Thursday, July 30, 2009

A little bit of hope for us all.

Watching the various daily news programs for me has a deep chilling effect on how I view the cruel cosmic joke called human civilization. At best most our civilized efforts and endeavors never stray far from that of a bunch of spoiled children left unattended on some playground fighting over toys and who controls the swing sets, slides, and water fountains. At worst human civilization can take on characteristics far closer to that of viruses spreading, conquering, and then leaving destruction in its wake.

With almost seven billion people on the planet, dwindling resources, entire ecosystems on the verge of collapse, and global climate conditions that I will optimistically just call degraded we still happily practice the same behaviors our hunter-gatherer ancestors did untold thousands of years ago. We still tenuously cling to ancient ethnic conflicts and hates even when their origins have been lost to history and have been relegated to that of myth and legend. Laws and constitutions, designed to curb abuses of power and to thwart those for whom the desire for power justifies all means, are regularly abandoned whenever they become inconvenient. Instead of judging a person on the content of his or her character we still classify those we do not know and fear into different groups based on skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and even language.

When I get away from overpowering glow of city lights to see the stars and have a chance to think my perceptions and attitudes change ever so slightly. I have to make a distinction between the animalistic behavior of Homo sapiens and its ability to organize, dominate, and control and the efforts of human civilized behavior to create, build, discover, and explore. Maybe even more importantly I have to make a distinction between the callous disregard the animal homo sapiens has for those outside his or her tribe, caste, nation, or race and that aspect of human civilized behavior called empathy that looks beyond the superficial.

Empathy is an extremely rare behavior, especially these days as we continue to writhe in our collective hates and prejudices seeing only the injustices inflected on our kith and kin and view those outside as alien and unclean. Exceptions exist, there are those who bravely see not the outsider and fear what that person might do but our common humanity. Such exceptions need to be recognized and applauded not just for personal acclaim for those exceptional people but to hold them up as an example that all of us can do better, or at least give a damn and try.

Please read the following article on Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilquis.

Abdul Sattar Edhi has personally washed tens of thousands of corpses that he has rescued from gutters, beneath bridges and from the sea. The 82-year-old Pakistani has devoted his life to the destitute of Karachi, burying the city's forgotten and giving fresh life to its abandoned newborns. His pioneering social work has drawn comparisons to Mother Teresa's.

His mission is synonymous with this sprawling port city, where rickshaws bearing veiled women, scooters spewing smoke and drivers pressing palms to horns all squeeze in the narrow streets through spaces as thin as a ray of hope.

Amid the chaos, in an aging building, is the room Edhi bought nearly 60 years ago to use as a dispensary. He arrived with the mass migration of Muslims from India six days after Pakistan's independence. Edhi was barely 20 when he began the work that would make him arguably the most respected figure in Pakistan.

"I saw people lying on the pavement," he recalls. "The flu had spread in Karachi, and there was no one to treat them. So I set up benches and got medical students to volunteer. I was penniless and begged for donations on the street. And people gave. I bought this 8-by-8 room to start my work."

The single room has grown to a three-story headquarters. Donations, mostly from ordinary Pakistanis, have already topped $36 million this year. The vast philanthropic network offers Karachi's poorest what could be called cradle-to-grave service.

Women's Suffering Starts At Birth

The Edhi Foundation runs two maternity wards in Karachi. Since 1948, 1 million children have been delivered in Edhi facilities — virtually for free, according to Edhi.

His wife, Bilquis, runs one of the maternity wards in Karachi. She has a sunny disposition that contrasts with the suffering there. Just 40 minutes after delivery, one mother, grimacing in pain, gets up to leave.

"In the past, they would stay for three days," Bilquis Edhi says. "But now, even if they have stitches, the women don't linger."

The mother says this was her third child; Bilquis Edhi suspects it is her sixth.

"Islam is driving this," she says. Conservative clerics call family planning haram, or forbidden. As a result, she says, "Women keep producing babies, and these women are dying in the process."

