Part 4 – Love Shacks for the Taliban

Part 4 of a series about a peace trip to Afgfhanistan. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

We’re invited to lunch by Dan Allison, who runs an NGO, Hope International. Women spread a cloth on the floor and carry in platters of rice, lamb, Afghan flat bread, spinach that’s been cooked to the consistency of mush, raw vegetables and mounds of grapes. We’ve been served the same meal at every lunch and dinner, and have been religious about not eating anything raw and drinking only bottled water. But Dan tells us, “We’ve trained our cooks to wash everything carefully. You can eat it all and won’t have problems.” Wonderful, I think, savoring a raw carrot and some grapes.

A half hour later, I do have a problem and others will come down with digestive troubles later. Anand Gopal of the Wall Street Journal tells us there’s a higher percentage of fecal matter in the air here than any other place on earth. Kabul has no sewer system, waste runs in ditches along every road and farmers use human excrement as fertilizer.

The next day, I’m too sick to get on the bus but the team returns at noon to our guest house to meet with Norine MacDonald, a Canadian who’s worked in the south for years. Norine is 39, blonde and gutsy. She carries a gun and looks like a model in Kabul, but in the south she dresses like an Afghan boy because women aren’t seen on the street.

Norine directs the Mercator Fund, which works with farmers in the south who, she says, “are all in business with the Taliban.” Mercator is encouraging them to grow poppies for medicine. “You can’t get morphine in this country or in Africa. The World Health Organization calls it a global pain crisis,” Norine says. “It’s a simple process to convert raw opium to morphine. The farmers could start with the harvest next spring. It will make them legitimate and solve a world problem.”

Her group wants to intervene with young men before they’re recruited by the Taliban. She says there’s a bulge in the population of males between 15 and 25. “They’re not sexually active because Islam forbids sex before marriage, and they don’t have money for a wedding. They have no sex, no job, and they’re angry.”

Imagine, she says, if in the U.S., all the males between 15 and 25 had no sex and no job. “What kind of violence and chaos might erupt?” Her organization wants to give the young men cash to get married, an allowance to build their own place—“a love shack”—and job training. “It’s harder to recruit a married man as a suicide bomber when he has a decent job and a home.”

Jodie nods, saying she found the same was true with gang members she worked with in L.A.

Norine says she’s a fan of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and is happy to see “more troops brought in with his approach.”

There’s a burst of traffic noise outside and I ask Medea Benjamin, a Code Pink founder, if she can hear Norine. “Yes, but I don’t like what I’m hearing,” Medea says.

I move my chair closer. Norine says she likes the idea of taking soldiers out of their vehicles and putting them on the street.

“I’m strongly against that,” Medea says. “I think they should be less visible—stay in their compounds.”

“When soldiers walk around on the streets, people have a different experience of them,” Norine says.

“But they attract Taliban shooting and violence…”

“From my point of view, living here, I’d like to see the military deliver aid,” Norine says. “There are two huge camps of displaced Afghan refugees and they’re starving–10,000 families. No one’s delivered any food aid in years. If the military wants to, I’m all for it.”

“Why not have the humanitarian community do that?” Medea asks.

“They can’t get there because of the security problem,” Norine says. “What do you think people in those camps would feel about the military delivering food aid?”

“Grateful,” Jodie Evans, our trip organizer, says.

Norine adds, “I’d like to see the troops go into Pakistan and rout out the insurgents.” There’s silence at the table. (After the meeting, Ann would say, “Norine lives here and that’s reality. We represent the ideal, and somebody has to hold that.”)

Norine continues, “Here’s another controversial proposal but you’ll like it better: Give all the aid and development money to Afghan women. It will empower them. The men will have to go to them if they want a new well.”

Jodie says, “That’s what we fight for, but we want to do it without troops.”

“You need both,” Norine says.

“If you had to choose between troops and development?” Jodie asks.

“Had to choose? I’d put money on development.”

“Yay!” Jodie says.

