Monday, August 6, 2012

El Niagara en Bicicleta

As the aforementioned surly-attitude-at-the-end-of-tour began to take solid hold of me I have had the good fortune to cross paths with my most special colleagues - who are also my hosts in their country. In taking my leave of them I found my patience and hope restored. As we sat and talked, I saw before me living proof that there is hope for Afghanistan in the form of these men and women. Further, a great sense of peace washed over me as I realized that if nothing else, my colleagues, now friends, had touched my life and I theirs.

See if you can pick out the outsider...
We spoke of the future, but even if their personal stories about extremists in their mosque or university, or how they disguise their affiliation with Americans suggested troubled times ahead, the WAY that they were shared gave hope. There was no shred of self-pity or egotism, and their courage and good humor in the face of adversity nothing short of remarkable. Staring clear-eyed into the future of their troubled country they nonetheless took pains to show their gratitude for my having tried to help their country, and their sincere wish that I might return as a visitor with my family. Having see this farewell sentiment shared many times before, I was nonetheless struck by the fact that my closest Afghan friends shared it both as a sign of affection and an affirmation of their own commitment and effort to improve their homeland so that it becomes suitable for western guests without armored vehicles and body armor. 

Typical Meeting at Governors Compound
(Pictures on wall are of Pres. Karzai and Massoud)

My professional contacts showed the same grace and generosity of spirit as I took my leave, and I had the great pleasure of attending a joint US-Afghan "Iftar" - or Ramadan dinner - with a majority of my best contacts and friends. Set outdoors on long tables, the meal was spectacular, even for those of us who had not gone without food or water since sunrise (I often skipped lunch, but hydrate to avoid the splitting headache that can come from trying to be culturally sensitive...).

For starters there was the always delicious and usually super-fresh "naan" (which can mean either bread or food in general - I mean bread). Then an assortment of lightly spiced creamy soups, kabobs, chicken, and a kind of afghan french fry that I was dismayed to discover only the cusp of my departure. Finally a friend shared a slice of what he jokingly called "afghan pizza" - a soft bread stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. No offense to the italians, but I'd take it over pizza any day.

The conversation around me was familiar, swirling from family to politics to security to corruption and back. As I listened and watched them laughingly catalog the woes and challenges of their country I knew both that the last decade of struggles is a beginning not an end to efforts to create a future for the next generation of Afghans, and that if this group of people could shoulder the burdens they carry and maintain the warmth of spirit and good humor that was on display, they might just succeed brilliantly.

My observant readers are still wondering about the odd title to this posting, unless they happen to be fans of Juan Luis Guerra who has a song carrying the same title. The song is about the Dominican Republic, and its people who have suffered under dictatorship, poverty and countless other challenges without losing the spring in their step and the twinkle in their eye as they press forward with their lives. The lyric (freely translated) dryly observes that it is "hard to go over Niagara Falls on a bicycle" - but over they go all the same, with a smile on their face and a dream of a better country for their children.  Suerte! (Luck)

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