Part 3 – Band-Aids for What’s Broke

Part 3 of a series about a peace trip to Afgfhanistan. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

On our second night in Kabul, there’s a dinner given in our honor by Nooria and Asad Farhad, an Afghan couple whom Jodie Evans, a Code Pink founder, had met in L.A. The dinner proves to be a coming out party for our group. Asad is a former deputy in the Karzai government, and the guests are a glittering cast of ministers, journalists, generals, tribal leaders, professors and Mahmoud Karzai, the older brother of the President. By the end of the evening our dance card is full — with invitations for dinner on every night of our stay.

Nooria, who’s warm and emotive, dresses with dramatic flair and doesn’t wear a head covering. She tells us how she and Asad left Kabul in 1976 for the U.S. so he could study on a Fullbright grant and didn’t return until the Taliban fell. They’ve rented a three-story home in a walled compound that has a large garden and staff, including a cook and driver. But it’s not considered a “good neighborhood.” Directly across the dirt road is a camp of Afghan refugees who fled to Pakistan during Taliban rule and returned with no place to live. They’re squatting in ragged tents on vacant land with no water or electricity. The men make wooden bird cages and the women sew quilts, which Nooria sells through her import business in California.

Before the party begins, she leads us across the dirt to the camp where we’re surrounded by children, many of whom have those startling green eyes that give them an eerie beauty.

Asad says the kids don’t go to school but scavenge in garbage dumps for fuel, earning maybe a dollar a day. He and Nooria are offering to pay the families the amount the children could earn if they’ll send them to school. “We can’t get the families out of the tents now,” Asad says, “but if the kids learn to read and write, we can get them out of the tents in ten years.”

Medea protests that this is “a Band-Aid. They need a national program.”

“It’s one step,” Asad says. “If we leave it to the functionaries, it will not happen.”
Back at their home, musicians begin to play traditional Afghan songs and guests are arriving. Everyone on our team is wearing Afghan clothes we’ve bought on the fly — long colored tunics and scarves — but the Afghan men are wearing elegant Western suits. They keep checking their cell phones and we keep taking notes, shooting still pictures and videos and making digital voice recordings.

One of the guests, Anand Gopal of the Wall Street Journal, says the party is the equivalent of “hanging out with Jeb Bush during the Bush years.” He’s not surprised that we’re hearing people say they want U.S. troops to stay. He says there are two Afghanistans: Kabul, with 5 million people, and the provinces with 25 million. In Kabul, people enjoy more freedom than they did under the Taliban and want the U.S. here as a buffer. But in the south, where shooting and bombing are destroying homes and killing civilians, they want the troops out. “Under the Taliban, they had order and peace,” Anand says.

A woman reporter cuts in, “It was the peace of the oppressed.”

Asad points out that the Taliban have roots in every village and have set up a de facto government. “They collect taxes and settle disputes on the spot. There’s no other justice. People may not like the verdicts but at least things get resolved.”

A group of men are sitting in a circle with Mahmoud Karzai, dressed all in white with a gray vest and silver hair. He talks about how life has improved since his brother took office, but other men complain bitterly of corruption. Daoud Yaar, economic adviser to the President, says, “We live in a society where you can trust nobody.”

Asad tells them about a proposal he submitted to the government to create local marble works. “If the government builds a factory, it won’t work,” he says. “But if locals build it, they’ll have something to protect.” He says the country has one of the largest marble and granite deposits in the world and it’s exquisite – equal to Italian marble. “But we make no marble products. Our marble is blasted out, which destroys 90% of it, then smuggled to Pakistan where it’s processed and sent back here.” He’s proposing that local workers be trained to extract and process the marble in factories they control.

“What response did you receive?” a friend asks.


The men look away.

Medea, Asad and Nooria Farhad, Jodie, Sara

On the bus driving home, I’m exhausted and on overload. Everything is blurring together — an endless stream of talking heads. Every opinion and argument we hear contains the seeds of a counter argument, and none is provable. Paul, our young stud with gelled hair and black rectangular glasses, lies slumped in his seat. “I’m like a sponge that’s totally full,” he says. Sara Nichols looks glassy eyed. “I came here for clarity but things are getting more confusing by the hour.”


Please Leave a Comment: What would be the most effective steps the U.S. could take in Afghanistan?



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9 thoughts on “Part 3 – Band-Aids for What’s Broke

  1. Sam Crespi

    Your post ties into what I keep thinking…they (the Afghanis) have to 'own' it – from business to schools, to issues of security – if the country is to move forward in a positive way. It's a long process and in places like Afghanistan where the means for widespread communication is probably minimal..the time needed for these things to happen is much longer. It reminds me of arriving on an island in northern Brazil where no one had electricity, no one had been further than an hour or two away from the village, and 10 years after the fact they'd found out that Kennedy had been assassinated.

    You brought home the bubble effect that surrounds travelers, that keeps people from knowing the whole story, ie the 10M population in Kabul vs triple that for the rest of the country. It takes years to begin to know a village and then a country.
    That said…I still believe in the ripple effect combined with a shared vision that keeps growing. And I'm seeing that emerge globally..the Internet is proving to be a very powerful tool for shared vision and outreach.

