Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Safe and Sound in Cambridge

I arrived home safe and sound on Wednesday, Nov. 23, just in time to celebrate a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family. It was quite a trip back. I brought Khaleda back with me, who as you might recall has a serious illness that needs immediate treatment. She was a trooper and the two of us managed to wield our way through the Kabul airport, where the guards were skeptical, despite documentation, of my taking her with me.

We then had a 4 hour layover in Dubai, much of it waiting to “confirm” our luggage so it could be transferred to the United flight to DC. We finally boarded our United flight at 12:50am. Khaleda fell sound asleep. I was not so fortunate but did manage to get some sleep over the next 15 hours.

Approximately 24 hours after leaving Kabul we arrived in DC. Khaleda’s host Mom, Amanda, who she spent time with last summer, was there waiting for her. Khaleda flew into her arms. It was really quite touching for all of us. Khaleda was so, so sad when she left her parents in Kabul and couldn’t stop crying. I felt much better when I saw how happy she was to see Amanda. I knew all would be well. They headed off to North Carolina and I headed to Boston. I was greeted at Logan by my son, Jason, and my good friend Susan Fisher who was holding up a sign – “WEL COM HOME” (spelled like the sign the kids made in Kunduz!) I loved it.

Having now a few days to regroup, catch up on sleep, and unpack, I am clear-minded enough to reflect on my time spent in Afghanistan. I feel very positive about what was accomplished, despite the security issues, a couple of earthquakes and a few other challenges. I am quite confident that the project is moving along in a good direction and that new systems are in place in Afghanistan that will allow the project to run more smoothly and to be even more Afghan-driven.

Future plans:
1. We’re close to printing another 5000 songbooks. I just need to do another accounting with the Folk Arts Center.
2. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Kabul is working with Vaheed to collect songs for a 2nd songbook.
3. I will continue to fundraise for the production of the 2nd songbook and for additional printing for the first songbook.
4. I have been asked to do a couple of presentations about the project, one at a school and one at an Afghan-American organization in DC. Those will occur in February. (By the way, I’m always happy to do this kind of presentation and feel it helps educate people about Afghanistan, beyond war and terrorism. Please contact me if you have any ideas.)
5. I’ve designated Rauf Meraj, one of SOLA’s students, to be my in-country songbook distribution manager. This frees me up from that task, which was always very difficult to manage from afar.

Although hard at times, going to Afghanistan was an important journey for me to take. I thank all of you for following along and providing support. Many of you sent in contributions and I am very, very grateful to all of you. Every donation means a huge amount to this project. If you'd like to make a contribution to help print more songbooks, go to www.afghansongbook.org

Please feel free to share this blog or the songbook website (www.afghansongbook.org) with anyone you feel might be interested (music teachers, classroom teachers, families, etc.) in learning more about Afghanistan and/or this project.
Thank you again. Happy holidays everyone and may there be peace on earth.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Headed Home

"My bags are packed and I’m ready to go….....”

I head out this afternoon with mixed emotions, leaving many new and dear friends behind.

Last night Ted and I were invited to Meena’s home for dinner. Meena is a student here at SOLA (Meena is the young woman in the red scarf at the lunch table. The photo shows a typical lunch with the SOLA family!) She went with me and Rauf to the orphanage. Ted and I set out early to avoid traffic. BUT the taxi drive was yet again another ordeal. We spent 2 ½ hours going about 15-20 miles. At one point the taxi just turned off the engine and we sat, and sat and sat. I wondered if it was really worth it. I was feeling tired and thinking I should be home packing.

But once in Meena’s lovely home I knew it was all worth it. Her mother and father are simply wonderful and gracious. They had prepared a feast for us. AND they couldn’t stop thanking me, and Ted too, for doing what we are doing for Afghanistan. Time and again Afghans told to me how grateful they were that I had come to this country to help them. They know how hard it is to be here. They feel terrible when something happens – like the rocket attack incident.

So I head for the airport feeling sad about leaving the students I’ve become so connected with, the children in the orphanage, the sweet children in Kunduz and the many, many other wonderful [people I’ve met while I’ve been here. Thank heavens for email and Skype! I will at least know, unlike when I was here before, that I can keep in contact with all these people.

