Pakistan: A country of contrasts

In the few days that I've spent in Pakistan, I've been treated to some startling contrasts: the relative modernity of Islamabad with the crumbing houses and desperate conditions of Ahmedoon; the mild afternoon of Quetta that quickly turns cold when the sun dips behind the Koh-Murdar Mountains; a day of chilly, wet weather in Muzaffarabad that is followed by summer-like temperatures the next.

The contrast is most noticeable in the voices I've heard. The hopeful tones of the dozen women sitting in a semi-circle, huddled over hand-cranked sewing machines that they are using for the first time, gave way to the worried voices of earthquake survivors, who fear their children won't survive the winter in flimsy cotton tents.

It's been hard to get a good grip on the real Pakistan. I've been moving through the country so quickly - running from the north to the south in a mere three days, meeting beneficiaries and making field visits along the way.

The biggest thing that has stood out so far is the contrasts - most recently the freshly paved road that winds through the hills outside Islamabad and ends in the piles of rubble that once were homes to upwards of 30 people.

Late last month, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, killing 150 people, injuring hundreds more and razing thousands of buildings.

At the end of the paved road I met the residents of Ahmedoon - one of the areas affected most by the tremor - who were feeling the same contradiction I saw that day. Earlier that afternoon, Pakistan's prime minister presented a check for 500,000 rupees to be spent on the recovery efforts.

"We have no way to take this to the higher authorities," said village elder Nazir Ahmed between sips of sweet black tea. "What happened to us is God's will, and we have to work towards tomorrow. But we need shelter today and we need the government to help."

What holds true for all regions of Pakistan is the selflessness everyone exhibits, from the drivers who pack their cars full of complete strangers to the health workers who spend six days a week helping treat people with tuberculosis and earthquake survivors in villages far from their homes.

Pakistan has tremendous challenges ahead, but seeing these everyday acts of compassion makes me hopeful for its future. I can only hope the people who live here feel the same.