MarySmith’sPlace ~ Pregnant in Pakistan#03 #Finale

The next few months were busy. As always reports were needed and funding bids – I laboured over one from WHO which, from diary entries seemed to take forever to complete (all those objectives, outputs and activities) –meetings and travelling. Quetta weather was becoming colder and wetter. It rained solidly for five days, ending with a terrific thunderstorm (and several leaks in our roof) then it became colder and the pipes froze so we had no water and the gas pressure was so low there was scarcely any heat from the fires. The staff was fetching water from the nearby mosque but even after leaving the buckets to sit for hours it was still dirty looking. A trip to Karachi let me soak up some much needed sunshine.

We had meetings in Peshawar in North West Frontier Province where we were woken on our last night by an earthquake. We’d become accustomed to earth tremors in Quetta but this one shook the bed, rattled the windows and made a terrifying noise. We learned a few days later around 1,000 people were killed across the border in Afghanistan and flooding afterwards caused further deaths.

Oh, and the First Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait began. Quetta was suddenly emptied of expat workers. We were provided with two armed policemen at night – not quite sure what anyone thought was going to happen. Anyway, they enjoyed dinner with us and on the only occasion the dog barked, they sent young Sultan out to check what was going on. I think they must have been sorry when their bosses told them they were no longer required to protect us.

Jon had brought Sughra back with him from Jaghoray. We’d offered to send her to school in Quetta and, in exchange, she would help me with the baby. The school was closed when she arrived and she wanted to be with me all day, standing beside my desk watching me type. Poor girls was probably horribly homesick. Once she started school she loved it and was an extremely cheerful presence in our lives.

I needed that. One diary entry reads: “I’m scared. I’m scared about the baby, about the hospital, about who will do the delivery, about the baby not being healthy – and I’m terrified about the future and my ability to look after a baby.”

I was still visiting the anti-natal clinic. We upset her by saying we didn’t feel happy about having the baby in Civil Hospital, especially as she’d said Jon could not be with me. We chose, instead, a small private hospital. Dr Shahnaz pointed out the private hospital did not have all the hi-tech equipment available at Civil Hospital. I think she was insulted – she is in charge of Civil – but I saw no point in having access to special equipment when the walls are growing fungus.

On March 20, the night before the Afghan New Year, Jon, Sughra and I went shopping. It’s customary to have new clothes for the New Year and we thought as well as treating Sughra we should buy some clothes for the baby, due in about ten days. Poor thing only had a couple of little jackets sent by its grandmother.

When I got up to pee in that night, I noticed there was some blood-streaked mucous. I went back to bed but when I woke in the morning there was more blood. Jon phoned Dr Shahnaz who told us to come to Civil Hospital immediately. I’d had a few contractions but nothing much. I didn’t pack anything as I assumed I’d be told there was plenty of time, we’d come home and pack and head for the private clinic.

Dr Shahnaz examined me then sent me to another room for a foetal heart monitor. The machine had no plug, just bare wires which the nurse stuck into the socket. I wondered if my baby was going to be electrocuted. To my relief, the machine didn’t work. Dr Shahnaz found the heart beat with a stethoscope. She said labour had started, but the head was not engaged and she wanted me to stay in the hospital until 7pm to be monitored – just in case. ‘You may need a Caesarean. I will discuss with your husband.’

Before I could say any such discussion would be with me, she noticed the pad I’d just changed. ‘What’s this?’ she demanded.

I peered at the brownish/greenish stains. ‘Um, meconium, I think.’

‘And what does this mean?’

I shook my head, feeling like a medical student about to fail an exam.

‘Baby is in distress. No time to wait – we need to do a Caesarean.’

I burst into tears. ‘I want to have a normal delivery.’

The doctor tut-tutted at me. ‘I promise, you will be having a delivery and a baby.’

Still wearing the clothes I’d arrived in, I walked into the operating theatre and climbed on the table, being careful not to let my dirty feet touch the catheter lying ready at the end of it. Jon, of course, was left outside. Two anaesthetists were present. I handed one of them my glasses.

The next thing I remember was being wheeled on a trolley somewhere outside. I could feel rain on my face and it was cold. I was taken inside again and transferred to a bed. The porter, wanting me to look neat and tidy, pulled on my ankles to straighten my legs. The pain where I’d been sliced open was excruciating and I pulled my knees up. He pulled my legs straight again. ‘Leaving my fucking legs alone,’ I hissed. He may not have understood the exact words but he understood the message.

Jon came to my rescue, persuaded the porter he should leave – and told me we had a son. He was asleep in a cot beside my bed. He opened his eyes and looked at me and I was lost.

In the hospital

We were given exclusive use of what was a four-bed ward and Jon was able to stay with us, which was a relief and he was able to take over my care. I’d panicked a bit when I saw air bubbles in the syringe the nurse was wielding. They also had a habit of cracking open glass phials and leaving the shards of glass on the floor. Most days, either the blood pressure set or thermometer had gone missing. As a thank you for the all they’d done we bought some blood pressure sets which fastened to the wall.

We had the cradle made in Quetta. The joiner was horrified we wanted it to wide. He said the baby would move around!

The moment Jon left the room, other patients and nurses swarmed in to look at the little white baby – usually waking him up after I’d just got him to sleep. I was so thankful when, after ten days, I was discharged and could go home. To a very different life!

