It is not every day that a housewife tells you that she has spent two years talking to pirates. This has nothing to do with watching a Johnny Depp film or reading Peter Pan. It happened when I met Captain Jawaid Saleem‚Äôs family for dinner to hear about the capture of his ship, MV Albedo, by Somali pirates. As I listened to the chilling tale, I found myself truly inspired by the way in which his wife had faced the circumstances.
When Captain Jawaid set course for Mombasa in November 2010, Shahnaz Jawaid never imagined it was the course of her life that was about to change dramatically. The shipping agent informed her a few days later that her husband‚Äôs vessel had been hijacked. She was abruptly cast in a role that she was never prepared for.
Staggering emotionally from the blow, Shahnaz braced herself to face the worst. For the next two years, she would live with the ever-present threat of pirates killing her husband. She could not allow herself to give in to fear. She had to find a way to get her husband back home safely. She had her children to think of, too. With remarkable self-control, she waited until her daughter had finished an important course of study before divulging the news to her.
Being the Captain‚Äôs wife, Shahnaz was also concerned about the welfare of the other Pakistani hostages on board the ship. Some of their families did not live in Karachi. The best chance of raising ransom money was to appeal to the public. Shahnaz summoned up all her resolve and began her campaign to bring all the families, even those from out of Karachi, together on a common platform for media coverage.
Weeks turned into months. The shipping company stopped paying salaries to the abducted men. The families struggled financially. Once, Shahnaz was even told her husband had died. It was the lowest point for her in this trial.
A big challenge for Shahnaz was having to appeal to the pirates themselves. They were impatient men, who barely spoke English. Initially, she needed the help of a translator to communicate with them. It is no small compliment that these harsh kidnappers came to respect Shahnaz in the course of this dangerous international crisis. They started to contact her personally. Ordered by a pirate to put him in touch with a Pakistani official late one night, Shahnaz was mugged on the way home. The pirate was talking to her when an armed boy snatched away her cell phone, pirate and all. Thinking Shahnaz had hung up on him, the pirate later called on her landline. He discovered that he certainly wasn‚Äôt the only bandit she had been dealing with that night! Shahnaz now laughs at the absurdity of the whole situation. It was harrowing at the time.
Governor Ishratul Ebad stepped forward in this case on humanitarian grounds. With his consent, Ahmed Chinoy, Chief of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), played a vital role in the negotiations. The families spent days and nights at the CPLC Headquarters, receiving the much needed moral support. The CPLC handles several emergencies at any given time. It takes someone like Shahnaz, with faith and persistence, to keep attention focused on a case. The Somalis were actually reluctant to release Captain Jawaid, afraid they would lose their menacing hold on Shahnaz. They wanted her to help them in negotiating for the remaining hostages.
The Pakistani crew finally returned home safely. Shahnaz Jawaid and her family are thankful to be reunited. Indeed, Shahnaz has shown us that a Pakistani housewife can display tremendous courage and deal with the toughest people in the toughest times. Her story is a tribute to the strength of Pakistani women everywhere.
The writer is a student at the Karachi American School. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org