A bright pink veil is placed carelessly across Bilquis Edhi's head. At 62, her skin still glows. Despite bypass surgery, she continues a marathon schedule devoted to helping impoverished women.

In this conservative society, women's problems start from birth, she says.

"When a baby girl is born here, the man storms out cursing his wife. But whenever there is a male born, the men celebrate and offer us tea," she says.

"Most of the babies who are left in the cradle at our doorstep are girls," she adds. "Sometimes the babies are tossed in garbage heaps, gagged and wrapped in plastic bags. In one week, we can get as many as 11 dead babies."

Death With Dignity

The babies are brought to the Edhi morgue, where the acrid smell of embalming fills the air. Employees who are paid a small stipend load a corpse into an ambulance to be taken to the cemetery. It is a long slender body prepared for burial. It bears a number, but it bears no name. The Edhi Foundation buries bodies that cannot be identified.

The makeshift hearse snakes its way to the Edhi Foundation's cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Mohammad Saleem has been a driver for the Edhi ambulance service for 24 years. The service now operates throughout the country. Saleem recalls his first assignment.

"Mr. Edhi sent us to collect a dead body, and the stink was so unbearable I couldn't stand it. We all ran," Saleem says. "We came back with Mr. Edhi, who showed us how to pick up a dead body and transport it."

"We work long hours," Saleem adds, "but we're at ease. We have a kind of spiritual peace because somehow we're serving humanity."

The two young men being laid to rest this day will be interred in a place as bleak as their lives likely were. The van bearing their bodies bumps along the potholed unpaved streets. Little boys rush to sneak a peak through the window, while babies sit like Buddhas in the endless debris.

Gravediggers cover the corpses that have been slipped into the earth of this forlorn field with nothing but a white sheet. In Karachi, death comes without pity.

Finding Homes For Unwanted Children

There is not an area of social need that the Edhi Foundation has not touched, even raising money for the families displaced by the fighting in Swat Valley and pleading with judges to reform the prisons.

The group also has placed more than 19,000 abandoned babies with adoptive parents.

Karachi lawyer Tahera Hassan wanted a baby girl and approached the Edhi Foundation. Not long after, Bilquis Edhi took her utterly by surprise when she called to say that her baby was ready. But her husband wasn't. He was away.

"So I called him up," Hassan says, "and I was like, 'The baby's come!' He said, 'How will we know? How will you know it's the right one?' I said, 'Well, the baby's there. It's the right one! It's there.' So I went and got her."

That baby, Maya, is now 3 — and looking forward to having a baby sister from the Edhi Foundation. Mother and daughter visit Bilquis Edhi regularly so Maya will have a connection to the people Hassan calls "phenomenal."

She says they are able to look at the positive side of things, despite the misery they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

'I Feel Happy God Made Me Different'

Adbul Edhi, bearded and slight, calls himself a "pragmatic humanist." He also has been called a communist for his belief that the rich enslave the poor. In fact, Edhi says, poverty is spreading terrorism.

"Almost all of our leaders are involved in looting and plundering, and the Taliban are a reaction to that," he says.

Bilquis Edhi says of her husband, "Everyone said I was crazy to marry him. Friends joked that while they'd go on picnics, he'd take me to graveyards."

But the man who built Pakistan's biggest social service network with no formal education says he does feel a bit crazy, and he revels in it.

"I feel happy. There's so much craftiness and cunning and lying in the world. I feel happy that God made me different from the others. I helped the most oppressed," he says.

Bilquis Edhi says three or four more people like her husband could change the destiny of Pakistan.


Keshi said...

what an excellent post BB! It gives exposure to whats happening around us that most of us unaware of. If u didnt write this post, I'd never know abt this man. It's great to read abt him and what he does.

