Friday, February 6, 2009

Finding an Old Friend in Afghanistan

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) does a lot of good around the world. My acquaintance with the program began in 1965 when my parents went to Afghanistan for USAID. They were sent to Lashkar Gah, a small town in Helmand Provence in the south where a large hydroelectric/irrigation dam was built. My dad’s expertise was motors, and his task was to help the Afghans buy equipment and train them to maintain it.

My mother expected to work in the government office when she got there, but her Form 57 got lost in Washington DC. By the time it surfaced, she had taken a job running a small hotel/restaurant for AID to cater to visiting diplomats and the American Contingent in Lashkar Gah.

Mother had fifteen Afghan men working for her as cooks, waiters, houseboys and gardeners, and she became very active in their lives. Her letters home were so full of descriptions and anecdotes that I felt I knew some of them very well.

When my parents came home, they lived near us, and I’ll never forget the day the Russians invaded Afghanistan. I was at my mother’s house when she heard the news. She became pale and whispered, “Those people will never give up. The Russians don’t know what they’re getting into.”

Mother constantly worried about her ‘boys’ and fretted because there was no way she could communicate with them, for even if a letter could get through, most of them were illiterate.

One of the men who worked for her was Sakhi. Click here and scroll down to “Sakhi’s Wife and the American Hag” to read about him. That’s Sakhi’s picture to the left, holding his son. The picture was probably taken in 1968. If you read the link, you’ll understand why I cropped Sakhi’s wife out of the picture.

Fast forward to 2008. The head of USAID in Lashkar Gah found the website I just linked you to. He bought the book Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan, read it, and said that he would see if he could find any of my mother’s old crew. Old is the operative word, because Sakhi was about my age in the picture, and I’m now 67. In Afghan years, that’s ooooold.

We got an email last month from the USAID man saying he thought he had found Sakhi. It was a “my friend said that his cousin’s neighbor said” kind of a thing, but he was going to check it out and let us know.

I can’t tell you the joy I feel about the prospect of this man locating Sakhi. It’s like finding a long-lost friend. It’s as if the love that my mother had for these good peasant men has lingered and will reach out to touch their lives once more.

As I said, USAID is doing lots of good in Afghanistan. Click here to read about some other things they’re doing.

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1 comment:

Monique said...

Wow Liz I have to get that book. That seems like an amazing, life changing experience.