My dream with journalism is to travel to the frontiers and send their stories to breakfast tables thousands of miles away. Join me for my first chapter, in Afghanistan, summer 2006. These are my letters to you.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Stepping off my Yak

After two exceptional months in Afghanistan, the time has finally come for me to board a plane to carry me back to another planet.

Tomorrow a flight will whisk me from Kabul International, climbing steeply as a precaution against the many CIA-supplied Stinger missiles that remain unaccounted for in the country, and take me as far as Dubai, where I plan to have dinner with a friend in the shocking bright lights of this other-worldly Arab metropolis. From Dubai I will fly to London, where I will have two days and perhaps a pint and a pasty. On Aug. 9 I will return to Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

I would like to thank each of you for your encouragement and support. It has been a great pleasure to write these letters over the past two months. They have given me reason to live this experience deeply, and the sense of accountability to observe Afghanistan accurately and compassionately. I know this is a place to which I will return in the future, to tell more of its people's stories, I hope.

Before I sign off altogether, I have a couple last tidbits to add.

Yesterday I met with a member of the extremely secretive Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, or RAWA. Karim showed up to our interview on an old bicycle. He is a poor man, with white hair and crinkles around his eyes when he smiles. In his immaculate shalwaar kameez, he could be anyone taken off the streets of Kabul. But in another life, he is a Maoist and a RAWA organizer. Because RAWA members are rarely authorized to speak with the media - our meeting was arranged through a secure source - Karim began by giving me a message from headquarters.

"It is vital," he told me, "that you write down exactly what I say and not a word more. If you give the wrong information it will have severe consequences for RAWA."

Karim has reason to be cautious. This 30-year-old underground activist organization has seen its founder assassinated by a branch of the KGB, had its protests attacked and recently been followed by government spies. With false names, clandestine meetings and hidden cameras, the organization has all the elements of a John la Carré novel. But its members can only wish their dangerous realities were fiction.

Using secret cameras, RAWA filmed a number of atrocities during the Afghan civil war and the Taliban's five year rule. Many of the people connected to the crimes now hold positions of power in the government. RAWA is seeking to hold them accountable. As an organization, it draws its ideological foundation from the Maoist school, which is considered heretical by many in this Islamic society.

"Afghanistan is an Islamic society, but it also has scholars and intellectuals," Karim told me. "When people are educated, they are interested in these ideas. Idealism is common everywhere, and it's just the same in Afghanistan. Throughout the world it's always been a struggle between idealism and materialism."

Before he turned into the corridor, and disappeared "like water into the ground," Karim took me by the hand and looked me deep in the eyes.

"For the union of the people," he said. "Even in America."

* * *
Today is my last full day in Afghanistan. I will probably go out for a kebab and a fresh almond ice-cream to commemorate it. But before that I have another interview scheduled. This one is with Youssaf Khalil, a principal advisor to Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, the famous warlord of the Afghan civil war, who disappeared without a trace into Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Provinces after the fall of the Taliban. The last time I was in Kabul, in 1995, it was Hikmetyar's shells and planes that shook the city at night. I am told Youssaf Khalil is leading a peaceful life now, and teaches at a university. There are even reports that he has become a gynecologist. Regardless, we may have a small score to settle...
Until the next time I see you all, khoda hafez from Afghanistan.


Blogger tim said...

Hi Jacob,
great to meet you and great writing.
Keep it up, you have everything that is needed to become a great journalist.
Stay in touch and hopefully see you back here soon,

10:02 AM

Blogger Liz said...

Hey Jacob,
I've really enjoyed reading your letters from Afghanistan. They've been thought-provoking and educational. You're a fantastic journalist! Good luck with the culture shock... though I should imagine the loss of almond ice cream will be hard to bear (sounds delicious)!

12:14 PM

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Blogger Eric Stewart said...

I have only just discovered your blog. To listen to sources here in the states, Kabul is quiet, having been liberated unto peace by the west. Thank you for opening my eyes.

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