apparent divide of my flow. They brought their canoes of determination together and tied them with the ropes of their faith in human goodness and created a bridge of compassion and love.

And that was the happiest day of my life. I felt as if the purpose of my existence is served that day. Although I knew that there were many oceans dividing this world, but I also knew that now they have learned the process to overcome it. By using the same principles and same skills, they can cross any divide. The power of communication will help them to overcome all the differences. They will become mature and start thinking harmoniously. And finally, they will be able to love each other. Remember, communication is the key. Talking to each other and becoming friends is miraculous and it is the most powerful way of building bridges.

I said to the Nile “I did not know that you are also a dreamer like us. We have the same dreams and hopes and desires that our world must learn to live and learn and love together. We need to learn to build bridges in the face of global healthcare disparities. This global injustice in healthcare is resulting in tragic deaths and disabilities of millions of innocent people. This suffering because of the burns injuries, trauma and disparity of global health care and inaccessibility of essential medicines must come to an end. In order to become a civilized world, we must now learn to cross the oceans divide.

The Nile said to me, I think you are right. When I look at the present day world, on the one hand I feel proud that they have achieved remarkable success over thousands of years, but on the other hand, it breaks my heart when I see them forgetting the lessons of harmony I taught them through history. They seem to sometimes forget that together they did defeat the scarcity and achieved abundance.

Let’s be together in our hopes that one day, people of this world will identify their intrinsic compassion for each other and the power of goodness. They will be able to overcome the divide of race, religion, colour and creed. They will finally learn the universal language of love. And there will be new songs and unheard melodious music in the air. That day, all of us will join the dance of global harmony together.

Useful Links:

http://www.interburns.org/

http://bpa.uoftplasticsurgery.ca/main.php?p=1617

acknowledgement: we are grateful for few images from the free access internet websites

Nepalese magic of leadership!

Narration by: Shariq Ali
June 6, 2011
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Dear Readers,

Being involved in Educational Workshops globally, I come across a lot of amazing people from all over the world. Our Interburns Leadership retreats and courses provide us a great opportunity to meet the real global leaders especially in lower and middle income (LMIC) countries and we mutually learn lessons of life from each other.

Shankar was one of the participant in our recently held retreat in Sylhut. There are many lessons to learn from his story.

I thought, its worth sharing it with all of you…

Dr Shankar Man Rai has established a surgical outreach team in Nepal with the help of US-based humanitarian organizations.He has helped gain treatment for more than 5,000 patients since 1992, many of them are children with cleft lips or palates or burns.

Shankar  is the son of a Nepalese army soldier and brother to four Gurkha Brigade soldiers who paid his way through school. Rai was the first in his family to receive an education as a boy. He hiked two hours every day at 6,000-foot elevations from his remote village to the nearest school.

Today, it still requires a three-day walk from his village to reach the nearest road and 18-hour bus ride to make it to Katmandu. But in the late 1970s, when Rai left home to go to college and then medical school in the Nepalese capital, he walked the entire way. It took 14 days, he says.

Shankar’s rural origins are the source of his dedication to the poor. Rai is a very modest man, but he has done incredible things in Nepal.Shankar says he spends two or three days a week visiting rural hospitals, performing surgeries and rounding up patients at clinics outside of Katmandu in 52 of the 75 Nepalese districts that remain open to travel. Because of his links with Global Humanitarian organization, Rai helps pay for the parents of postoperative children to come and stay at the district centers for extended speech and physiotherapy.

Shankar and his team are opening a small unit for Burn Care in Nepal. He has asked for the Interburns help. We are proud to help him. He along with some members of his team are due to go to Indore, our Interburns Training Centre for the SE Asia region, for a brief observational trip and training for his staff. Attached are some pics of Shankar (see above).

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