I have covered India, United Kingdom, Nepal, Morocco and Senegal on this trip thus far; UAE and Afghanistan await. So I am not to be faulted when I land in Kabul feeling a bit jaded. Sohail Abdullah, my fellow CAI Trustee from New York, accompanies me on this leg of the trip and we clear immigration and customs to the care of our Afghani hosts, Wasi and Basheer. This pair will be with us for the next nine days, at our service. We will stay at their house, eat their food and partake of their simple but some of the most jovial and generous hearts in this world of ours.
The first couple of days is spent in CAI operational audit and compliance issues in regards to aid to projects in Afghanistan. CAI expends more than 50% of its budget in Afghanistan. This is necessary because this country still stands out as the most deserving for donor funds in places CAI can safely and legally serve. Kabul is the usual hubbub of undisciplined traffic chaos, heavily barricaded and concrete fortified buildings with swarms of security personnel toting automatic weapons on the ready. Of all places in Afghanistan, I am most edgy in Kabul; too many people have lost lives and limbs here. The streets are peppered in black banners and paraphernalia; the city is getting ready to commemorate the events and tragedy of Karbala. This shows the tenacity of Kabul’s minority Hazara (Shia) peoples for their religious identity, in spite of several massacres against them.
On Day 3, we take a 5-seater single propelled Kodiak-100 aircraft to Nili in Dykundy Province, one of the poorest and deprived places in the world; our miseries begin. As I have previously stated, many times, a visit to remote Afghanistan requires a balanced emotional mind, a very strong stomach, endless patience and the stamina to sustain a harsh environment and a grueling grind. After very briefly witnessing the nuptial rites of 100 poor girls sponsored by donors of CAI, after gifting 14 widows with 5 sheep each for their economic survival and betterment sponsored by BETA in the UK, after inspecting some of the 73 homes for the homeless under construction CAI is funding, we head to Ozmuck Medical Clinic, where we gorge on delicious dried apricots. Sohail gets sick with the runs early next day, on our way to Nili Medical Clinic; I follow suit shortly. It seems the crystallized apricots were dried under the sun in quite unhygienic conditions. For the first time in this, my 33rd trip to this country, I defecate violently under a merciless sun, with massive brown boulders shaped into mysterious forms by the elements giving me dubious privacy. Others have been here before me, for the very same reason, apparently, so I avoid eye contact with their deposits and try hard not to puke; I barely make it.
Sohail and I are doing this twice a year inspection of 5 CAI donor sponsored clinics serving an average of 1,400 sick people per clinic per month who have no other medical provider for relief when sick. I cannot begin to relate the critical difference this service makes to the lives of these hapless peoples, especially to the women, who bear the brunt of the cruelty this land dishes out. We spend hours on end, cooped up in a van that jostles over some of the most rugged and unforgiving terrains in the world, at no more than 10 miles an hour. One careless mistake and we would be tumbling into a ravine of certain death. It is our brilliant driver, Sher Hussein’s incredible mastery of the vehicle and the knowledge of the terrain that keeps us alive. We visit 4 out of the 5 clinics, 3 in Dykundy and 1 in Bamiyan, make spot-checks of operations, and I use my charm and a big stick to enforce CAI guidelines on issues that some choose to renegade on.
We eat unpalatable food or stick to weak green chai and coarse naan until our stomachs scream for succor. Our noses react to the thin air void of any moisture by popping veins and let out blood. My nose fills up with so much guck; I look at the umpteenth napkin with the expelled mess in awe; is all of this from my hooter? The sun shimmers down on the baked earth without relent, and I am awed by the contrast of extremes between summers and winters in this land. With full bladders from hours of bumping along, we stop at a poor dusty village of sorts for zohr salaat and lunch. We are directed up a steep slope towards a mosque and adjacent washroom facilities. Winded by the climb, I recoil from the stench emanating from the toilets. An all mud affair, the three cubicles offer privacy of a simple filthy coarse curtain. But the pits are full, and I recoil again and almost puke at the vile evil I see there. I run out into the blazing sun, to hell with my uncomfortable bladder; I get succor much later, under a cooler shade of a tree at a river oasis, way past the badbakth village.
Amongst these trails and discomforts, there are fleeting moments of hope and cheer:
* The banter among all of us in the van is jovial and Afghans laugh. A lot. Perhaps this is their way to keep lunacy at bay from the sadistic madness ravaging their country?
* I observe Dr. Zia at Daryoos clinic check and treat a raggedy adolescent with severe allergies. The poor teen is obviously in pain and discomfort, does not have the 30 US cents for the registration fee, which is immediately waived, of course. There is so much relief and hope in his earnest face that my heart goes to him. My eyes prickle in pain at the thought of the teen’s plight if this CAI medical clinic was not in place? After the exam and medication, the teen leaves, clutching the medicines to his chest, as if they are priceless treasures with a much more relaxed expression on his face.
* We cover the distance from Nili to Yakawlang in 35 minutes with the Kodiak. The same distance will take 23 hours in Sher Hussein’s van.
* We get to exercise late in the day when the burning sun declines to the West! We climb small rock mountains on which, perhaps, no humans have ever walked.
* We lay the foundation stone for CAI’s 19th elementary school in Afghanistan at Dayroos. Construction starts immediately.
* The Afghan terrain from the 5-seater aircraft is spectacular and breathtaking. The pilots, both seemingly young enough to be yet weaned away from diapers, purposely fly us through looming mountain passes so close, my buttocks contract in anxiety and fear, only to relax as the aircraft quickly tame the air and treat us all to Band Ali below. These are a cluster of lakes bluer than the sky, believed to hold medicinal properties and a tourist attraction. Some believe Imam Ali (A) did make it all the way here, thus the name.
After spending another day taking care of housekeeping issues at the CAI school and orphanage, I leave Kabul and Afghanistan for the 33rd time in nine years. I or others in my team will be back, of course, insha’Allah, to do what CAI does best.