When I first arrived in Pakistan at the end of August 2008, I had missed the monsoon season. I was curious about monsoon season as I had never before experienced one. It did rain heavily some days, but I was told the rains were not due to the monsoon. At the end of March and the beginning of April, 2009, I was in Thailand and that was where I experienced the full force of the monsoon. It also coincided with the Water Festival and Thai New Year celebrations.
I have never been so wet in my life as I walked in the gardens and neither, I think had the slim snakes that came out of hiding to taste the rain. The humidity was horrendous too, and it felt as though you were in a sauna as soon as you stepped outside after being in an air-conditioned room.
Later that year I was back in Pakistan and from 2009 to 2011 I witnessed monsoon season. It was catastrophic with many people losing their homes, and in 2010 some schools opened late because families had been given shelter in them, after the devastating floods.
Children were really excited each time the rains started and would run out into the streets and hop and jump around, splashing each other with the welcome rain. Of course the open drainage systems flooded and so there was a danger of disease. Mosquitoes were a nuisance and the risk of contracting dengue fever and malaria increased, although in many places the local authority sprayed the culverts and drains in attempts to limit the damage they do to human health. Because the streets are badly littered – people throw garbage in the streets with little regard for hygiene or the environment – this garbage also flows along with the rain water and blocks drains. If you live in the sanitized West you cannot imagine what it is like.
There were attempts by school children to tidy up their neighbourhoods, with some enterprising children attaching empty ghee tins (large family-sized ones) to lampposts and poles so that smaller items of rubbish could be placed in them. The children who worked collecting rubbish could then empty them and recycle whatever they found.
There were rubbish collectors who collect rubbish from houses every day, and dispose of it. They are paid a pittance for doing this, but it means the females of the house don’t have to suffer the indignity of disposing of their own rubbish.
You might believe as I did, that there is no caste system in Pakistan, but of course, that’s wrong. There is a hierarchy of families or clans and while Christians and Hindus are not persecuted in the general scheme of things, they may not have the same job opportunities as the Sunni Muslim majority.
The monsoon is oblivious to such differentiations of course and affects everyone in some way or other. As with tsunamis and other natural disasters however it is usually the poor who live in areas which are prone to natural disasters such as floods.