Trouble in Pink

This kind of questioning divides our group. Some are upset that the Code Pink leaders are leading people to get the answers they want instead of listening without bias. I spend the evening with two who feel this way, Rabia Roberts and Dr. Laurie Hamilton. The rest of the team are going to dinner at the home of the deputy minister of defense. I’m running a fever, Rabia is staying in to conserve her energy and Laurie has made a different calculation. She and her husband recently adopted two brothers, 11 and 13, who grew up in foster care. Laurie works as a gynecologist in Coos Bay, Oregon, and her husband cares for the boys. “They need me to come home,” Laurie says, “so I’m not taking any chances by going out at night. It’s not worth it.”

Rabia trained with Marin Luther King in the ‘60s and has conducted citizen diplomacy in Iraq and Syria. She’s been uncomfortable with the Code Pink Leaders from the first day. “They had their decision made before coming here and are drumming for evidence to support it. That’s not peace making.”

“It’s aggressive,” Laurie says. “I’m really disappointed. My approach is: you come with questions, not answers. They make everyone wrong who doesn’t agree with them.”

“This is peace movement fundamentalism,” Rabia says.

When told of this comment, Jodie said, “I don’t think I was leading anyone. I wanted to come home and say, “We should put more money in development,” and if nobody agrees with that, I need to know. But every time we asked, what if the money went into development instead of troops, people wanted development.”


Please Leave a Comment: What do you think of Norine’s ideas, and our team’s responses?



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13 thoughts on “Part 4 – Love Shacks for the Taliban

  1. rick lanning the celestial cowboy

    years ago i found an obscure little book in an ancient hollywood book shop in california. the book was written in the 1600s by a hermit and was titled, i believe, SOLIQUY OF A HERMIT. in it, this old man asked the rhetorical question, 'What can I do to make the world better and my neighbors more loving?' and his answer was…

    Absolutely nothing.

    That, my dear sara, is my answer to your question of all those wonderful do-gooders who gathered together in afghanastan on that gloomy historical day.

  2. Margaret Pevec. MA

    I think empowering women with financial support is a great idea. I also think using poppies for morphine is as well (I had no idea morphine came from poppies). I value Norine's perspective because she's there, working among the people. I would love to hear more about her work.

  3. Anonymous

    Learning a great deal with these blogs. Admire all of you for going to the question and seeing and feeling it.

    Waiting and hoping to be changed in my belief the very language one speaks colors reality and we are clueless over their reality and values.


    some problems cannot be solved. the taliban situation is one of those problems. people who hoo up with the taliban and agree to strap on explosives and detonate themselves inside a market, bus or restaurant do not want people telling them how to solve problems, even if the people are right. their entire mission in life is to cause those problems, not solve them. they have a death wish as well probably since they have generally led a miserable existence, never had enough to eat and have never been shown compassion in a country that is largely without compassion. so why do you think a group of thinking people from the u.s., great britain and other parts of the free world can come up with a plan that is acceptable to them?

  5. A brother

    I appreciate your honesty. Peacemaking is hard work! It is very easy to carry signs and spout slogans–showing up for a few hours in front of TV cameras (a protest?). It is much harder to be “on the scene” with real people who face tragedy everyday (not the”well I don't have a dollar today so I can't buy a cheese burger from McDonalds today” kind of tragedy.

    I have done “peace work” in the former Soviet Union '91 when it was still communist controlled, in the middle east working with creating dialogue with Christians, Muslims and Jews, and in South Korea facilitating communication between N. and S. Korea. So I have a bit of experience. It takes real honesty and sacrifice–not only physically (very real) but a willingness to sacrifice your pre-concieved notions about “what needs to be done” in order to discover the Truth (reality).

    I have found that the most important ingrediant to have any success (albeit limited) is to have HOPE and to willing to see possibility where there was none.

    This is a very great mission that you have set upon. I wish you well–you and your team–and look forward to your future reports. God Bless You.

  6. Gary

    I absolutely agree with Norine, she's there living among them, she has come to know the reality of life for these people, things can not be accomplished by idealism, sure its great to be idealistic but is it honest and true? Can things really be accomplished? With Norine's logical and realistic thinking, I think they can.

