After the Floods: how one woman's refusal to go to the city rebuilt a village
JATTI: The village of Jatti is blessed, at least in some regards. Out of 27 families, nobody drowned in the flood. And now a long lost nearly native son, Martin Van Camp, has come from Belgium, cheque book in hand, to build them permanent houses — houses that, unlike their original mud and wood homes, will withstand the raging waters, should they come again. And though they can’t explicitly tell him in any tongue he understands, the people of Jatti are hopeful, grateful and eager to rebuild their lives.
As soon as Van Camp stepped out of the white Toyota pick-up on Wednesday, Gullan Mallah came forward, holding out a traditional Sindhi topi. Amni, Gullan’s aunt and the eldest woman in the village, was right beside him, light eyes sparkling and henna-dyed hair peeking out from beneath a purple dupatta as she draped the unique block-printed and indigo dyed ajrak scarf around Van Camp shoulders. She took both of his hands, squeezing them tight. As the rest of the men greeted him, children clustered around, the bolder ones sidling up and offering tiny, sticky hands.
Van Camp was clearly overwhelmed. His wide grin crinkled the corners of his moist eyes. He was silent for several minutes, smiling, nodding and pressing palms. When he trusted himself to speak, he said, “Their happiness makes it so worthwhile.”
Van Camp’s maternal great-grandfather, Laurenco Caetano Duarte, built Duarte Mansions, the first apartment building in Karachi, in the early 1800s. In the mid-50s, his father, a carpenter by trade, came to Karachi to help found a branch of the Young Christian Workers Association. Now, although more indirectly, Van Camp takes his place in this community, building lineage, both literally and figuratively.
But without the guidance of the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) and a former Jatti resident, Lalan Mallah, there would have been no celebration Wednesday morning.