Reflections on Afghanistan

May 12
2011

I’m now sitting in the ultra modern Dubai airport, a world away from where I was just 5 hours ago. Yesterday I spent some time sitting in the garden of the guest house reflecting on the last two weeks. The roses were in full bloom and the birds were singing. It was quiet and peaceful and the sun was welcome. This morning as we drove to the airport at 5:30 the city was just waking up. There were very few people on the streets…children being walked to school by their parents, phone card sellers taking their position in the traffic lanes and people going to work. It had the same quiet quality that all cities have early in the morning and I was enjoying the ride. Then we passed a woman in a burqa with her small child sitting next to her in a traffic circle with her hand extended, begging for a handout. I wondered if she was a war widow or just desperate and if anyone ever drops something in her hand. A few moments later we passed an outdoor garden shop with pots of petunias!! The contrast was jarring, but a testament to people’s will to survive and make a life for themselves and their families irregardless of the circumstances.
Afghan woman begging

Our Afghan partner and I talked about what it’s like for people who are trying to survive in war zones and poverty and why they have trouble thinking about things in a forward and open way to make changes that would better their lives. His response was that sometimes people who are living in these circumstances do not have the time to sit and think with “rested” minds to evaluate and question things.

When I was at Bagram, there were 3 things that I wrote in my journal so I wouldn’t forget them. We met with a reserve officer from Chicago who has plans to put an Afghan bazaar on the base so that soldiers can have a real feel of Afghan life even though they never leave the base. I hope he’s successful and I hope they will do the same at the base near our work so we can have a shop there. He had two signs on his wall that I wanted to remember. “Never forget why you are here” with a picture of the towers on 9/11 and “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” Change is so difficult and yet it has to happen for people to survive. I saw evidences of change during my time in Kabul. Girls in stylish, yet modest clothes and ball caps over their scarves. They are small things, but powerful statements just the same.

Our partner told me, “I’m happy that I have this mind to not follow old customs that make no sense.” He used the analogy, “If you’ve had a business for 25 years and it’s not doing anything good for you then release yourself and look for something different.”

So the questions are “Why are we here?” and “Why should we care?” I have some reasons…

We repacked our school supplies on Saturday morning and took them to all the bus stations in Kabul to ship them. School SuppliesNone of the bus companies would take them because they said that if they were found with them, the drivers would be beheaded!! We were able to ultimately get them shipped with the Hoopoe Books.

Our partner was unable to fly back to his city for three days because flights were cancelled due to the fact that an insurgent missile had been lobbed at the airport and damaged the runway which had to be repaired. I hated that he couldn’t get back to his family, but we were able to accomplish some more things. On Tuesday morning he told me of the news that you will only hear on the local Afghan channel. Four school children were beheaded by the Taliban in Khost province as a warning to others not to go to school. It’s hard to believe that someone can be brainwashed so thoroughly that there is not a spark within them to stop them from doing that to a child. It is almost more than your mind can comprehend. Education will bring that change that they so desperately fear because it will mean that they can no longer control the people. I don’t know if I could send my child to school after that news, but there are stories of Afghan children facing down death to go to school.

While our partner was in Kabul this week the village elders/bosses came to the women in our project and told them that they would have to pay a commission to them for the income they are receiving in making the carpets. Really….for what??? The women in these villages do all the physical labor as it is….working in the fields, taking care of the children and the animals and of course, cooking for their families and not eating themselves if there isn’t enough food. Our partner has always told me that the women are treated like animals. He is a “little” upset about this and will talk to the bosses when he gets back. He will give them the choice whether they like having the clean water to drink, food and clothing in the winter and school supplies for the children or if they would like for us to work in another village. The women have said they would move to any other village with us.
Women's work

The third thing I remember from Bagram was the Special Forces Major talking about creating “White Space” for change to happen. I know he was talking about security, but I like the term “white space.” Light does that to the darkness…even the smallest candle flame illuminates the darkest place. Our partner is lighting those candles little by little and so is everyone else working in a place that would appear to have no hope. One of the women staying in our guest house has lived in Afghanistan for over 30 years. Her husband was one of the 10 that were killed last year, but she remains.

I know that since Osama was killed there is a debate going on in America whether we should stay in Afghanistan. There is one thing I am sure of if we don’t stay….what will happen to the women and the children. It is almost unthinkable.

I’m sure you remember the photo on the front of the magazine with the young Afghan bride’s nose and ears cut off. Our partner saw her in the hospital in his city. This city has the highest incidence in Afghanistan of young women setting themselves on fire (Khood Soozy) because they are being forced to marry men as much as 40 years older than they are. And, I as an american woman have so many choices available to me that sometimes my head spins.

I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting for the girls in the ball caps.
Afghan School Girls