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Glimpses a Medic's Journey through Pakistan

Crescent International

The breath-taking beauty of Northern Pakistan can only be appreciated if seen. It is a must for anyone visiting the country, especially during the months of March to November. Winter travel is not recommended because roads become icy and slippery and are dangerous.

The Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), under the umbrella of the Federation of Islamic Medical Association (FIMA), hosted the 49th conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, in late October, 2022.

Attended by 130 foreign delegates from 26 countries and hundreds of local medical professionals and students, the 20-strong South African contingent used the opportunity to tour other parts of the country as well.

Expecting a culture shock, the first stop in the City of Gardens, Lahore, the second most populous city of 13 million people, immediately removed my preconceived negative perception of a crowded, disorganised and dirty city.

It was clean, people were friendly and the food simply scrumptious.

A visit to the Lahore Fort recounts the rich Mughal history.

One of the largest mosques in the world, the Badshahi mosque, built by Aurangzeb, and Shah Jahan’s magnificent Shalimar Gardens with about 450 fountains, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

An overnight stay in the second most beautiful capital city in the world, Islamabad, did not prepare me for the stunning beauty of Northern Pakistan, Hunza, Gilgit and Skardu.

Skardu, capital of Baltistan is perched 2,438 metres above sea level in the backdrop of the great peaks of the Karakoram.

Famous for climbing and mountaineering all around the world, Skardu hosts Pakistan’s highest and the world’s second highest mountain, K2 (8,611 m).

The Hunza valley is popular for its snow-capped and spectacular, rough mountains.

Many people come to Hunza just to get a few glimpses of the shining ice wall of the Rakaposhi Mountain.

The trip back to Islamabad in a 20-seater mini-bus was an incredible, if hair-raising adventure.

Driving through towering, snow-capped mountains on narrow roads with the turquoise Indus River deep down the gorge, had us on tenterhooks.

The breathtaking, dazzling beauty diverted our attention, at times, from the risky overtaking on winding roads by skilled drivers.

Plainly visible was the old silk road snaking through the edge of the mountains.

On occasions the entire bus loudly prayed the dua before embarking on the next phase of the journey, with eyes tightly shut and with deep sincerity!

The PIMA/FIMA Conference was held in Islamabad, (“City of Islam,” or the “City of Peace”), a name chosen to reflect the country’s ideology.

The logistical challenge of hosting such a conference with so many foreign delegates was carried out to near perfection.

Apart from the exceptional professional quality of the talks, the use of technology, the delivery, consciousness of adhering to time limits, the availability and willingness of the volunteers (mainly students, boys and girls) to assist, transport, lunch and dinner, was exceptional.

Our final trip as guests of PIMA/FIMA was to the mountain resort city Murree.

What stands out apart from the magnificent natural beauty of the city was a school for 420 orphans established by Alkhidmat Foundation, one of the co-sponsors of the Conference.

The brightest students, selected on merit, begin the day with morning prayers (fajr) at the mosque, attending classes equipped with computers and taught by top-class experienced teachers.

We were introduced to them in their immaculate dormitories and listened mesmerised as they performed a play and recited qiraats, naats and poetry in English, Urdu, Arabic and Persian from the famous poet-philosopher, Allama Iqbal.

Alkhidmat Foundation is active in providing aid in the flood affected Swat region, famous for its natural beauty, and providing their expertise in disaster management, health services, education, orphan care, clean water, Mawakhat (interest-free loan) and other community services.

They feed 22,000 orphans daily, and have pledged to feed all 5-8 years old throughout the country.

What provides food-for-thought is the commitment of volunteers, the humility of leaders, the dignity of recipients, people’s trust in the organisation, and the achievements of the organisation- with minimal resources.

Up to 95% of all aid reaches those in need.

After the Convention, most South Africans visited the port city and former capital of Pakistan, Karachi.

The most populous city of Pakistan, the “organised-chaos”of the traffic with motor cars and bikes racing helter-skelter, has a vibe typical of many cities in the East.

An anecdote related by someone in the group comes to mind.

A foreign government delegation (Russia) was asked for advice on how to regulate Karachi’s traffic.

After a few days of observing, the advisors left saying “There must be a God!”.

A visit to the Kharadar General Hospital in one of the poorest areas of Karachi is masterminded under the dynamic and dedicated leadership of the philanthropist Bashir Jan Mohammad.

It has been serving more than a million people from the most-devastated and underprivileged communities.

Under the visionary guidance of its President, this NGO now has a recognised school of nursing and midwifery which was identified as the most-needed facility, and progressed to establish many other branches of health.

Travelling, it is said, is a powerful aid to education.

It provides an experience of the world.

By travelling we come into contact with people of different backgrounds, colour, creed and community to gain familiarity with their tradition, culture, customs, costumes and their style of living.

It is the epitome of experiential learning, making it one of the many reasons why travel is the best education that money can buy.

This particular group from the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa (IMASA) provided many inspirational leaders, three of whom, Dr Mohamed Khan, Dr Goolam M Hoosein and Dr Ashraf Jedaar, were honoured by FIMA with Lifetime Member Awards.

As with any journey, hurtling through 7 cities in 14 days provided some challenges.

The altitude on those colossal, magnificent mountains caused breathing problems in some; avoiding tap water and salads averted upset tummies; and one hotel provide only refreshing, icy water to shower with in cold conditions!

It was the diverse strengths of each individual within the group, from the 83-year-old energetic doctor to a young, rowdy and lively spouse, that made this trip an uplifting and memorable one.

As for PIMA, their warmth, hospitality, flawless organisation, incredible achievements and the humility of leaders will always remain an abiding inspiration.

It made us proud to be Muslims!

As part of the South African medical association, Dr Firoz Osman participated in a medical conference organized by the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) in Islamabad. Participants naturally visited northern Pakistan as well as other cities. He shares his observations of the country.

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