As a nurse/humanitarian aid worker, Afghanistan was my first assignment and the place I returned to most often in my decades long career delivering aid in some of the world’s bleakest spots. On my first trip, a savvy reporter told me that it would become the place that would forever hold my heart. And, through travel that took me through postings in Africa, the Balkans and Iraq, it has remained true. Afghanistan is a very special place inhabited by some of the kindest and humblest people I know. But many see Afghanistan through a veil of devastation—of death and disease and the nest of terrorism that haunts it even more so today.
For those who thought that the most recent trouble in Afghanistan could have been foreseen, could have been avoided, or that America and the international community world didn’t make a difference there, they are wrong. The global involvement helped to weave a new dynamic into Afghanistan. Girls were in school once again; women were allowed to get healthcare, an impossible task under the Taliban.
In 2001, once the veil of secrecy the Taliban had imposed was lifted, we were horrified to find that an Afghan woman died in a childbirth related death every 20 seconds. But humanitarian aid workers whose very presence was allowed by the US invasion changed all of that. By 2012, the death rate though still high and among the highest maternal mortality rate in the world had improved to a death every twenty minutes. Health care for women and girls and education had made a difference. Women weren’t just going to school, they were employed—many by aid agencies—a once impossible dream finally realized. Kabul was becoming an international city, not just the center of the military and government and the aid community, but a place that allowed its citizens to grow.
The abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the resulting havoc created by Americans, Europeans and our Afghan allies desperate to escape the carnage, has emboldened the Taliban and has likely erased twenty years of work.
But it matters that we were there, and it matters that we made a difference. Already, people in the Panjshir valley of Afghanistan are fighting back. The Taliban will certainly try to decimate them, but those dedicated Afghans will fight on. They’ve learned what democracy is, and what education can achieve, and though the Taliban in their fierce campaign of brutality may win in the short term, it is my hope that in the end the hated Taliban will be defeated.
Included below is a link to the prologue in my 2010 debut novel, Lipstick in Afghanistan, a scene that could be playing out somewhere in Afghanistan even today. Please keep those who are trying to escape in your thoughts.