MarySmith’sPlace ~ Pregnant in Pakistan

I’ll have to do this story over a couple of instalments.

Despite my delight at returning to Quetta, it didn’t long for me to miss being in Afghanistan.

By Beluchistan – Baluchistan, CC BY-SA 2.0,

I wrote in my diary a week after our return: ‘I wish I was back in Afghanistan. I have mixed emotions about my role there and I remember my despair and desperation in Lal (though by the end I did feel I was beginning to be able to do something).

Unlike in Afghanistan, we have electricity here – which goes off frequently for hours at a time. Here, we have flush loos – which get blocked and stop working. Telephones – usually out of order. The bazaars are full of consumer goods which make me feel an urge to buy stuff I don’t need for the sake of spending money. The traffic, which is nightmarish, with noise assaulting my eardrums, induces fear and diminishes dignity as I scuttle across roads. I feel frustrated and irritated at having to bargain in shops for everything, knowing prices are increased because foreigners have more money and can afford to line the pockets of already rich businessmen. Despite the problems in Afghanistan, I felt alive there.’

Quetta was never my favourite place in Pakistan. It is the provincial capital and largest city of the Province of Baluchistan. In 1935 it was largely destroyed in an earthquake, which killed around 40,000 people. When we lived there frequent tremors gave new meaning to ‘Did the earth move for you, too, darling?’ It’s a frontier town, not particularly pretty although it has lots of orchards around it which we visited sometimes to see the blossom.

I had work to do – reports to write, statistics to compile, funding applications to prepare and submit and endless meetings with other agencies. We moved into a house next door to the office, which gave us some privacy. I settled down for the winter.

The following spring (1990) we returned to Afghanistan for a two-month tour of the clinics. I may write something about the difficulties of travelling when snowmelt flooded the roads as I have found some photos of the Toyota having to be loaded onto a truck to be taken across the flood.

Later, that year Jon and I went home on leave – the first for two years. We returned to Pakistan married and pregnant.

One event which really took the shine from our time visiting family and friends and getting married was receiving the news of the murder of Moh’d Ali, the office cook. He was a lovely guy and he and our dog, George, were very fond of each other. He took on responsibility for feeding the dog and at night took him back to our house to stay with him. We never found out what exactly happened but in the morning, he was found dead with George lying guard over him. The most likely thing was that it was a robbery, which went wrong. The only things missing were two ashtrays; a little onyx one from Sr. Jeanine and a pottery one with a Pendle witch on the bottom, a gift from the Clitheroe Oxfam group. The dog would certainly have tried to defend his friend and territory and apparently wouldn’t eat for five days afterwards.

The police decided to arrest poor Abdul Hamid as being, being a stranger, the most likely suspect but had to let him go. First he was caught in a bombing raid, then found cockroaches in his dinner and then was wrongfully arrested.

We were by now preparing for the tour in Afghanistan. Medicines and medical supplies had to be purchased and packed and the budget for the winter months prepared. I was just under three months pregnant, tired and crabby much of the time, and desperate to be back across the border to the fresh clean air of Afghanistan.

It was not to be – various ex-pat medical workers started making worried faces about the trip – the road conditions, my age (36 – considered old in those days to be having a first baby), the lack of medical facilities if anything went wrong. Finally, Dr Pfau advised against the trip. “Plenty of work for you to be doing in Quetta,” she said. And so, Jon went off without me on October 22.

The beached whale – look at that double chin! This was later in the pregnancy. George trying to hide under the desk

On November 08 I received a long, newsy letter from him, which he’d written on October 28, telling me everything was going well. A postal service didn’t exist – letters were handed to someone, hopefully trustworthy, travelling to Pakistan.

On November 15, I heard he had been arrested/kidnapped by Nasre, the day after he had written to me.

Diary entry November 17: ‘I’m exhausted. Easily become tearful, especially if someone is kind. I feel so superstitious. I had planned to make Jon a picture collage to welcome him back but now feel I shouldn’t – it would be tempting fate, like writing Christmas cards from us both.

So stupid. Unfortunately the crazy Party which has him in jail is even more stupid. We know the only sensible thing is to release him but these people don’t use reason. OK, what can they do? They can shoot him, they can hold him for months or years – as they did with the Egyptian doctors – or they can release him.’

68 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace ~ Pregnant in Pakistan

    • You are right, that really was the most worrying aspect, Lucinda. I kept thinking about the Egyptian doctors – they shot one trying to escape and kept the other two for two years – not even allowing them to work as doctors.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are probably hundreds of people all over the world locked up with no charges, no trial, no access to the outside, and, who disappear forever. You must have been worried sick especially so far from home. It’s really tough to describe to people who are so used to the law working the way it should. So pleased it turned out in the end.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. That picture of a very pregnant you reminded me of being pregnant with my son; gaining lot of weight, tired…crabby.

    My mother was born in 1913 and I was born in 1950. The only problem with having kids at 36 and 37 is that by the time they’re teenagers, you feel more like a grandmother. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • That is the problem with memory. It’s embarrassing to remember a vignette of your life just to have someone bring out a picture as a reminder of a part that you’d forgotten. Fortunately, you’d written out the details.

        Looking forward to the continuing story.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Never having been pregnant, the thought of going through all that in the circumstances would have terrified me for sure. I know it all worked out but what a sobering thought when we complained about some minor inconveniences. Thanks for sharing, Mary, and stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a worrying time, Olga. and would have been even if I hadn’t been pregnant. I wasn’t sure if he’d be released in time for the baby’s arrival – or if he’d never come back.


  3. The tenacity the two of you must have had! I still cannot imagine. This is certainly a tenuous situation you have found yourselves in. Thank goodness you were not there and possibly subject to arrest. Did they arrest women? I am anxious to find out what happened next.

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  4. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    Mary Smith continues her series of her time working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now after leave in Scotland with Jon and married they return to sad news of a friend, Mary is three months pregnant and has to remain behind in Pakistan while Jon goes for two months to Afghanistan.. where the unthinkable happens….head over to read part one of this next adventure…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am a bit behind this week Mary, too busy quaffing Cava and eating things we don’t normally do for our anniversary…back to abnormal now. So sorry about Moh’d Ali, and I am sure George must have been traumatised. I can imagine how frustrated you were not being able to go to Afghanistan and then to hear the news about Jon… looking forward to the next part …hugsxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There hasn’t been a post from you yet that hasn’t left me in awe at the extreme situations you’ve encountered and this one’s no exception. The fear for Jon must have taken its toll on you and, like the others, I’m nervous as to the outcome even though I know you both made it through to the other side. I feel safely provincial and boring after reading these…

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were lots of gaps of ordinary, nothing-much-happening, life in between the extreme situations, Trish – but they’d be boring to read about. This, though, was probably the most miserable I was – and angry that what should have been a happy time was spoiled.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Mary Smith: Pregnant in Pakistan | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  8. What an experience ~ and cannot even imagine how you we able to hold yourself up with all this going on, and especially being pregnant… but then, I go back to your journal entry: “I wrote in my diary a week after our return: ‘I wish I was back in Afghanistan. I have mixed emotions about my role there and I remember my despair and desperation in Lal…” There is an electricity around you that has captured your imagination and you trust in life, and it is a beautiful strength we can all see in your writing. Onto pt. 2 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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