Life changer

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

WITH all the com­forts of the First World, Hur­ri­cane Sandy down­graded the East Coast of Amer­ica to a Third World sta­tus. Even worse, ac­tu­ally.

As I write these lines, my home is an ice box: chilly, dark and silent. The only sound com­ing out is the protest­ing beep from the cell­phone an­nounc­ing im­mi­nent death with its bat­tery ready to die. Let it die, I say to my­self. What’s the use of a cell phone when it does not work? The land­line does not work; the tele­vi­sion does not work; the in­ter­net does not work; the lap­top does not work be­cause its bat­tery is down. The food in the freezer is thaw­ing at the speed of light­ning scream­ing out for ur­gent care. Chuck­ing it out is the safest, un­less one wants to in­vite food poi­son­ing.

So, what does work? Thank­fully, we still have hot wa­ter in our faucets and gas in our cook­ing range. Cook­ing and bathing are two ac­tiv­i­ties that lift life a lit­tle.

Driv­ing around town scout­ing for cafes like Star­bucks that of­fer WiFi or ‘hotspots’ where Wi-Fi is avail­able con­sumes half the tank in the car. If the petrol fin­ishes we are stranded. We are told petrol is avail­able but is be­ing ra­tioned. The gas sta­tions in our area are shut be­cause the power is down. Min­utes be­fore we lost power on Mon­day evening when Hur­ri­cane Sandy made a land­fall some miles away from where we live in New Jersey, we pulled up the garage door and got the car out. It’s elec­tron­i­cally op­er­ated. Our neigh­bours did op­er­ate their garage doors: “you pull the string hang­ing in the garage. It will dis­able the elec­tronic con­nec­tion,” we were told. Hav­ing lived here for a decade, we still don’t know the ins and outs, to put it sim­ply. For ex­am­ple, I ha­bit­u­ally push the light switch down as we do in Pak­istan. But in the US, it’s the re­verse. When you want a bulb to come on, you push the light switch up! When will power re­turn? “It will be days be­fore power lines are re­stored,” the of­fi­cials had warned be­fore the mon­ster storm hit. I find this strange. In Pak­istan if the power is down for more than 24 hours, one cre­ates such a ruckus, mak­ing the fel­low at the re­ceiv­ing end an­swer­ing phones for the elec­tric com­pany feel like a heel. The Amer­i­cans don’t protest. They suf­fer in si­lence.

Nat­u­ral calami­ties like Hur­ri­cane Sandy may not be com­mon, still they strike, kill, and de­stroy leav­ing man and tech­nol­ogy pow­er­less. Amer­ica can land a ve­hi­cle on Mars and mon­i­tor its move­ments as it roves the planet, but it can­not fix its power lines that fall easy when harsh wind comes call­ing.

Trees, old beau­ti­ful trees, gor­geous in sum­mer and breath­tak­ing in au­tumn with their leaves turn­ing gold, crim­son and am­ber, sud­denly be­come man’s worst en­emy.

They crash on homes, roads, cars, peo­ple and elec­tric lines. As I drive around, huge trees lie up­rooted ev­ery­where. Imag­ine it takes decades for them to reach their ver­dant glory; but sec­onds for them to fall and sur­ren­der to the might of the wind.

Amer­i­cans are plan­ners: they don’t move with­out their sched­ules. They are cal­en­dar-cen­tric. “Let me check my cal­en­dar if I am free,” they say when you in­vite them for cof­fee 10 days in ad­vance. They plan their va­ca­tions a year in ad­vance and make their air­line and ho­tel book­ings ac­cord­ingly. Their lives are pro­grammed and run on a well-con­sid­ered plan. I have al­ways ad­mired this habit, some­thing we Pak­ista­nis are not given to. We don’t like a daily, monthly or yearly sched­ule. We let life flow and live with­out a time­line or a time­frame. Why stress? We say. Take each day as it comes. Well, that too makes sense. What to­mor­row brings, none knows.

Amer­i­cans didn’t know that Hur­ri­cane Sandy would arrive a week be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, wash­ing with it all the elab­o­rate plan­ning, TV ads and last minute can­vass­ing by Obama and Rom­ney camps. Pres­i­dent Obama had moved his ‘heavy ar­tillery’ Bill Clin­ton to ac­com­pany him on a whirl­wind tour of states cru­cial for his vic­tory.

Hard­est hit are the TV chan­nels that made mil­lions dur­ing this year and would have piled up some more in the last one week when Obama and Rom­ney’s fi­nal surge to bom­bard view­ers would have oc­curred.

While Mitt Rom­ney has blasted Pres­i­dent Obama for a ‘big gov­ern­ment’ Hur­ri­cane Sandy has proven Rom­ney wrong. It is the gov­ern­ment that has come to the res­cue of its cit­i­zens fac­ing wide­spread death, sick­ness and de­struc­tion. Res­cue work­ers were on red alert and worked around the clock to re­spond to calls for help dur­ing this time.

The mayor of our town called us a day in ad­vance an­nounc­ing a shel­ter that had been set up, where we could go and seek refuge if our homes and lives were threat­ened.

It’s called a ‘warm­ing and charg­ing’ sta­tion. Peo­ple go to charge their cell phones or lap­tops or to warm them­selves. We did visit the shel­ter and was amazed with its ef­fi­ciency. Po­lite and smil­ing at­ten­dants met us, showed us the cof­fee and bagel sta­tions, pointed to the elec­tric out­lets where we could charge our phones and lap­tops.

The place was brim­ming with se­niors. They seemed to be hav­ing a party. Warm, cozy and com­fort­able, some planned on check­ing in for good.

The shel­ter was later moved to a school au­di­to­rium where they had put up cots, pil­lows and blan­kets for peo­ple to spend the night.

The gov­ern­ment is com­pas­sion­ate, kind and car­ing. It may not be able to re­store power even long af­ter it goes, but can ex­tend all pos­si­ble help should one be in need. The ris­ing death toll caused by cat­a­strophic flood­ing and de­struc­tion of en­tire neigh­bour­hoods, and bil­lions of dol­lars in prop­erty dam­age is what Hur­ri­cane Sandy has left be­hind. It is be­ing called the ‘Storm of the Cen­tury’ but floods, droughts, heat waves and storms are only expected to get worse: with ev­ery part of the world fac­ing dead­lier and costlier weather dis­as­ters, say weather pun­dits.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had en­dorsed Pres­i­dent Obama as pres­i­dent for an­other four years be­cause both be­lieve in the ef­fects of cli­mate change. The bil­lion­aire mayor said that Hur­ri­cane Sandy had re­shaped his think­ing about the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and that as a re­sult he was en­dors­ing Pres­i­dent Obama.

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