I've taken one trip to the earthquake zone. I accompanied a group of journalists from Muslim countries on what was dubbed a "Muslim Media Tour." It's as if the State Dept. is treading water in a new ocean, wondering what it's going to do to reach out to Muslims and the Muslim world, and decides to build a boat. Without any materials in sight. Too often it seems like it's just trying to make friends on the cheap.
This trip was not cheap, though, as in were flown in two Moroccans, a Malaysian, a Philippina, and an added on Kuwaiti who was already in Islamabad. The Philippina was not actually Muslim, but anyway. A nice group, though emotionally hampered by the failure of the luggage of three of the group to arrive until their last day. I was tempted to think this might increase the sensitivity to the plight of people who had lost everything and were living in extremely difficult conditions, but decided that was a bit unfair, even though I'd been living out of a suitcase for the past 5 weeks and sleeping on sofas.
The highlight of the tour was a trip up to Muzaffarabad, which is the center of operations for earthquake relief. It's a helo flight of about 30 minutes from Chaklala Air Force Base in Rawalpindi. The scenery is beautiful, and I suspect in the summer months it's luscious. With the approach of winter, much of the mountains are camel-brown, backed by the higher peaks which have snow.
We flew with a crew from the Australian military. Their Blackhawk helicopters are similar to U.S. ones, except for the picture of a boxing kangaroo on the front. It's difficult to take a boxing kangaroo seriously, though I hear they are fierce fighters (kangaroos, I don't know about the Aussies). In the late 19th century you could see men take on kangaroos in the boxing ring as part of travelling carnivals. The symbol of the boxing kangaroo was picked up by a group of Australian WWII fighter pilots for use on their planes. Boxy Roo became even more famous when the Australians won the America's Cup yacht race for the first time in 1983. Some basic info on Boxy Roo — which is my own nickname for the helos — can be found here.
I once dated a girl to whom a friend of mine and I gave the nickname "JoJo." Though the nickname was snatched fromthe first thing that came to mind one day way back when — the group KC and JoJo — it took on added significance when I discovered a t-shirt at Abercrombie & Fitch with an advert printed on it that said, "Go 3 rounds with the Champ! JoJo the boxing kangaroo." I immediately bought the shirt. This particular relationship was a struggle on most days, and kangaroo fighting, like snake fighting in the Underworld, is very scary.
In Pakistan, life can become one big segue.