Sughra and baby David
Jawad’s daughter, Shahnaz
It’s a hard life!
Jon & David
An early picnic with Nauroz, Sughra, Ibrahim and baby in his carry cot.
We soon got used to David being ‘kidnapped’ wherever we went.

MarySmith’sPlace – Pregnant in Pakistan#02

I’m sorry I left you for so long wondering if Jon got out of his Afghan jail before our baby arrived in the world.

It was the shock when reading my diary at how very miserable I was stuck in Quetta waiting for news. Over the years I’ve succeeded in turning the story of Jon’s kidnap while I was pregnant into an amusing dinner party anecdote. If anyone had asked me how I felt being pregnant in Pakistan I’d have said it was absolutely fine – sailed through it.

In fact, I was an emotional, blubbering wreck who cried a lot and raged in my diary. I suspect it was writing my thoughts and fears every day which saved my sanity – and allowed me to put on a brave face in front of other people.

This was earlier in the year – loading supplies for the clinics in Afghanistan

I spent a lot of time in discussions with other aid agencies as the most powerful negotiating tool we had was if they let it be known they would stop supplies going in unless Jon was freed. I also had to carry on with my work although it wasn’t easy to focus on preparing budget applications when I was worrying about Jon.

One entry read: “His mother has sent his birthday card. Will he be back on time? I’m not going to tell her yet – she’d be worried sick and can do nothing. I just can’t imagine in what conditions he is living, how he is coping, how he is feeling – you’d think we’d be emotionally close enough for telepathy to work. Finding it too difficult now. I’m afraid I can’t cope for much longer and I’m becoming more and more afraid he will not come back.”

On November 22, I wrote: “Just heard on the BBC Thatcher has resigned. That stopped me thinking about Jon for all of 30 seconds.”

In competition to see who could carry the heaviest load

It was the day I received further news Jon was still in jail. I write: “Everyone is depressed.  Moosa [the office chowkidar] was so happy because he received a letter from his brother – first time he’s had news from home for ages. I wish I’d taken a photo of his happiness – such a smile. The family sent him almonds, which he brought to share with me. Lovely he wanted to share his gift and his joy but because we are all miserable because of Jon’s situation Moosa’s happiness is dimmed.”  

I was not alone – lots of people were around me providing support: Hamid Shah who was in charge of the Quetta leprosy programme would visit, sometimes sweeping me up to take me home for meals with him and his wife, Shanaz. Evelin, a German midwife who was working here was a good friend, frequent visitor and huge support and Linda, a health visitor who worked for a different NGO was always there at the end of the phone (when the damn things were working) keeping me calm. Nick and Debbie visited or invited me to their home. “It is good to know,” I wrote, “we have such good friends who really care. The only problem is – they weaken me – my stiff upper lip trembles at their kindness and I risk dissolving into tears.”

Office manager, Inayatullah hands a smiling Arif the key to his vehicle. Moosa third from the left.

And the baby? It seemed to be doing fine. I attended the ante-natal clinic regularly seeing Dr Shahnaz who assured me the baby was growing well. Although, one time she was concerned about my blood pressure being exceptionally high – at which point I burst into tears and explained the situation. She told me not to worry. “If your husband does not come back, I will be there for you. You will not be alone. I will even get into bed beside you when you are in labour.” I thought this a slightly over the top – as was the prescription she gave me for phenabarbitone. I threw it away. Usually used in the treatment of epilepsy, I knew it would cross the placental barrier. I played a lot of Eric Clapton instead.

Rahimy on the left and Jawad – on a picnic somewhere near Quetta.

One evening I received a message to go immediately to the French Bakery, a Hazara run bakery which was a bit of a Quetta institution. When I arrived the boss put a chair in the middle of the shop and handed me a sealed letter. I read it about three times before bursting into tears – of joy. Jon was free. I rushed round to Hamid Shah’s to tell him and Evelin so more hugs and tears all round.

My 2 am diary entry was full of waffle about the note, Jon’s possible arrival date and my gratitude for always having someone to keep me going through the nightmare. “Now, I feel really guilty about how little work I’ve achieved – I should get busy immediately.” Maybe not at two in the morning!

Jon arrived back on December 01 – fit and healthy and looking in much better condition than I felt. He’d been reasonably well treated, had patients brought to him and was allowed out to play football every day. The worst part had been when they’d originally arrested/kidnapped him and accused him of spying. Unfortunately, Jon didn’t recognise the word for spy so had no idea of what he was being accused. They were hauling him into position to hang upside down to be beaten when someone higher up came into the room and told them to cut him down. It soon transpired it was money they were after, not a conviction in court.

And that’s when my euphoria at having him back safely rather evaporated. “How did you manage to get free?” I asked.

“I paid the ransom. I sent a note to Hussain asking him to bring whatever he had left in his budget.”

I was furious! All the running about, the meetings with WHO and other NGOs to apply pressure by warning no further supplies would be sent to the area, had been for nothing. They would think this was a very nice little earner – no one would be safe if they thought the ransom demand would always be met.

Jon was unrepentant. “I was afraid I wouldn’t get back before our baby was born.”  

I calmed down – not good for the baby to get so worked up. And now, Dr Shahnaz wouldn’t have to get into bed with me when I went into labour and I could look relax and enjoy the last few months of my pregnancy.

I should have known better.

Jawad and Rahimy on a picnic at Hanna Lake, Quetta.

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.’