Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day Three in Pakistan: October 5, Preparing to March

Continued from Day Two in Pakistan: October 4 Press Conference - JoAnne Lingle reporting on the Code Pink "Stop the Drones!" delegation to Pakistan.

FRIDAY, October 5, 2012

9:00 Debrief - rumors begin to fly high and low warning us not to go on the Peace March. We heard from the Embassy's American Citizen Services head security guy that there were credible sources we might be attacked. He said he wanted to help us in any way he could; however, when asked about the sources, he said he couldn't reveal them. A different answer would have surprised us.

10:00 - Visit to U Meed-e-Noor Orphanage (Hope and Enlightenment) - center for special needs children. This orphanage cares for 68 special needs children, ages from infants to early twenties. Services offered at U Meed-e-Noor include occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy and language development.

The children suffer from a host of impairments including hearing loss, Autism, stammering, Down's Syndrome, Dyslexia, Cerebral Palsy, Polio, Muscular Dystrophy, Muscular Skeletal and Neuro-Muscular Disorders.

As we visited the classrooms, we were amazed at the visual and tactile aids available for the children - even Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street books in English! As the children matched colors, letters and sounds, it was a joy to watch them when they picked the correct one and the teacher gave them a High-Five.

A list of the orphanage's partners included the Embassy of Japan, Korea, The High Commission of Canada, UNICEF, Austrian Development Agency, British High Commission. Notably absent on the list were the U.S. Embassy, USAID or other U.S. organizations.

11:00 - Scouting for a public venue for a one-day Fast to be held after the Peace March in memory of children killed by drone strikes. This turned out to be quite an adventure! Our plan was to get as close as possible to the U.S. Embassy. It took some time to discover that this was not to be. Our bus tried every road leading to the U.S. compound. Several hours passed before we realized we were stuck at a checkpoint with Pakistani soldiers not allowing us to go forward or backward since it was now after Friday prayers. Turns out, we were stuck by containers protecting the U.S. compound. These containers were like those overturned the previous Friday during riots in response to the infamous film.

While the Pakistani soldiers continued making phone calls to get permission to free us from our predicament, we noticed children in a field flying kites. Not to miss an opportunity to connect with kids and have some fun, we got off the bus. Just when we were enjoying ourselves with the kids, a call came from the Embassy, inviting us to the compound.

Upon reaching the Embassy , we were told by security, "Don't get off the bus!!" Pleading to use the restrooms, we hopped off to use the outside facilities; then we scattered to take photos in front of the Embassy complete with security personnel.

For all the obvious reasons, we scratched the Embassy as a place for our Fast.

2:30 - At the Hotel: Jennifer Gibson, of the Stanford research team - Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan, spoke to our delegation. We were to appreciate, much later during the Peace March, the tremendous help she was to us.

Jennifer brought seven drone victims from Waziristan to tell their stories. We listened as we heard about their every day terror - how collaborators put chips on door steps to mark victims, causing distrust in communities. Because drones usually attack groups of people, Waziris are afraid to go to funerals and weddings. Most family compounds consist of 60-70 people so when a drone hits, many are killed.

After a drone strike, several more follow, keeping rescuers from the scene. Children are suffering from depressions and are afraid to go outside to play or go to school. In one month, there have been 17 suicides because of tension from living under drones. Families have even stopped sitting together.

5:30 - Rally and Candlelight Vigil at Jennah Market with PTI Students: This was a great opportunity to rally with young people. Our Code Pink delegation carried banners and signs: No Drones! When Drones Fly, Children Die! We are Delegates for Peace!

CNN was among the many TV and print media. Reza Sayah, CNN correspondent, asked my opinion about mainstream media which led to a lively discussion. He said the interview would air in the U.S. that night around 9pm. We saw it in Pakistan at midnight. Reza gave me his card and asked that I call him when we get back from the Peace March. I did - more about that later.

Continued at: Days Four/Five in Pakistan: To the Tribal Areas!

Read the full story of JoAnne Lingle's participation in the Code Pink peace delegation to Pakistan.

For more photos see the Code Pink delegation photo site.

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