  2. debbieseaman

    I had a call the other day from a good friend who expressed concern over President Obama's decision to send troops to Afghanistan and asked me what I thought. I replied carefully that, while I am opposed to war and violence, I hate the Taliban, with all its kill-joy rules and horrific policies concerning women. The country will not progress past the Dark Ages if this Taliban is in power.
    I added that I elected Obama and trust him to make the decision he thought was best, and I know he pondered this long and hard. (I could never have said that about Bush, whom I decidedly did not elect!)
    I am interested to read everything that Sarah has to say because it keeps me informed about what is really happening and what people there are saying.

  3. rick lanning the celestial cowboy


    like i said earlier, america's role in helping or dealing with other countries is far, far overstated.

    your experience in afghanastan is beginning to sound more and more like my experiences in the caribbean. americans think we are so smart and powerful and aware that we can solve everything, especially when dealing with other less sophisticated nations. NOT TRUE!

    sara, it just does not happen. our problem is simple. we go into a country, whether it's afghanastan, iraq or st. kitts in the caribbean, and practice gunboat and dollar diplomacy. when i was working as a journalist in st. kitts, for example, the prime minister had a private interview with me and said simply, YOUR COUNTRY THINKS IT CAN BUY ANYTHING WITH 30 PIECES OF SILVER. i asked him to please explain. he told me several DEA Agents had just approached him and offered him $250,000 cash and two pursuit boats and helicopter gunships. there was only one catch to getting the money: the PM had to give them total freedm to usurp the island's soverignty by pursuing ANY suspected drug trafficker or international criminal. 'america or at least the CIA wishes me to sell my country's soverignty for 30 pieces of silver,' he mused gently. 'IT WILL NOT HAPPEN.'

    sara, check out what is happening in afghanastan and surrounding countries, and you will see this is very similar to what happened in st. kitts. u.s. ambassadors and federal agencies don't seem to be capable of acting any other way. and that is why you will make absolutely no sense over what you are seeing and hearing in afghanastan.

  4. Anonymous

    I must agree with Sam Crespi, I do believe we must help the Afghanis in anyway, the couple Asad & Nooria with the children and the proposal for a granite factory. There is so much unrest in this country because the people have no sence of success with anything, fighting has been the only thing they have ever done.
    Sara, just want to give you an extra thanks for you devotion to writing these articles, it means so much to hear this first hand, through your eyes and how you are able to put into words so beautifully their plight.ddp

  5. Anonymous

    Im currently deployed in the kunar provence just northwest of Asadabad. Most all of our Battalion have embraced making a difference on the small local level as we interact with the populace a great deal. education and Humanitarian assistance are sorely needed in the area and some efforts are made to aid that including giving fuel, blankets, and jobs to the locals as well as individual soldiers asking family and friends for school supplies. Our efforts are not going unnoticed and the locals regard us much in a brotherly way for our efforts on thier behalf. the addition of soldiers here will further deter the taliban from further theft of personal property and limit thier movment inside these rural areas of the country. the ANA are mostly lacking in convidence which is compounded by karzais willingness to negotiate with the taliban. The solution is possible by empowering the nationals but the method in which their own government is going about it is self defeating. the additional troops will do a great deal of good, its just the ANA need to step up and be inspired to follow our footsteps and make thier own. humanitarian assistance in these areas is almost exclusively military which does account for some of the cost of the deployment, its just not enough. These people need more. they need to believe in themselves and wont be able to do that with corrupt leaches at the wheel.

  6. Anonymous

    How our presence, no matter how large, will achieve a different result than all the other previous attempts by other powers is beyond me.


    As in my last post, I think that having Southeast Asian Muslims, both civilian and military, to go to the Middle East to aid peace and development would wreak profound change. That is, after Culture Shock subsides on both sides.
    As for the tent city – -it reminds me of the tent encampments here on Oahu… sites which have grown in population since the recession bombed our economy. People are living on the beaches, and some of them are working people who can't afford the rentals. Their children go to school- – but now one day a week of school has been cut due to the budget shortfalls. Homeless people have lived in beach parks and campsites on Oahu at least since I came here 25 years ago, and the local bureaucrats make token fixes – -band-aids….but there are always tents just outside the frames of Tourist Bureau photos of paradise beaches.
    There are some families who have become so acculturated that they prefer beach living, and they actively resist police sweeps designed to clear them out. And then they move on to the next beach down the road.
    This is a microcosm of what you described; people of color being examined by the affluent and pale..
    If we can't “solve” Honolulu or Detroit or New Orleans.. . how can we know where to begin outside our own country????

    Bev in Honolulu

  8. Anonymous

    Afghanistan: The rich get richer.
    We supported the Taliban to get the Russians out of Afghanistan, and now they are the “oppressors” of the people? The Taliban are the people. We are the occupiers.
    I don't think that Afghanistan ever wanted to be a colonized country. This has been WWIII, but the media just hasn't named it as such because only large numbers of civilians are getting killed daily. I have no idea what the solution should be.

  9. Anonymous

    I'm a little creeped-out by comments like this: “children, many of whom have those startling green eyes that give them an eerie beauty.”

    Only the green-eyed (read, more Western eyes than the dark brown ones) are beautiful?

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