By Jessica Howell, Programme and Advocacy Officer, Catholic Relief Services
“Ours was a love marriage,” said Soomri, a frail woman with almond-shaped eyes that seem to dance when thinks about her youth. “He was the only literate man in town,” she said of her husband, “And we were both favored by our parents.”
The 75-year-old mother of five and grandmother of 23 lives in a small village in the northeast corner of Pakistan’s Sindh province. Described by her extended family as easily distracted, Soomri seems like she’d just rather tell stories than worry about anything else. With whoever will listen to her, she talks … about her village and the weather and her children. But mostly she talks about her husband.
A wistful grin comes to her face as she recounts a story from years ago, when she stumbled across a large cabinet for sale while wandering through the local market. She was instantly taken by the piece of furniture, but it was too expensive to buy. Later that night, she told her husband about the cabinet but assured him that she knew it cost too much. But two days later, “the cabinet just appeared in my home!” she recounts, in an animated tone that makes it easy to imagine her surprise and joy all those years ago. It’s been a prized possession of hers ever since.
These days, though, life has become much more somber. The floods that came tearing through Soomri’s village last August brought much more than just water – they brought terror and confusion and destruction. “We did not understand what was happening to us when the waters came,” Soomri said. In a panic, people fled to higher ground, only to watch their entire village disappear under water. The floods washed away homes, drowned livestock, covered farmland … and stole loved ones. “My husband got caught in the floods,” she said.
Grieving and without a place to sleep, Soomri and the other villagers slept outside in the open air for a month. It was cold and frightening, especially for the children.
“But the shelters saved us,” she said. In the wake of the flooding, Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member operational in Pakistan supported by the wider confederation) distributed transitional shelters to the members of Soomri’s village – all of whom had lost a home. Soomri shares hers with her son, Inatullah, and his seven children and she expresses pride in owning her own home again. “The children are safe now and we are very happy to live here.”
And although her husband is obviously and painfully absent, memories of him remain. When Soomri’s house was destroyed, the treasured cabinet was buried in the sands. But miraculously, family members found it and spent hours digging it out. Now it stands in her home – her new home. “This shelter is like my palace!” she croons.
While there is much to rebuild in Soomri’s village – and much to mourn – the matriarch radiates a tremendous resilience and optimism. Despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, she says, “we are not afraid for the future because we have shelter.”