The day began at 8:30 a.m. when we packed water bottles, 50 packets of Gluco biscuits and 8 kilos of apples into the van and headed for Qasbah Colony. Some of the interns were excited at it was their first visit to Qasbah, while others were thrilled to return - we had visited Qasbah Colony for CAP's 3-day volunteer work with the children at the Naunehal Academy. We made our way back to Naunehal Academy and waited for the children to arrive, while rehearsing our handy list of Pashto phrases.
An hour or so later, two Suzukis bursting with spirited, bright-eyed children pulled up beside our van. As each familiar face smiled at me and hands reached out to shake mine, a surge of emotion tore my heart in two. I wished they could stay here forever so I could always visit them but I also wanted them to return to their homes in Swat and Buner.
The children rushed to the waiting bus and scrambled for their seats and we soon took off for the Quaid's mazaar.
Minutes later, the bus reached our destination - the Quaid's mausoleum, in all its majesty, stood awaiting our arrival. I was overjoyed to learn that Tabinda Siddiqi (a dear friend and fellow intern) had arranged exclusive treatment for the children. We entered through Bab-e-Aiman - gates reserved for Special Forces and VIPs - and were greeted by Major Ather Ali, who is the Mazaar's Project Manager and a treasure trove of historical information about the Quaid's life and the mausoleum.
Each intern was assigned a group of four kids that we were responsible for throughout the trip. I met Kareemullah, Abdur Rehman, Bilal and Saquib Khan, who all wore colorful name tags that we had made for all the children at the office. Saquib and I were friends by the day's end and he promised me a 'daawat' when i visited Swat.
Inside the Mausoleum, we grouped around the Quaid's grave and recited 'Fateha'. Most eyes were glued to the 101 foot long chandelier hanging in the main hall of the mazaar. This chandelier was a present from the Muslims of China and it fascinated the children, who craned their necks for a better look. We even witnessed the ceremonial change of guard at the grave, an event that was truly spectacular.
We were amazed to learn that Mr. Jinnah's original burial place is underground, in the mazaar's basement, and that WE would get a guided tour. A dark winding staircase led to an octagonal room that had 8 foot thick walls to protect it from natural disasters. The walls were covered with hand carved stars and the glass pattern on the stars added to their already magical appeal. The grave was made of white marble and a crescent and star were etched in the stone. Pretty filigree shades adorned the lights. For me, this was yet another peak experience brought on by CAP.
After this we gathered on the steps outside to enjoy the splendid view of the mazaar's sprawling gardens. The fountains that are only used at night were specially turned on for the children. The trip continued thereafter as we also paid homage to the five other leaders (Fatima Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Ra'ana Liaquat Ali, Abdur Rab Nishtar and Nurul Amin) buried alongside Quaid e Azam.
The children were also taken to the Museum that housed many possessions of the Quaid. Their translator made sure to translate all the information Major Ali was bombarding us with into Pashto, so that the children could understand.
The trip ended with a picnic in the gardens. Apart from the goodies we had brought with us, we were surprised yet again with free juice and chips that were provided to all the kids. Finally, we crowded on the steps leading up to the Mazar, posing for photographs and singing the National Anthem.
As the children piled into the bus, happily waving through the windows I felt very proud of the people at CAP and the work we do.
I had a truly wonderful day and the time spent with the children both at Qasbah Colony and at the Mazar will forever remain part of my most treasured memories. I hope to see them again soon but on a visit up north, when they have comfortably settled in their own homes.
Seeing the Quaid's mausoleum from up close was surreal. After years of looking at pictures of it, seeing the majestic structure right there in front of my eyes was fantastic.
The children enjoyed the museum very much and talked excitedly about the cars, clothes and furniture that they saw there. After the whole tour of the mausoleum was over, the children were given refreshments which included juice, chips, apples, water and biscuits. Before leaving, the children stood on the twenty one stairs leading up to the mausoleum and posed for pictures and sang the national anthem.