Shafeeqa’s tears of blood.
The greeting party at Imam Sajjad (A) Clinic troop out to meet us; Aagha Amini, the local community religious leader, Dr. Islam Yaar, nurse Mohammed Amin, pharmacist Mohammed Rafiq cleaner Zaman plus Basheer and a businessman, Hussein Pur, who has volunteered to accompany and help Basheer as I have missed my Pactec flight. Per Afghan traditions, midwife Shafeeqa does not venture out; it is cold anyway and she is busy preparing our dinner. The clinic moved to this present location about 2 weeks ago because the former structure was too small. This one however, has no toilets except behind the building with the sky as the roof.
Reluctantly and vexed that our guys could have agreed to rent a place without a toilet in a medical clinic, I mutter incoherently but gingerly make my way through grass and mud to squat behind the building. It is bitterly cold but what makes it worse are biting winds that make mockery of my warmers and sweater. Still, I must go, as the green tea and cold winds have my kidneys working overtime. It is when I am almost done that I see it; teary eyes of a humongous, harmless field rat, perhaps startled and blinded by the torchlight I am waving around fearfully. I let out a shrill scream and lose the torch, but not caring, run, stepping on turds deposits of my predecessors. We are supposed to sleep at the clinic but I refuse, absolutely refuse sleeping at a place without a toilet, even an evil smelly one. I agree to sleep at the dilapidated home of Aagha Amini, with a stinking toilet in the courtyard. Exhausted from our trip, we eat a quick dinner of nan, tea and over salted beef broth before I fall blissfully asleep.
We try to sleep after fajr prayers the next morning at 3, but sleep is elusive, so we bundle up and go out to see the sun rise to some spectacular mountain vistas I have ever set eyes on. Sacheck is a dirt poor village in the middle of nowhere, but her breathtaking beauty cannot be denied. Our breakfast of nan, chai and dry nuts is spent on strategizing and planning the running of our clinic; Dr. Allah Yaar is very vocal about storage of staff and the need for better facilities. He currently sees about 200 plus patients daily and quality attention with this volume is simple not possible. I try and explain CAI limited resources; I can understand his problems; he sees them at micro levels, while I have to focus on macro levels that take in all of CAI projects and funding needs worldwide.
The sheer enormity and scope of clinic services to the destitute is made clearly abundant when we tour the primal facility after breakfast. There is a man laid out on doctor’s office examining table when we get there, no other place available; Moosa Hydery is only about 30 with a huge belly. Liver Cirrhosis, whispers Allah Yaar, not very good chance of survival unless he goes to Kabul. Soon. I arrange for Moosa to be taken to Kabul at CAI expense; I later learn we are too late; medical experts at Kabul Hospital do not give him more than few months. Word has spread that foreign guests are at the clinic and a steady stream of very sick and desperate people arrive, some have travelled since 12 midnight on donkeys, some have walked. Two women, one with chronic Ostio Myalitis, another with Trombo Phibioitis are also dispatched to Kabul as Allah Yaar says he cannot treat them here. Although this decision is taking a toll on CAI sadeqa funds, I simple cannot look the women in their eyes and say no, I cannot help you; the hope and expectation on their faces will not allow me. Then, I simply refuse to see any more sick people, for the wellbeing of my pocketbook as well my personal sanity.
I have a very difficult next 30 minutes as Shafeeqa, the midwife, tearfully relates events leading to her father’s execution by the Talibaan some 8 years ago; you can read all about Shafeeqa’s Tears of Blood here . The entire village seems to be gathered outside, waiting to meet me afterwards; I shake their hardened, farm worked, coarse hands. The village elders hand me a handwritten letter of appreciation for all that CAI is doing for their village, from the clinic, to blankets, mass marriages and Iftaar food packets. It is difficult to fathom the poverty of these people unless you visit and meet them and this tribute is an emotional strain for me indeed; for CAI and I, it is us that are deeply indebted for the opportunity to serve. After many different meetings and audits, we are ready for lunch and drive back to YawKawlang. I do not want us driving in the dark; want to visit Shafeeqa’s destroyed home and rest well for the next leg of my odyssey tomorrow; a chartered flight and another 18 hours drive to the district of Belkhaab.
Lunch has become an issue; Dr. Allah Yaar informs me Shafeeqa is on an emergency call to stabilize a full term pregnant woman who is in a coma and bleeding. The women lives some distance away and Shafeeqa will not be able to cook lunch, would fried eggs, naan and chai suffice? Well, for one, Shafeeqa is not our cook and my Mama always said food tasted excellent no matter what it was as long as you were hungry; so true, no? So, 3 delicious fried eggs each later, we depart for YawKawlang where we arrive in record time of just 2 hours. After visiting Shafeeqa destroyed home, we are guests at Dr. Allah Yaar’s home (with 2 toilet in the courtyard!) and have a feast of lamb pulau for dinner.
Next morning, we drive to YawKawlang “airport” and wait for our Pactec chartered flight to arrive from Kabul; it does, an hour late. The runway is simply a stretch of straight dirt road; the pilot makes a diving fly by to inspect it, make sure there are no major obstacles on it. Another delay ensues when a bored “security” officer drives up and demands clearance papers from the 2 astonished pilots; they have heard of no such requirement. After about an hour of sitting on dirt and many heated telephone conversations between the pilots, security officer and people higher up in Bamiyaan, the bored security officer decides he has had enough excitement and just as abruptly, speeds away; we take off in a hurry.
The aircraft is a single engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk, 4 passengers and 2 pilots; for those with weak stomachs, it will not be a compassionate ride, for it can toss, dance and bounce with mountain winds; Pactec keeps extra sick bags. Andre, the Swiss pilot with whom I have travelled before is a wonderful man, fluent in Dari. He is training Aziz, a young American (assumed name? convert?) today but still flies low enough for us to photograph and video spectacular sights of snowy mountain tops and green valleys. An hour later, we make an uneventful, perfect landing Shabbar Khan, on another strip of dirt, after a precautionary fly past over it.
CAI has sponsored the marriages of 100 poor couples in Belkhaab; in our honor, the Governor of Belkhaab has sent a vehicle to pick us up. My, my, Yakoob’s khatara put this antique to immediate shame; we debate long and hard if we want to risk a hard drive of 12 hours in this heap. The driver, a kid really, shrugs his shoulders uncaringly, asks us to make up our minds, he has a long drive ahead. We have little choice, to find a replacement would take a half day, at least. While it was super cold in YawKawlang, it is opposite in the valley of Shabbar Khan and I for one have no reservations about getting rid of my warmers and sweater, changing in the moving van, a decision I will regret immensely later on.
To be continued…
You can view few photographs of this trip here.