Salaam Afghanistan

Health and Ethnic Conflict.

My first visit to the Heart of Asia -- Reflections and Photos.

My Photo
Location: Mbarara, Uganda

Internist and Pediatrician with a passion for international health.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Sima Samar's Hospital, Riding a Motorbike, Volleyball, and Spelunking in Jaghori

We arrive in Jaghori and meet Heidar's family. Parents, brother, sisters & their husbands, children. We are offered a lunch-time snack. They offer to clean my clothes (I am dusty!).

Jaghori is beautiful. A small, lush valley at the edge of the "river." Trees have been replanted.

Heidar wants to get a haircut and we need pick up food for dinner. We get on the motorbike, I behind Heidar, and I am sure I must have just implicitly agreed to be married to him by doing this. "Are you sure it's ok?" "Yes, yes, it's ok" We stop at local women's community center, a small structure that has been rebuilt and is being refurbished. Women can come here and learn to read. The man who runs it gives me an apple.

Back on the bike and farther down the path into town. The one main street. The rubble at the end of the street where the school for boys used to be. Heidar's haircut.

Back on the bike and over to look at the new hospital. Then to the UN for a visit and doing some email.

Head back. Stop for a quick game of volleyball. Heidar invites me to play. I decide to watch instead.

Back home. Cooking the rice in a huge pot in the backyard. Dinner upstairs. After dinner we watch some karate movies. Bedtime. Heidar and I sleep alone in the same room upstairs, his mat on one side, mine on the other. Still, I am surprised. Surely they think we are married.

Up early the next day to drive out to a nearby place where there are caves that go as far as you can see. Heidar's dad gives us knives and guns.

We arrive and get out ready to explore the caves. A couple of local boys show us the way. It's tough to climb up to the entrance. So much effort only to discover that they have been closed up. Villagers have put lots of rocks at the entrances, apparently to prevent their boys from going in and getting lost. We are told that this has happened in the past, that the boys never returned.

Back down. Heidar wants me to go the long way around instead of straight down the way we came up. I tell him, "That little boy just went this way, I can go this way." He says, "He's an Afhgan boy" and I say, "Well, I am American woman, and I'll go this way" Heidar is bemused but goes down first and insists on catching me as I jump. I don't want him to, but there is no preventing it.

We play in the river a bit. Heidar is filming, and playing Afghan music for the soundtrack.

We continue up the road and have lunch at the home of a relative of our driver (I think). Relax a bit, and head back.

Back in Jaghori, we return to the hospital and go in. His cousin works there as a nurse, and she shows me around. the is the men's ward. the women's ward. the outpatient room where they are examined. here are some very sick women. one has a tumor and is clearly wasting. its crowded. i wish i could do something.

The operating rooms. The story about the pregnant woman who hemorrhaged and died fighting for water at the water pump. A man kicked her in the stomach. They didn't have any blood for her. Without regular electricity they don't have a place to keep blood. Another story about a woman whose child was stillborn. How terrible. How she must have felt. Yes, she said, "All of that time waiting for nothing." I am reminded why so many Afghan families treat pregnancy so differently, why they don't acknowledge pregnancy even until much later, even into the 3rd trimester, and why the women don't behave and are not treated any differently -- they are expected to work the same, to delay eating at meals just the same. With such a high maternal and infant mortality rate, it would be difficult to be emotional and attached.

The staff at the hospital are so overworked and underpaid as it is -- there aren't enough people to treat all problems at any time of day. There is a room where the nurses sleep and eat while on their shifts. They take turns spending the night. They are very tired. My host says that she will look for new work after one more year because it is too difficult here.

We go back to Heidar's house. Dinner. To bed early because we are to leave for Bamiyan tomorrow. Heidar wants to stay another day, but I need to be back in Kabul by Friday, so we decide to continue as planned. It should take 8 hours to get to Bamiyan, so we plan to get up and be out by 8:00.


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