I saw Vaheed again yesterday and he is definitely working on the second book. He plans to be back here in late spring. I would love to be here when he records the songs with the children with Kabul. We’ll see. As they say in Dari – En Shallah (God willing)

I am taking Khaleda with me today on the plane. I think I mentioned before that she is the little girl who has Thalassemia and is coming to the States to receive necessary treatment. Her mother says she’s 11 yrs. old although she looks 6 or 7. She’s quite small and frail. She speaks no English. I speak a little Dari but I’m sure we will manage somehow. I worry about the long layover in Dubai – almost 4 hours. We don’t board the plane until midnight. She’ll be exhausted, I’m quite sure. I am going to try to convince United that she needs 2 seats so she can lay down. We’ll see how that goes. We land in Washington, DC in the early morning where Khaleda will be met by her host family. Then I will go back into the airport and head for Boston and Thanksgiving Day with my family.
There’s a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. That’s for sure.

khoda hafez (goodbye) from Kabul.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rocket Attack - Too Close for Comfort

Last night was quite a night. Deni ( the other SOLA teacher ) and I were invited out to dinner and were meeting our friend Vic in downtown Kabul. The traffic was horrendous from the onset. The taxi was almost 2 hours late with the excuse there was an accident or something. The driver wasn’t quite sure. He started off going a strange route, obviously avoiding the main drag as long as possible.

Traffic in every direction was literally at a standstill from the minute we set off. Bikes and pedestrians wove their way through the cars, even they made little headway. We had just rounded the corner in front of the infamous Serena Hotel when there was an enormous explosion. My first reaction – oh no. This isn’t good. I knew it was close to us (within 100 yds) and my immediate thought was – we need to get out of here, but how? I was quite sure it was a suicide bomb.Deni later confessed he actually saw the rocket come across in front of us and then saw the explosion and gunfire.

I looked out the car window and in front of us there was suddenly nothing. The street had cleared out. It was so strange. In a millisecond there were no cars where seconds before there was nothing but cars. It looked like a dark plaza – completely empty. I'm not sure where all the cars went. There we were, Deni in the front seat, me in the back, the driver looking stunned, Deni saying, rocket? The driver agreeing. And me really still hoping it was a suicide bomber because then I knew it was most likely over and there wouldn’t be a second attack.

My mind was racing – turn around? NOPE – not an option. Sit here? Hm…not a good idea since we were in the front row and so close to the attack. I thought to myself, we’ll never get out and what if there’s another rocket or more gunfire? Suddenly, with no warning, the driver gunned the engine and went full speed ahead right across the dark empty space which seconds before had been the scene of rocket fire and gun shots. I thought, oh no. Deni shouted, DON'T. But there really wasn't another choice. We all knew that. The driver, having been, we found out later, through three of these kinds of attacks before, knew what he had to do.

We got to the other side and stopped dead. The driver pushed the taxi as close as he could to the other cars, trying hard to wiggle our way into the traffic and get as far away as possible. I realized we were now on the other side but really not that much farther away. In a foolish moment I asked, “Should we get out and walk.” "NO" of course, was the instant reply. Really dumb idea on my part but I hated the idea of being paralyzed in the traffic.

The driver ordered us to get down. Deni pulled his wool hat down as far as he could and slunk down in the front seat. I ducked down in the back seat, pulling my headscarf over my head. Deni could see much more than I could. From then on and for the next hour I was only experiencing what was going on through the sounds I heard. I could hear a lot of men shouting which scared me a lot and Deni said later that policemen with guns were looking in every window of every car.

We crawled along for over an hour, moving hardly at all. The driver would edge forward with a jerk and then slam on the brakes, honking at every car. The voices finally calmed down, sirens quieted. The driver suggested he take us home but we had heard from Vic that the restaurant was still open. It was much closer and we both decided it was better to try to get there then head home. I really wanted out of the car. Besides, Deni has sent a text to Vic, who, once she heard what had happened, immediately said dinner was on her and a bottle of wine was waiting. We told the driver we wanted to go to the restaurant! Going home seemed crazy. Too far.

An hour and a half later we finally arrived at the restaurant and walked in, past the usual two metal barracades and 3-4 armed guards and once inside it was as if nothing had happened. I wanted to tell the guards at the door what I had just been through. But I realized they’ve been through hundreds of these attacks and probably wouldn't care. I wanted to shout to the restaurant goers– do you know where we just were? What just happened? How close we were to the rocket attack? But I realized that they too have lived through many moments similar to this one. They were happily wining and dining, aware there had been some “incident” but beyond that weren’t really concerned.

