The second trip to the EQ zone was to the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). This time I boarded a UN shuttle flight. Helicopters are fast becoming a fun way to travel for me. Somehow they seem less prone to accident, though the opposite is in fact true. This UN helo was a Ukrainian bird, piloted by two Ukrainians. One had a habit of smoking precariously close to the fuel tanks of the chopper, and the other smiled beneath his mustache and greeted us at each destination. "Welcome to Abbottabad. We will be here 10 minutes," he would say cheerfully as he exited the cockpit.
On board were a mix of UN and NGO types, and a few Pakistanis, mostly from the military. It seemd to me that the Pakistanis and I were least used to flying on a helicopter. We looked out the windows during most of the trip, while the UN folks dozed, put on iPods (there's a press release for Apple — Think Different, Think Earthquake Relief), and chatted in English with different accents. After years of laboring under a false assumption — that these things I've been doing are somehow ordinary — I finally got it…I was experiencing something that not many people get to do. And I could see with clarity that being an NGO relief worker, or hopping from disaster to disaster is just another probably addicting career that represents the pinnacle of achievement for some.
We arrived in Mansehra, where our Officer in Charge waited for us with one of the other journalists who would be going up to the village of Rouban with us. Unfortunately, the UN received word that there was a security threat in Rouban, and cancelled the aid delivery flights. Some tribal elder had called and told the UN that he wanted the helo flights to land in a spot different than where we were supposed to go and said that he had 30-40 armed people. So a little chest beating by a village elder lead to no one in Rouban getting relief supplies. Wonderful.
What to do with our two journalists then? We decided to go to the village of Battal Dab, about an hour outside of Mansehra with CGI sheeting, stoves, and blankets. Our driver rocked, and we made it in record time. Battal Dab is nothing to write home about. But as always, the kids were both friendly and shy, the men stared yet still lined up to receive goods, and the oldest men observed and directed. Our boots and fluffy jackets contrasted with the chappals that most people wore, even in the mud and snow. One young boy was very helpful, guiding me through the mud and dirt. I gave him my brown/blue cap as I was leaving. Designer Paul Smith is now in Battal. The boy hid the cap under his shawl, so that the other kids wouldn't take it from him.