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Snags Hamper Mission of Mercy

"We can do it as a gift from the American people," he said.

In this shattered land, Mowlana could not resist any tale of woe.

Mowlana hands 3,000 rupees (about $30) to an injured vendor who cannot support her family. God bless, she replied. (Jacqueline L. Salmon -- The Washington Post)

At a stop at a farm stand for a breakfast of coconut and hoppers, the owners told Mowlana about a vegetable vendor badly injured after being caught in the waves when the tsunami consumed a marketplace in Hambantota, about 15 miles away.

She could not work and support her three children and husband, who made little money as a laborer.

Mowlana resolved to help her. After a 15-minute drive and several stops for directions, he found her in a small house at the end of a dirt road. The 41-year-old woman's broken left foot was bandaged in bright blue cloth, and her right hand swollen and twisted. The hand was badly infected. Doctors had stitched it hastily after she was found, without cleaning the wounds first.

She needed funds to survive until she could work again. And she mentioned that she would like a small shop in Hambantota.

Mowlana gave her 3,000 rupees -- about $30 -- to buy food for her family for the next several weeks and promised to build a shop for her.

The woman carefully folded her healthy hand around the bills and smiled shyly. God bless, she said.

In the car, Mowlana clapped his hand on his wife's shoulder and smiled triumphantly. "That's a project."

They would find a carpenter next week to build a shop, he said. When it was done, they would come back and hang ribbons and an Asia Relief sign, and have an opening ceremony.

Along the way, Mowlana got out his cell phone and started another round of calls. His son-in-law in Gaithersburg had left him a voice mail. He'd located tents in China that could be shipped immediately. Mowlana ordered 1,500 of them.

Things were looking up. His pallet at the airport would be available in a few days. He planned to set out for hospitals and relief camps to distribute those supplies. He'd given 40,000 rupees -- about $400 -- to the imam of the local mosque to locate and purchase the sacrificial cows for the Muslims. Other plans were percolating.

With bottled water, Band-Aids and Nordstrom suits from a grieving America, Rizwan Mowlana of Gaithersburg had a country to save.

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