These are the times when technology is great. As many of you know, a large portion of my work here in Pakistan providing internet and phone services to relief workers. In Balakot, I spend a large part of my time in tents. During the day I am in the internet café tent. Once we close in the evening I crawl into a sleeping bag in a little tent within a larger tent (keeps us warmer). Though the living conditions are a little primitive, I can still lay in bed and chat with my family and listen to streaming audio.

Well, our local radio station, WFRN, also streams audio so I often listen once the café closes at 9:45 pm in the evening (this is 11:45 am Eastern Standard Time). This is during the music request time at the station and so today my children requested a song for me. As the song was playing I emailed the station thanking them and asking for a song for my children.
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When I arrived here in Balakot from Muzaffarabad a few days ago, I was told that the Pakistani army was throwing a Christmas party for the relief workers in the area. This came as a pleasant surprise since I was not only going to miss Christmas at home with family but also Christmas in the UN camp in Muzaffarabad which was going to be quite the dinner. This was also quite surprising because Muslims do not celebrate Christmas.

Last night was the big party and I was asked to read the Christmas story which was followed by a prayer. What fun.

We presented a gift of sweets to the army camp and nice gloves to the commanding officers. There was a Christmas tree, cake and dinner.
Officers and I by tree
The Colonel, me, and one of the Majors in front of the Christmas tree.

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Wow, guess who I got to meet up close and personal! Abrar-ul-Haq! Can you believe it! Are you telling me you do not know who he is? You’ve got to be kidding! He is “the most famous Pakistani singer in the world” (so I am told). Only yesterday did I find out who he was.

Though this blog is not intended to focus on him, he helped in getting the pictures so I will give a little background while my friends in Kitchener are laughing (long story there). Abrar-ul-Haq is a Pakistani bhangra singer. The bhangra music is from the Punjab area in the northwest part of the Indian subcontinent and refers to not only the lively dance but also the musical accompaniment to the dance. Abrar-ul-Haq is also the chairman and founder of the Sahara for Life Trust which had developed a tent village here in Balakot. That is most likely why he was visiting and spent some time with the children and military.

Click Here to listen to some of his music (Hint: Once on the music page, click on the song titles for music)

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Yesterday evening I changed locations moved about 20 miles (~30 km) North Northwest of Muzaffarabad to the city of Balakot (see Closer to the Epicenter – I have found this title to be a misnomer, though the distruction is much more).
Map between Muzaffarabad and Balakot
Click Here for a low res map of the effected area (1.7 MB).
Click Here for very high res map of effected area (8.1 MB).

Though the earthquake itself was located in the valley north, north east of Muzaffarabad (yellow astrik but varies by about 5 miles with in that valley depending on whose map), Balakot was one of the hardest hit cities.

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Finally, pictures of what we actually do and where we live. As described before, we are just inside the second gate to the UN compound. Usually anyone going into the compound requires ID but we have been fenced off with the visitor registration area so that outside NGOs may walk in, after be checked at the first gate, without needing to get UN ID.

Without having a compass, our door faces slightly south of east and our elevation here in Muzaffarabad is around 700 meters (2300 ft). I have other coordinates if interested but I will not post those.

We have two green tents that are about 16 ft x 14 ft placed end to end. The insides are white and are insulated with some sort of batting. What is interesting, our “locally” found tents retain heat better than the imported UN tents.

The front tent is the Internet café with table running the full length of both sides. The left one contains (from left to right) the printer, five “public” laptops, and our satellite transceiver, wireless router and network switch.
Cafe at Work
Cafe Visitors
Internet Equipment
Network Equipment

On the other side are where I work and we have 3 network connections for those coming in with their own laptops and two phones that provide free service to the U.S. and Canada. The internet access and phones have been such a morale booster and many of the workers are able to do critical parts of their work with these tools. For example, often doctors need meds that are not easily available and they are able to contact team members that are traveling to the area to bring the meds.
CRF Medical Team Activity
CRF Medical Team Activity

At times there is standing room only even with 12 chairs available. Like tonight we had a team of South African pilots contacting home.

The back room is mainly for storage. This is where our supplies, suitcase, and bedding go. We also make fresh coffee back here since we can only get instant at the Canteen. There is also a UPS back here and a generator that we have just in case.
The Very Back
The far back corner of our tent
Front of the back tent
The front of the back tent

Some time after 9:00 pm we encourage the stragglers to finish up so we can stack the chairs and put out our thin mattresses and sleeping bags and get into bed. Once there, I usually finish up writing a blog or chatting with family in my sleeping bag.
Sleeping bags Out

Well, it is that time so I am finishing up. Feel free to contact me if you have questions or just want to say “hi”.

‘Night
In Bed

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