  7. rick lanning the celestial cowboy

    america needs to do a couple of things to regain its respect among nations.

    first, the united states needs to END THE WAR ON DRUGS. stop telling other countries how to live, what crops to grow and start concentrating on improving the lives of u.s. citizens.

    second, america should decriminalize or legalize marijuana and allow other countries to put their people to work. while the global economy is collapsing on many fronts, there is a major market out there for marijuana, medically and recreationally. i lived in the caribbean where thousands of farm workers lost their jobs when island nations like nevis and st. kitts stopped producing sugar cane because the cash crop was a losing proposition. even with government subsidy, the farmers could not make a profit on sugar cane. if these same farmers could bring in a healthy marijuana crop and were allowed to sell the harvest legally, it would put millions of people to work and destroy the marijuana subculture criminal network that have made so many cops, lawyers, judges and bailbondsmen rich.

    why bring this up on this site? very simple. many people in iraq, afghanistan, pakistan and other countries have lost hope because of lack of jobs, no money and no hope for the future. the people with sara who want to do good have their hearts in the right place, but when your stomach is empty and you have no money to pay the rent or mortgage or to buy clothes, food or a car, you won't respond to the words of someone who wants to direct you in the right direction and away from violence such as suicide bombings and acts of terrorism.

  8. Anonymous

    I'm not responding to any of the blogs but am giving some info regarding US/Pakistan relations. Pakistan has not been trustworthy. It has been no ally–except for public relations purposes to be written up in the press. They're the real problem. Fix Afghanistan and it'll become unfixed by Pakistan one way or another.

    A story: A Pakistani taxi driver in the early 1960's asked his American passenger if he believed in God. The passenger, who didn't, said “yes.” The driver said, “Good. Those Russians (who had done much visible good work in villages in the area)aren't good people because they don't believe in God.” So simple, it seems, to have been considered worthy. Just believe in God. But the US did not use this info to win the hearts and minds of Pakistanis.

    Another case in point: The same passenger had asked to be driven to see the Peace Corp work in the area. The driver didn't know anything about that. The US was not doing VISIBLE good works.

  9. Sam

    I'm delighted that you've presented the voices of both sides. Two friends of mine have been working in conflict resolution/compassionate communication since the Truth and Reconciliation Committees in South Africa and are currently working in the Gaza Strip. They said something that was very striking to me. A compromise never has the 'best' of solutions for either side. And I believe that's true. However, after recently holding 6 days of volatile talks between the people in the strip and the Israelis, the question became what can't you live without. Both had the same answer – safety and education.
    I've heard the morphine idea before and I think it's very sound!
    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  10. BEVKAI

    The choice between development and troops is phoney. Putting all money into development with the Taliban being active in destroying it….who would even think of doing that??? As long as there is an enemy, there has to be troops to at least limit and restrain them.

    As for the idealists…and their resolution to “hold on to that idea,' I am reminded of a newly divorced woman I knew – — a dedicated Feminist and law student. She was shocked when she found out that a client could have an idiologically correct defense in court, and still lose. She was turning over in her mind how she would work at family law when such things could happen.

    I didn't say anything because her head didn't exist on Planet Earth. and so seem the leaders of Code Pink.

    Back when Robin Williams was discovering what life could be without cocaine, he put out an album; 'Reality, What a Concept!'Life without fantasy takes some getting used to. To his credit, Williams embraced reality without his ego in gear.

    Code Pink leaders seem to be the paridigm of Liberals Who Are Being Mugged.

    I certainly hope so.

    Sara, we saw all this 40 years ago and it makes me crazy that no one seems to be learning from that history.

  11. Helga

    thanks for your report about your tip to Kabul. It really helped me sort things out a bit, since I am very divided about our military involvement in Afganistan. I am a big fan of Greg Mortenson's initiative, but don't think that that alone can fight the Taliban.

    Keep up the good work!

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