Last Saturday, I went to Springfield to talk with a group of women in a Presbyterian church about my experiences in Afghanistan.
One of the women in the group attended the Business Women of Missouri’s annual conference held here in Sedalia last August; I was a speaker at that conference, and so she got in touch with me, telling me that she thought the Presbyterian Women’s group would like to hear about my adventures. We kept in touch and eventually worked out a a time for me to speak during their meeting, which was held, believe it or not, at the church where Max’s grandmother was a member.
As bad luck would have it, my talk was only a few days after another horrible murder in Kabul, this one of an American doctor who had spent time during the past five years treating women and children in a hospital there.
The women had questions, understandably, about why Americans stayed in harm’s way trying to do good when their efforts seemed to be fruitless. I can’t answer that question any more today than I could when I was there. What I do know, though, is that the doctor had done a lot of good in a country where health care is, at best, primitive. I also know that the people he treated were grateful for his commitment to their care.
And that leads to the other question that invariably arises when I speak to a group: what will happen when the Americans leave? Unfortunately, that, too, is a question I can’t answer, but we will find out soon. The Americans will be gone by the end of the year and the Afghans are at least in the process of electing a new president. Things will change drastically and change very quickly.
I am curious about what the new president will be like. Hamid Karzai, the current president, seems to be an extremely self-interested politician, knowing which side of the bread is buttered and by whom. He has collected millions of dollars as the man in the middle between the Americans and the Taliban. I was amused as, while I was being driven around Kabul, I saw his picture posted on billboards, movie marquees, and the sides of buildings. It was as if he didn’t want anyone to forget who he was and that he was in charge. He made sure those in Kabul didn’t forget.
But I was curious as to how he kept his visage in front of the people who live in the provinces, away from the cities and electricity, and how the current candidates for the office are able to campaign.
As much as we loathe those political television commercials, they at least tell us the names of the people running for office. Most of the people in rural Afghanistan have no access to electricity, and therefore, no access to television, radio, or the Internet. Additionally, most Afghans cannot read, and so brochures or election propaganda are of no use. Most Afghans do, however, have cell phones, and so I suppose Robo calls can be used to try to influence votes.
In any event, a new president may be helpful in stabilizing the country after the United States no longer has a presence there. We can hope that will be the case, and that the murders of innocent people who are trying to help will cease. But we probably won’t know that, because if Americans aren’t there, what happens in Afghanistan will no longer be on the nightly news. That will probably put an end to the questions I cannot answer, but I doubt that it will put an end to the unrest in the country or to the suffering of the people who live there.