I woke up in a fairly good mood this morning, but when I turned on my computer to check the weather, I saw the above headline.
When I think of Afghanistan, I have a heavy heart. Not just for the American and coalition lives lost in that country, but for the people that live there. All those children.Â Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world.Â TheirÂ maternal mortality rateÂ is one of the highest in the world as well, and Afghanistan was recently determined to be the most dangerous country in the world for women.
I read news articles regularly about U.S. deaths in Afghanistan, and they anger me. Yes, I loathe hearing about U.S. troops being killed, especially when they’re murdered by those working with them on a daily basis.
It’s so easy to say “drop a bomb on them” or “wipe them out” or “leave them to kill each other off.”
But then I think of what I saw:
I remember this little boy who lost his left leg when he stepped on an anti-personnel mine. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and when the last Russian soldier left a decade later, Afghanistan was one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world. In 2008, more than 62,000 anti-personnel mines were destroyed. As of 2010, there are still at least 6,000 land mine or unexploded ordnance (UXO)Â sites, let alone individual mines. His father brought him to the local base for treatment. He came running up to the gates, carrying his bleeding little boy.
If you click on this, you can read a story I wrote in 2009 about a young Afghan woman I remember. She finally discovered she was pregnant after several years of marriage. That woman was so happy that day, that she let me photograph her without her veil. I’ve never uploaded that photo to the Internet, for fear that someone might recognize her, and punish her for “exposing” herself. (Highly unlikely, I know, but some of my writing -completely twisted- was featured on a pro-insurgency site, so they have looked at my work before).
I remember this little girl, living on the side of the rugged Hindu Kush mountains. Her father brought her in to have her burned leg treated at a small American-run forward operating base. Most villagers in the area are afraid to come here for treatment (there’s a lot of insurgent activity). I remember this father held his little girl close when she was frightened and in pain, and he looked at her with love and gentleness in his eyes.
I remember the young female English teacher, probably around 23 or 24 years old. Her dream was to move to American one day. She told me, proudly, that she never intended to marry. Very feminist words indeed for an Afghan woman!
I remember these girls and many like them. Forbidden during the Taliban reign, these girls now attend school.
I know the media rarely shows it (everyone has a boss, and everyone has an agenda), but there are good things happening there with our presence. These are just a few snapshots of many wonderful things I witnessed, especially for the women.
But I also remember the young Soldier, barely a legal adult, with a bullet hole in the front of the vest that saved his life.
I remember the wiggly, black body bags carried on stretchers to the helicopter.
I remember the silent ranks of infantry Soldiers staring at the just-unveiled memorial.
There will always be countries in dire need of saving. But can we really?
As a continent, Africa really burdens me. The Congo is a horrific place for women and girls to live, because rape is commonplace. In Somalia, about 95% of girls between the ages of 4 and 11 experience female genital mutilation (FGM). Many of you have probably heard of the Invisible Children in Uganda. The recent riots and killings in South Africa tell us of the country’s deep-rooted troubles.
It’s been estimated that more than 20 million people at one time are victims of human trafficking…most of them women and girls.
I’m not saying that it’s worth it for us to be the world’s policeman. I’m not saying that it’s worth the 2,000+ American lives that Operation Enduring Freedom has cost us (so far). But I am saying that to me, there are faces in this equation. Afghanistan is not just an evil country somewhere far away.