We finally got home, hours later and I was still completely wired. I found it hard to go to bed. I tried "Skyping" my family and finally reached my son. I was eager to share the experience with someone at home.

I have to confess that I really wasn't scared when I heard the explosion. Hearing the men's voices, shouting in the street did scare me. And at one point the driver actually opened the car door, got out and pounded on a car in front of him who was not moving. THAT unnerved me. He did quickly jump back in and lock the doors and I felt better. My back hurt from crouching down so long. I was disoriented and didn't have any idea where we were. I kept asking Deni and the driver. I was very happy to be out of the car and in the restaurant. We paid the driver 4 times the usual fare when we arrived at our destination safely and he seemed shocked but grateful!

Bad news travels fast here. Rauf heard about the rocket attack within minutes. He called me on my cell while I was still in the car. He was so worried and was considering trying to drive in, find our car and walk us to his car. Very sweet. Ted was beside himself.

Now it feels like maybe we made the whole thing up except Deni and I have each other as a witness and we each have similar stories to tell. We’re thankfully safe and sound and once we checked in with everyone here at SOLA, I did try to go to sleep. Not easily. I was pretty wound up for quite awhile.

Of course, today my email was filled with one message – “come home.” And, that I will–in 2 days. In fact, oddly enough, my original reservation was yesterday. Had I left as first planned I would have been in the “friendly skies” and missed the whole thing.

The point is, I can leave. I have that option. The Afghans, after 30+ years of this, must continue on. That incident was a blip on the screen for them – no more. Not for me. I think it will stay with me for some time. I leave with an ache in my heart for those left behind here, those just trying to get by. I want nothing more than peace for Afghanistan. It's been way too long.

Rock Star Sighting at SOLA

Much ado occurred yesterday, minutes after I casually remarked that Vaheed Kaacemy (the musician who is partnering with me on the Songbook Project) was coming by to pick up some songbooks on his way to Ariana Television. Within minutes, the girls in the office were racing around in a flurry, cleaning up the living room, dusting, straightening up, giggling with great excitement. Cookies were arranged on a platter. Plastic flower bouquets, left over from my visit to Kunduz, were swept up ready to be presented.

I had no idea Vaheed would create such a “stir.” I was delighted. He arrived, walked in with humility and grace, greeted everyone, endured numerous photo opts, ate a cookie or two and headed out! I felt I had, if nothing else, contributed to SOLA’s notoriety. They can now claim that Vaheed Kaacemy has made an appearance at THEIR school!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Future of the Songbook Project

My time in Afghanistan is rapidly coming to an end. It feels like centuries ago since I arrived here on Oct. 6th. The seasons have changed dramatically. When I arrived the roses were in full bloom. The Afghan geraniums (geribuns in Dari – love that word!) were happily and profusely decorating the porch outside the dining room. Now, there is snow on the mountain tops, the geraniums have been carefully moved to the windowsill inside the dining room and the roses are resisting the cold with two brave pink buds, determined to bloom despite the early morning frost. Wonderfully juicy "Persian" melons have been replaced by pomengranates and today I spotted piles of oranges in the fruit bazaar.

The nights drop to below freezing, and there is ice in the morning on the hardpacked dirt roads which can make driving a bit treacherous. In the morning I put on layers upon layers to keep warm, but by mid morning the warm sun has begun to heat up the house and I thaw out a bit. Heaters are in short supply so most of us hover around the windows to work where the sun beams in and keeps us toasty warm.

I will have been here just 7 weeks when I head home. Although that seemed like a long time to be here when I planned the trip, I also knew inherently that things in Afghanistan take time. Time here moves at a different rate than in the U.S. It takes time to build relationships, meet people, maneuver the system, the security, and the way of doing business.

I extended my departure four days in order to have the opportunity to meet with CEO, Jolyon Leslie, of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Vaheed Kaacemy (the musician for the songbook). Aga Khan, among many things it focuses on, has a music initiative in Afghanistan which was created to support the effort ”to sustain, further develop and transmit musical traditions that are a vital part of the cultural heritage.“ Aware of Aga Khan’s interest in cultural preservation, I had contacted Jolyon early on in the project. But the timing was not quite right. At that point the songbook project was not well enough established and Aga Khan's music initiative was also not in place.

