Monday, August 2, 2010

Mercy Corps Blog

I was feeling the heat by mid-morning in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city. I took refuge from the sun under a slice of metal roofing. Less than a minute passed before a firm grip on my forearm gently escorted me away from my prized spot of shade.

Manzura Rasulova guided me back into the sun toward what she wanted me to see. She gestured to structural damage caused by the fire which destroyed her home. Her business and home account for two of an estimated 2,500 buildings destroyed during the June 11th clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan.

By lunchtime, we had visited half a dozen families — including Manzura's — who filled out grant applications with Mercy Corps, which is the first step in obtaining funding to rebuild homes and/or businesses. I was spending the day with Mercy Corps and Kompanion staff as they continue to compile names of potential equity grant recipients. Although undertones of fear and distrust remain in many neighborhoods, those we met expressed an eagerness to rebuild their communities.

Late afternoon sunlight stretched across this once-thriving Silk Road stopover as we collected more applications. Powerful sights and sounds took hold with each damage assessment. The snap of debris underfoot, the leaden handshakes, tears absorbed by subtle dabs from a headscarf, and the lasting image of goodbye — a hand reverently placed over the heart.

At the dinner table sat an all-star collection of Mercy Corps and Kompanion staff. A small table was dominated by a platter piled high with plov, a traditional Central Asian rice dish. Armed with giant spoons, we dedicated ourselves to reaching the bottom but managed to exchange plenty of stories, ideas and concerns about our day between spoonfuls.

By nightfall, silence and a cool breeze greeted the 10:00 p.m. citywide curfew. It was the end of a full day crisscrossing a town in turmoil. Many residents were grateful to learn about Mercy Corps’ equity grants but balanced their optimism with concerns about the coming months. The slow encroachment of winter’s return only adds to the growing sense of urgency to restore livelihoods as soon as possible.

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