A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real. – Once Upon A Time in Afghanistan Mohammad Qayoumi, President California State University
After a day of meetings on Saturday and sorting schedules, I’m off to the field via Mazar I Sharif, famous for its blue mosque, beautiful carpets and textiles. It is a land of extremes, freezing in the winter, searing hot in the summer.
I’m gazing to the right, out of the window, driving from the airport to the guesthouse. I look ahead as the car pulls over to see giant armoured vehicles rolling past, gunners at the ready. Children headed home from school wave at the soldiers poking through the top.
I’m headed to the area where the earthquake hit to meet families who were affected. Much of the area is above 1500 metres. Even though it’s getting hot in Mazar, the team tell me the rains have just stopped and the temperatures in the mountains are still cold at night.
Everyone I speak to talks about the fear of winter in the mountains; the cold that reaches everywhere and takes away loved ones. ANDMA — the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Association — said 2008 was the harshest winter for 25 years. Over 800 people died in the cold. Death isn’t all. Frostbite necessitates amputation or people die of gangrene.
In the mountain areas everyone works all the time – continuously repairing their homes, collecting firewood, making and mending clothes, farming the fields, tending the livestock, collecting water, cooking, cleaning, living.
It is June and the winter is two and a half months away in this area, but everyone is preparing. It’s only just stopped raining here, and the temperatures have begun to rise. We leave Mazar and head to the field. The first 100km are estimated to take an hour and a half, the second 100km over 4 hours.
The tarmac road stops as we turn off onto dust tracks. We arrive at the guesthouse late, after having to try several different routes through a rock filled river bed. We’re exhausted. To get to many of our areas of work, travel is long and hard, and here is no different.
Tomorrow we head for the next step, another 4 hours to the earthquake affected areas. As you land in Kabul a sign reads “welcome to Afghanistan, land of hospitality”. This is so true. There is no one who won’t offer you tea, and I’m so glad of this as I climb out of the car.
We’ve been helping children in Afghanistan – the second most dangerous place in the world for a child to grow up, or for a woman to give birth – since 1976.
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