Happily, the time is now perfect. Jolyon is completely behind the songbook project and our discussion focused on creating a second songbook. Jolyon was pleased I had spent enough time here to assess the project and thus be in a position to make an informed decision about next steps. Vaheed currently is alreaday contracted to research traditional music for Aga Khan and will now add children’s music to his research. (He actually has already gathered some material) By the end of our meeting we had established a plan of action and a tentative timeline. We hope to produce a second book of 18 songs, 4 in Pashto, 4 in Dari, 2 in Uzbeki, 2 in Balochi (from Badakhshan), 2 Hazargi and 4 chants that are also singing games.

Vaheed will spend about 1 -2 months in Kabul where he will hopefully gather the repertoire needed. He will return to Toronto and will work on arranging the songs. He plans to, as with the first songbook, record with Afghan children. He will do some of the recording in Toronto and some in Kabul when he returns next spring. Jolyon has offered to cover Vaheed’s expenses and my job will be to find matching funds to support the graphic design and printing costs. Jolyon, originally from South Africa, speaks fluent Dari and Pashto and has lived in Afghanistan for 20 years! He has a real grasp of Afghan culture and a wonderful longtime relationship with the Afghans across the country.

This is a huge step for the songbook project. I left the meeting feeling I had allies in Afghanistan who truly supported this project and were helping to move it forward. This feels reassuring to me. I will, of course, continue to work on identifying funding sources and will continue to reprint the first songbook since there is clearly a need. Once the second book is printed, hopefully by late spring, early summer, I will work on funding the production of that as well.

The other change I've put into place is to establish a formal relationship with SOLA. One of the students, Rauf Meraj (who escorted me to Kunduz) has agreed to be songbook administrator in Kabul. Instead of my figuring out the distribution from Cambridge (which really made no sense), Rauf will work with NGO’s like Save the Children, Afghan Institute of Learning, etc. and organize the distribution efforts from Kabul. He has also agreed to follow-up with the recipients to see how the songbooks are being used, if more are needed, etc. During the time I was here Rauf went to Kunduz and to the Sweet Heaven Orphanage with me and has a very clear understanding of the impact of the songbook with children. I know I’m leaving the distribution component of the project in very capable hands.

The new relationships with Aga Khan and SOLA move the project in a positive direction. It is now much more Afghan-centered. Jolyon and I spoke about how to get more Afghan businesses supporting this effort. He has offered to work on that. TriVision Kabul (our printing company) has also offered to assist in this effort. I can do some follow up work from the States. If Fulbright finally agrees to allow their awardees to go to Afghanistan, I will happily return to do some teacher training and follow-up work on the songbook project. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next!

We’re within $3000 of being able to go to press for the next 5000 songbooks. I can smell the ink on the paper! Thank you all who have generously supported the project and for spreading the word. I’ve had people as far as Bainbridge Island, WA writing articles in their local newspaper and talking up the project! Every little bit counts. It is my belief that getting these Afghan children’s songs back into circulation and out into the world is just plain good karma!

Tashakor besyar ziyad (Thank you very much)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Time for a Political Commentary: What's Best for Afghanistan?

As you can well imagine, there is continuous discussion and debate here about what strategies should be taken in Afghanistan. What is best for this country? What should Obama do? What role should the U.S. play? Of course, we don’t have the answer(s) but I do know it’s very complicated, much more so than, I believe, is conveyed in local newspapers or television reports. Below I’ve posted a very interesting article published recently in the NY Times. Some of you might have read it. It struck home for many of us and provided a ray of hope. First I share Ted’s comments (in italics) He’s been here 7 years and I believe provides a good perspective given his longevity in Afghanistan and his strong relationship with Afghans. After my short time here, I agree with him wholeheartedly - couldn't have said it better myself! My students agree as well.

Go to the people. Go to the villages. Strengthen them. Gain their trust. Keep it simple. They can and will deal quickly, easily, effectively with corruption at the local level. Help them today, help them to sustain themselves and they will do for themselves now what their larger governmental structures will mismanage and deplete by theft for decades to come.
Take our aid to the people and build the economy from the bottom up.
Out perform the Taliban at the local level, build faith in our longevity and build the economy from the bottom up:
With care, side step the central government and build good governance and the economy from the bottom up.
Top down does not work in Afghanistan. Is there anything that has been proven with more certainty than this simple statement? The sooner we get this straight, the sooner the successor generation, the leaders of tomorrow and especially the women among them, will be able to add tangible evidence to and will reinforce the intuitive optimism that some of us hold for this country’s future.

