Friday, October 21, 2005


"Where is the light?"

Graham Usher writes in this week's al-Ahram from Muzaffarabad in Kashmir to report in the wake of the recent earthquake there. There's no breaking news here, only a devastating portrait of a horrible situation. Here's a snippet.
We weave through the city on the back of Mohamed's 250 cc motorbike ("It's not mine. I found it on the street. That's how you survive here. You find things on the street"). He points out places that were landmarks. "That was the main military hospital," he says, nodding towards a row of barracks that have tipped, like a snow drift, into the river. "At least 200 officers perished there". He nods again towards a flattened wreck of bricks, windows and mortar, with a floor overhanging a roof. "That was the university. There are 300 bodies still trapped there".

After a while I lose the body count as well as the names of the places. But I doubt Mohamed is exaggerating. The dark crater that was once the heart of Muzaffarabad is consumed with the acrid smell of death. Everyone wears -- or tries to wear -- surgical facemasks. Some cram tissues into their mouths, in a futile attempt to ward off disease. It adds a sense of muffled silence --as though one of the punishments of hell is that you cannot speak. Emotion is left to eyes, darting frantically back and forth above gagged mouths.

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