**Empathy is an extremely rare behavior, especially these days as we continue to writhe in our collective hates and prejudices seeing only the injustices inflected on our kith and kin and view those outside as alien and unclean

I agree totally!

And abt Terrorism...yes it breeds mainly due to poverty, like Abdul stated. When govts dun care abt it's ppl but themselves, ppl get frustrated...especially the lower-class youth. So they turn to weapons n destruction.


Marja said...

Dear BB Yes sometimes you get desparate but when you look at the light instead of the dark than there is reason for a lot of celebration as well. Working in the charity area I have met several people who devoted their lives just out of love for children or fellow citizens. The person you talked about is a sign of hope for all and a role model

Suzan said...


And I started out this day pretty depressed.

You've lifted me up and allowed me to experience grace.

Thank you, friend.

May you live long and prosper.


lime said...

what a remarkable couple. bless them. we need more people like them.

MadMike said...

These were great reads Beach. They are encouraging indeed. Thanks for sharing.

sunshine said...

I have to admit. Need that great scares me. I could never do what they do.
It's crazy (to me) to think that people actually live like that. Killing and letting rot. Giving birth and dumping precious children on a doorstep.
Society is so heartless and that makes me so sad.
I'd like to meet every man that acted angrily after his wife gave birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter and slap his face.
People that act like that..are a waste.
I know that every culture has good and bad in it but there is a lot about that one that bothers me.

Thank God that in the middle of all of that there is some good hearts. Some people that understand humanity and compassion.

Excellent post! It was wonderful to learn about this man, his wife and workers.


sunshine said...

P.S. I LOL'D over your underwear story! Your wife sounds like a real ball of fire!! ;) I don't even know her, but I like her. hehehe

Malicious Intent said...

Wow! Awesome, truly truly awesome folks. I don't think they could do anything different. They are hard wired to be that way.

Need more folks like that.

Beach Bum said...

Keshi: This is where the hard part comes in for all of us wanting to make a better world. Yes, poverty breeds terrorism but somewhere deep down in the human soul is a nihilistic anarchist wanting the world to burn which is the seed.

These nihilistic anarchists take many forms from outright evil to "minor" figures just wanting to foil the efforts of anyone trying to make a difference.

If there is any more apt example of homo sapiens self-destructive tendencies it is with them.

Marja: My biggest fear for Mr. Edhi and those working with him is that he will become a target. Those wanting continued destruction and chaos can't deal with near saintly people like him.

Suzan: Sometimes I feel like Gandalf from the LOTR movies going around and reminding people there is always hope.

Lime and MadMike: Yes, that man and his wife are rare. We could all use more like him.

Sunshine: My eyes were opened after spending a day in a Mexican border town while at Fort Bliss, Texas. Children living in the streets begging for food and people living in tar paper shacks while on a hill top clearly in view across a very meager excuse of a river were elaborate mansions.

I have long since come to the conclusions I can't fault another culture for their barbaric practices. Here in this country we have gave out hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars to shore up rich bankers and corrupt investors that squandered money that wasn't theirs. All the while a serious portion of the country rants that we can't afford health care for those who don't have it.

On a real dark note I figure things can't go on like this forever. God, Karma, or a simply pissed off universe will at some point bring all of us to account for our follies.

The underwear story is one I may get around soon to writing.

Malicious Intent: Part of my "theory" about the yin and yang of the homo sapien/human conflict has me figuring that at some point the human must gain an advantage over the animal. In other words we will need far more of Mr. Edhi's types if we are to survive.

Randal Graves said...

Great tale, too bad there aren't enough of these people to stem the inexorable tide of our tribal stupidity.

Distributorcap said...

thanks for posting this - in these times of confusion and despair - it is so nice and uplifting to know that not everyone is insane and cruel.

that someone cares ---

what a better planet it would be if we all actually cared and gave back just a fraction of these folks

zeppo said...

Very nice article... Unfortunately, I am to the point that I am looking at our society as almost an outside observer, watching it in fascination as it self-implodes.

