Monday, October 18, 2010

Helping Afghanistan

"For the last 25 years, Afghanistan has been plagued by disasters ranging from drought and earthquakes to war and terrorism. Afghans face low life expectancy, high illiteracy rates, and limited access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, as the country takes steps toward recovery." This is the introduction to Afghanistan on the Catholic Relief Services' website.

If I had any thought that this description might be exaggerated, that thought would have been shattered by my recent visit to Afghanistan. (Not with CRS; I had a different mission there.) Here are some of my observations, reported on 100th Lamb:
I had seen pictures of Afghanistan -- the dusty desert, the musty mountains. It seems that life of any sort -- animal or plant or human -- has an incredible struggle to live. Dusty feet in worn, torn sandals walked the streets where I was. In Kabul, there were similar sightings, but there were also cars, many of them, old but running. There was the constant lowering of men's eyes and the shuffling of women within burqas. (One Afghan wanted to put a burqa on me and take me home to his family. That would have been risky for both of us, so I declined what might have been an interesting cultural experience.) Good food at good prices with good service was the norm in restaurants, but these were things mainly for foreigners. I found essentially two classes: the haves and the have-nots. As always, there is potential in that disharmony for violence. And certainly violence can be found there. The Afghan is perhaps best described as a soft soul in a hard shell. As a foreigner, one wonders which of the hard shells are safe to attempt to break open and which are not. More than anything, I wanted to help these people, but there is little that one person can do, so I just lent my professional expertise, which is really all I have to give anyone. (I suspect that any side that can give these people jobs and a life
that allows just a little peace and even a tad of comfort will win the current war.)

In leaving the country, I had some time to talk to the Safi (Afghani Airlines) ticket agent on an interpersonal level because a traveling companion took our luggage to be strapped -- his had broken enroute to Dubai and, having repaired it, he did not want a repeat on the way home. I told the agent that we had brought some work stuff with us in a foot locker that was overweight so that he would be prepared to expect the overweight. We had come early so that we would have time to deal with overweight requirements and fees. (We had to pay $400 enroute to Afghanistan in overweight fees.) When my travel companion (another employee of our organization) brought the luggage over, the agent weighed each piece, marked it, and gave us the baggage tag, along with our tickets. When I asked where to go to pay the overweight fee, he looked at me and said simply, "I have waived the fee; that is Afghanistan's gift to you."

All I could think was that it is always seems to be the people with the least who give the most. Thank you, Afghanistan! I will be praying for you, for all your people -- those that might be considered friends and those that might be considered foes. That will be my gift to you.

If anyone has the desire or is given the urge to help the people of Afghanistan, here again is the website of Catholic Relief Services: CRS.

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