Video: Rebuilding and grief in Pakistan

By Tom Brokaw
NBC News
updated 3/2/2006 7:36:44 PM ET 2006-03-03T00:36:44

Here in the foothills of the Kashmir mountains, you can see the commerce of grief and rebuilding lives. Abdul Rashid is asking two small boys to help him carry construction materials across the river and 1,000 feet up to his village, called Dhani.

Kasim, 12, and Latif, 15, are brothers.

"When will you pay us?" asks Kasim.

"When we get there," replies Abdul Rashid.

The boys are refugees living at a nearby tent city after their family home was destroyed in last October's earthquake. Some of their family members were killed.

Here in the earthquake zone, small boys are quickly forced to become men.

The only easy part of the trip is a boat ride across the river, then a steep trail is the only way to the village. I followed in their footsteps — 30 minutes of hard hiking.

The brothers sometimes play hooky from their makeshift school set up in a camp, just to earn a few pennies. They struggle under the weight of the marble tiles, stop and rest, and then set off again.

When the boys finally arrive at the village, it remains a scene of utter devastation. More than four months after the earthquake, everywhere you look it's utter devastation, and great, lingering grief.

In Dhani, every single house was destroyed, about 200 in all. An equal number of villagers died, mostly women and children who were still in their homes when the earthquake struck. Half the village slipped into the valley below.

At one school we visited, 25 children died. School books and bags still litter the rubble. At a mosque, 14 died.

The brothers deliver their loads as they promised. And as promised, Abdul Rashid pays them, 25 cents each. That's a good wage here.

"This man was desperate," says Kasim. "That's why we brought his stuff here."

"I'll give this money to my mother who most likely will buy some food rations," says Latif.

Even though Abdul Rashid's own house was destroyed in the quake, the heavy tiles the boys carried up the trail for him are not for reconstruction. Abdul Rashid says when the earthquake shattered his village, it took 12 members of his family, including his sister, his wife and their young daughter. He buried his family members soon after but now must build their graves, with white marble tiles borne on young backs from the valley far below.

"It looks beautiful," he says, "and it's our way of honoring the people we loved."

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