November 13, 2009
Afghan Enclave Seen as Model to Rebuild, and Rebuff Taliban

JURM, Afghanistan — Small grants given directly to villagers have brought about modest but important changes in this corner of Afghanistan, offering a model in a country where official corruption and a Taliban insurgency have frustrated many large-scale development efforts.

Since arriving in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States and its Western allies have spent billions of dollars on development projects, but to less effect and popular support than many had hoped for. Much of that money was funneled through the central government, which has been increasingly criticized as incompetent and corrupt. Even more has gone to private contractors hired by the United States who siphon off almost half of every dollar to pay the salaries of expatriate workers and other overhead costs.

Not so here in Jurm, a valley in the windswept mountainous province of Badakhshan, in the northeast. People here have taken charge for themselves — using village councils and direct grants as part of an initiative called the National Solidarity Program, introduced by an Afghan ministry in 2003. Before then, this valley had no electricity or clean water, its main crop was poppy and nearly one in 10 women died in childbirth, one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Today, many people have water taps, fields grow wheat and it is no longer considered shameful for a woman to go to a doctor.

If there are lessons to be drawn from the still tentative successes here, they are that small projects often work best, that the consent and participation of local people are essential and that even baby steps take years. The issues are not academic. Bringing development to Afghans is an important part of a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at drawing people away from the Taliban and building popular support for the Western-backed government by showing that it can make a difference in people’s lives.

“We ignored the people in districts and villages,” said Jelani Popal, who runs a state agency that appoints governors. “This caused a lot of indifference. ‘Why should I side with the government if it doesn’t even exist in my life?’ Jurm was tormented by warlords in the 1990s, and though it never fell to the Taliban, the presence of the central government, even today, is barely felt. The idea to change that was simple: people elected the most trusted villagers, and the government in Kabul, helped by foreign donors, gave them direct grants — money to build things like water systems and girls’ schools for themselves.

Local residents contend that the councils work because they take development down to its most basic level, with villagers directing the spending to improve their own lives, cutting out middle men, local and foreign, as well as much of the overhead costs and corruption. “You don’t steal from yourself,” was how Ataullah, a farmer in Jurm who uses one name, described it. The grants were small, often less than $100,000. The plan’s overall effectiveness is still being assessed by academics and American and Afghan officials, but the idea has already been replicated in thousands of villages across the country.

Anecdotal accounts point to some success. There have even been savings. When villages in the Jurm Valley wanted running water, for instance, they did much of the work themselves, with help from an engineer. A private contractor with links to a local politician had asked triple the price. (The villagers declined.) Even such modest steps have not come easily. Jurm presented many obstacles, and it took a development group with determined local employees to jump-start the work here.

One basic problem was literacy, said Ghulam Dekan, a local worker with the Aga Khan Development Network, the nonprofit group that supports the councils here. Unlike the situation in Iraq, which has a literacy rate of more than 70 percent, fewer than a third of Afghans can read, making the work of the councils painfully slow. Villagers were suspicious of projects, believing that the people in the groups that introduced them were Christian missionaries. “They didn’t understand the importance of a road,” Mr. Dekan said.

Most projects, no matter how simple, took five years. Years of war had smashed Afghan society into rancorous bits, making it difficult to resist efforts by warlords to muscle in on projects. “They said, ‘For God’s sake, we can’t do this, we don’t have the capability,’ ” Mr. Dekan said. “We taught them to have confidence.”

Muhamed Azghari, an Aga Khan employee, spent more than a year trying to persuade a mullah to allow a girls’ school. His tactic: sitting lower than the man, a sign of deference, and praising his leadership. He paid for the man to visit other villages to see what other councils had accomplished. “Ten times we fought, two times we laughed,” Mr. Dekan said, using the Afghan equivalent of “two steps forward, one step back.”

When it came to women, villagers were adamant. But forcing conditions would have violated a basic principle of the approach: never start a project that is not backed by all members of the community, or it will fail. “People have to be mentally ready,” said Akhtar Iqbal, Aga Khan’s director in Badakhshan. If they are not, the school or clinic will languish unused, a frequent problem with large-scale development efforts.

Five years later, the village of Fargamanch has women’s literacy classes and a girls’ high school. Over all, girls’ enrollment in Badakhshan is up by 65 percent since 2004, according to the Ministry of Education. The number of trained midwives has quadrupled. Health has also improved. Now, 3,270 families have taps for clean drinking water near their homes, reducing waterborne diseases.

