Letter from the Road #50

Path of the Friend

Elias Amidon


Pakistan: Helping Ourselves

In a few weeks the vast floods that are sweeping through Pakistan will draw back. Then, when the rain has stopped and people begin to return to their land and the places they live, imagine what they will find.

No crops, no livestock, no electricity, no clean water, no food, broken roads and bridges, the ruins of houses and barns, mud everywhere, household belongings useless, sodden mattresses caught in the trees.

I wonder if I was one of these people, if my family was among these people, could I bear it? What would I do?

Who Knows Who I am?
Elizabeth and I were in Pakistan a few months ago when I was invited to give a talk at a conference on “Sufism and Peace” sponsored by the Pakistan Academy of Letters. The intention of the conference was to show the “softer side” of Islam, its heart of love and mutual caring.

Though we hear a lot about Pakistani religious fundamentalism and militancy, the vast majority of the population honor the message of kindness that has been expressed by Sufis in this region for centuries. Pakistan is dotted with shrines of Sufi saints and mystic poets, and their poetry is remembered and recited everywhere by school children, shopkeepers, farmers and academics.

Being the only American to speak at this conference didn’t give me much credibility, so I began my talk by reciting a few lines from their beloved 18th century Punjabi Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah. I will never forget the change that came over the audience when I said the first line, in which Bulleh Shah addresses himself:

Bulleh! kijaana me kaun?

Everyone knew it! The audience laughed and repeated the line after me! It means:

Who knows who I am?

And it continues:

Not wrapped in belief in a mosque
nor caught in anyones rituals,
not someone pure amongst the impure,
neither Moses nor Pharoah –
Bulleh! Who knows who I am?

The audience loved it – that this American would ask Bulleh’s question of himself, and remind them to ask it of themselves – who knows who we are? After the talk I was thanked dozens of times and asked to repeat Bulleh’s words on two television interviews.

Helping Out
Looking back now I feel the tender self-effacement and empathy of that question: who knows who I am? We are here, where we are, reading these words, and we are also here in our flooded dooryard, the pools of brown water just ankle-deep now, surveying the scene of our ruined lives.

Perhaps we can lend a hand to ourselves. Perhaps we can give a little help to ourselves as we pull the mattress out of the tree.

In Islamabad Elizabeth met with the director of Sungi Development Foundation, a Pakistan non-profit relief organization, and visited one of their programs. They are doing wonderful work in both disaster relief and grassroots development. Sungi works with very low overhead and they have a great system for getting urgent supplies to people in the far reaches of the country. As you will see in their appeal below, they account for every rupee they receive.

There is so much need in our world – it certainly is not all ours to do. However if you are feeling moved to help the Pakistani people, a donation to Sungi would be well directed. We are personally giving what we can.

Please visit Sungis website and their appeal for donations. You may donate to them directly by wire transfer (details are on their website). www.sungi.org.

If it would be helpful for you to receive a tax-deduction (U.S.) on your donation, we have set up a special fund at the Boulder Institute (Path of the Friend) through which you can do so. We will transfer 100% of your donation to Sungi, and we will send you a receipt for U.S. tax purposes.

Donations can be made on-line at our website www.pathofthefriend.org or by sending a check by mail. If you donate on-line, please be sure where it says Program Designation to mark the box entitled Pakistan Flood Relief Sungi.

Whatever you feel moved to do, we ask you to please forward this appeal along to someone you know who is looking for a way to help.

After all, who knows who we are?

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