End of Odyssey I
Exchanges of WhatsApp messages, email between
Prof Salima Hashmi (SH) SAF Pakistan Chairperson Director UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute for South Asian Art, Lahore, Pakistan)
H.E. Ambassador Pema Choden (H.E.PC), Ambassador of Royal Government of Bhutan to EU countries Bruxelles, Belgium
Ms France Marquet (FM) Trustee Madanjeet Singh Foundation , Representative of South Asia Foundation to UNESCO, Paris, France
5 July, 2020
Salima Hashmi: “SAF-Pakistan has been able to successfully deport 8 International scholars back to their home countries. Two Scholars from Bhutan are still staying safely with extreme care in the hostel due to non functional of flights as the only Qatar Airways doing the transfer and has stopped due to Covid-19. UMISAA is waiting for Royal Bhutan Government for the instructions in order to deport the scholars safely from Pakistan to their home Countries. In the meanwhile sharing a pic of the Bhutanese scholars having packed lunch sent by Ms Mona Arman..”
Bhutanese scholars having packed lunch sent by Ms Mona Arman..”
13 July, 2020
Salima Hashmi: “Just trying to finalise travel for our two Bhutanese ! Fingers crossed !”
Trying to get Qatar air to issue tickets to Doha ! It’s the Islamabad office making a fuss because they don’t have a contract with Druk Air! They insist they can’t ! Ambassador Choden is now contacting Qatar in Doha to tell them to talk to Islamabad Qatar office! What a crazy time!”
France Marquet: “She is being very helpful !“ 👍
Bhutanese student “when landing in Doha (UAE): “Yes ma'am that true
So many surprises and adventures have shaped us to be strong no matter what happens. We will be always thankful to all of you La. And at some point I feel like in a dream. Already missing all out here.”
22 July, 2020
From Doha airport !
Salima Hashmi: “Bhutanese students landed safely in Doha will catch charter flight tonight”
H.E. Ambassador Pema Choden (H.E.PC): “Thanks to you dear France & SAF for not only providing these wonderful opportunities for talented young people in Bhutan & indeed from across the region, & doing everything possible to ensure their safety & well being especially in these most challenging times. I have also thanked Professor Salima for taking care of our two students like her own children”
France Marquet : “So happy to see the positive attitude of the two students!”
Something positive!! Just spoke to Pema to thank her.”
22 July, 2020
H.E. Ambassador Pema Choden (H.E.PC): ”All of us here at the embassy are so glad that two students could catch the flight back home. As I said during your call, our colleagues in the relevant embassies and at the ministry all worked to ensure their return”.
End of Odyssey II
Salima Hashmi: “They checked in early on 22nd ..2am, flight departed 3,30 am. Got in to Doha around 5.30 am I think..Then had the whole day there since their flight did not leave till 23rd “
Yes getting these students back home safely was a true feat of hard work , co-operation and luck!
When they were checking in at Lahore airport, Qatar staff refused them boarding because they wanted the destination on their ticket which of course was not there, because Druk Air was a chartered flight from Doha to Paro.! Poor kids were in tears calling me at 2am.
Anyway, it got sorted eventually and they were on their way!
As each batch was able to board a special flight to Columbo, Kathmandu, kabul or crossing over to Wagah on foot for Kashmir, Ghazala ensured they were tested in time and took their certificates with them!
At every step she informed me what was happening. The car driver was also tested before we hired it!!
I am so indebted to our amazing hostel warden, Ghazala, who incidentally was the first warden back in 2003 with our first SAF students in the old campus where you came.. Hostel was in a rented house only for our SAF students She later left to get married after a few years. . A year ago she rejoined because she and her husband live very near the new campus now. She was so devoted to the welfare of these students..Made sure no one came near them, for these 4 months. Doing shopping herself and ensuring no one got depressed or had any medical issues. I would give her a medal if I could!
But the Bhutan story was the most difficult and required the most coordination. Luckily we got a very good travel agent also who was up to the job arguing with Qatar Air for almost two weeks before they actually issued the tickets!! For this the Bhutan authorities specially the Foreign Ministry and Ambassador Choden made it possible. They followed every possible option, including procuring the tickets for DRUK Air which were just not available!! Whatsapp is such a good friend at such times, instant communication!! As you have stated it was a true example of South Asian solidarity, and a humane approach to finding solutions in these very very difficult times. It gives us hope that one day SAARC will fulfil the potential of our diverse peoples to give them a better future. Certainly our young artists have demonstrated their ability to cope with this tough pandemic all together in a group in a small locked down community and to keep doing their work with focus , creativity and good humour.!
They are writing their stories and no doubt will keep on dwelling on these experiences!