The councils are also a check on corruption. When 200 bags of wheat mysteriously disappeared from the local government this year, council members demanded they be returned. (They were.)

When a minister’s aide cashed a check meant for a transformer, Mr. Ataullah spent a week tracking down a copy. (The aide was fired.) “The government doesn’t like us anymore,” Mr. Azghari said, laughing. “They want the old system back.”

While Badakhshan’s changes are fragile, the forces of modernization are growing. Televisions have begun to broadcast the outside world into villages. Phone networks cover more than 80 percent of the province, triple what the figure was in 2001.

Perhaps most important, Afghans are tired of war, and seeing the benefits of a decade of peace might be enough to encourage new kinds of decisions.

Ghulam Mohaiuddin, a farmer, seethes when he remembers the past. “The jihad was useless,” he said, sitting cross-legged in his mud-walled house. Suddenly, a loud blast went off, startling his guests. He laughed. It was the sound of canal construction, not a bomb. “Now we’ve put down our weapons and started building,” he said, smiling.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Songbooks Travel to Sheberghan

Sheberghan is located in the northwest corner of Afghanistan, northwest of Mazar-e-Sharif, very near the Turkmenistan border. One of SOLA’s students, Kudooz, came up to me about a week ago and asked if he could, “PLEASE, Ms Louise,” have 80 songbooks for his mother’s elementary school. I have only about 100 songbooks left, but I couldn’t turn him down. He told his mother about the project and she had immediately asked Kudooz to find out if her school could receive books. I was amazed at Kudooz's willingness to hand deliver them as soon as I gave my approval.

The trip to Sheberghan is arduous. It’s about 300 miles from Kabul and the bus trip takes 12-14 hours. Kodooz left Kabul around 3:00am and finally arrived at his home in the late afternoon. He did ask me if I wanted to go along but I declined! I think of myself as a hardy sort but somehow that trip seemed a bit more than I could tackle.

I’ve posted a few photos from his trip. I was delighted to see from the photos that the teachers were really using the songbook to teach basic reading skills. You can see, particularly if you click on the photo and enlarge it, that the letters of the alphabet are written up on the board. Kudooz reported that they sang the Alphabet Song and then went to the board and identified the letters. This pleased me no end.
(Kudooz is the handsome young man in the photos with the bright purple shirt!)

When Kudooz returned he presented me not only with a camera full of pictures but with a very official "thank you" certificate, elaboratively written in Dari and English, bordered in gold and green with official stamped seals in all four corners and signed with a signature of great flourish! I’m learning that the Afghans don’t take the gesture of saying thank you lightly. This certificate deserves to be framed.

My time here is rapidly passing. I have only about ten days left and I head home. I can't believe I've been here almost 2 months. It's been an incredibly rewarding experience and one I will not forget.

It is still somewhat uncertain, because we’ve yet to get the final visa approval, but the plan is that I will take little Khaleda back with me. She’ll be met in DC, where we first land from Dubai, and taken by her host family to Charlotte, NC. The SOLACE group has arranged for her to receive treatments for her disease, Thalasemmia, which is, as I understand it, a severe lack of iron. It is fatal if untreated. Her treatments could take from one-two years. SOLACE miraculously arranges for doctors to provide all their services free. Arranging all of this has required a couple of trips to the U.S. Embassy. One of those included Khaleda’s parents. Both are sweet and gentle people, terribly grateful to have someone helping heal their very sick daughter. Her mother, with her burqa pulled up off her face, sat quietly in the backseat of the car as we drove to the Consulate Office. Perhaps I was projecting how I would feel parting with my daughter for a year, but I felt compelled for most of the car ride to convince her that I really was a good person, a mother, a grandmother and I would take good care of her daughter on the plane! She just smiled tenderly and thanked me for all we were doing to help Khaleda.

I’m reminded daily how complicated it is to live here. There are so many problems, many of them seemingly insurmountable that it is easy to get off track. I need to daily remind myself what I can and cannot do. Stay focused is my motto!

By the end of this week I hope to have met with the CEO of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and Vaheed. I’ll report in on the status of the second songbook. The prospects of producing that are quite good at this point.

Thank you all again for your moral and financial support, for taking time to follow along and for allowing Afghanistan and the Afghan people to become a small part of your life.