I have said many times that the human species hasn't advanced any since the days of ancient Rome. We just have better weapons, refrigeration, running water and drive cars. Other than that, I see the same overall mindset. Fear, hatred of "other"... We're screwed, even though as you rightfully point out, there are some very amazing people out there. I just don't think they are going to overcome the overwhelming force of stupidity.

Sorry to be such a bummer...

sunshine said...

Well I will look forward to the "Underwear Story" sometime in the future then. ;)

I do believe in Karma. I know that a lot of my own "stupid" has come back to me in life. Recently actually.
I used to be a terrible liar. (not that I told lies terribly,.. I was TOO good at them.)
Anyhow, once we got the computer I really went to town. Lied to SO MANY people about so much shit.
I broke ties with those people when it got to much for me and started again. This time, being honest. Well, as fate or karma or whatever would have it, those people found me. They found out about all of my crap.
You can't hurt people and not expect it to come back to you. A lesson that I have had to learn the hard way. :(

You're right, of course. Every culture, our own included has it's good and bad. We kill here, we abandon babies.. sad but true. I think what angers me most about that society is their treatment of women. I'd give details but we all know what they are.

Pagan Sphinx said...

I'm with Keshi. I'm glad I I got to read this, when I would otherwise not been exposed. It leaves a lot of opportunity for further thought.

Influenza A is a media circus in Europe right now. My mother lives in Portugal and it's constant, with the same images repeated many times daily.

Beach Bum said...

Randal: The bad thing is that the stupid ones are out producing the rest of us. Heard a guy named James Lovelock who thought up the Gaia hypothesis say that the global human population will crash before long leaving those living on islands to pick up the pieces.

Hope the dumbasses stay on the mainland when the culling begins.

DCap: I didn't mention it earlier but one of the reasons I wrote this post was hearing Dennis Miller the other day having a Limbaugh-esque rant saying that "all those people over there are zealots out to kill us". That type of moronic behavior and attitude will get us all killed.

Sunshine: The bad thing about karma is that it often hits more than those that desperately need to have a foot put up their ass.

Pagan Sphinx: I sincerely hope your mom is okay. That flu stuff has me worried. As for Mr. Edhi and his wife I'm going to have to say a prayer for him and his efforts.

goatman said...

No clunky here; your words flow well, if not a bit depressing.
I think there are a few of us out here with maybe enough empathy to cover those without it. Like the body-washer we work alone and largely unheralded.
'Cept for the rare blog poster and his caring ways.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

You give me hope, BB! All lightn' the fires of empathy to warm up to. You ARE an existing exception, so I applaud you. But darlin'__ you got me so hooked into reading for so long this morning I've gone and missed the UPS man! LOL
Tremendous post!

Beach Bum said...

goatman and Gwen: I hope I can find more of these stories just for my own sanity.

Suzan said...


Just wanted to express my appreciation again by telling you that I read your whole post out loud to one of my near-sighted friends last night.

Excellence rules in SC!


Beach Bum said...

Suzan: Cool, I hope my prattle didn't put them to sleep. I have that affect on people.

Stella by Starlight said...

My muse wrote We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

As concerns human classification, I'm anxiously awaiting a National Geographic special. Researchers took the DNA from 365,000 people across the world. The conclusion to which they came is that human beings are 99.9% the same. I don't know when the show will air yet.

The result is The Genographic Project. A 2003 NatGeo article notes that millions may be descended from Genghis Kahn.

Beach, your profound comment resonates with me, that people make a distinction between the callous disregard the animal homo sapiens has for those outside his or her tribe, caste, nation, or race

To know that a man like Edhi exists, lifts my spirits more than I can express. So few people can do so much.

Beach Bum said...

Stella: And that was the whole point of this post. When I f=hear about more people I will write about them as well. Of course this would endanger my hard work painting myself as a hopeless sophisticated cynic.