In 2005, I traveled with Global Exchange Reality Tours Afghanistan “Women Making Change” for an Independent Study Project in photography.
I was a 47-year-old re-entry student in my last semester at Arizona State University and I wanted to do something “substantial.” This is not to say that I didn’t have reservations. I had never traveled outside of the United States, except for short trips across the border to Mexico and Canada. Consequently, I didn’t even have a passport. The U.S. State Department website strongly advised U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. One Sunday, I was sitting in Mass listening to Father Ritari deliver a Lenten homily about Jesus’s 40 day fast in the desert. He prodded the congregation saying “You don’t have to know what you’re going to do when you get to the desert. Just get to the desert.” That was the point where I decided “Ok. I’m going.”
Stephan Marc, a professor in the College of Fine Arts, agreed to be my faculty advisor. If he had misgivings about the project he didn’t voice them. He had mentioned in class once, that he carried a tripod hidden in his pants leg as a makeshift weapon while photographing in rough neighborhoods in Chicago.
As a self-described “Mr. Magoo of travel”, Global Exchange Reality Tours Afghanistan offered a way to examine the situation on the ground first-hand.
Media caricatures Afghans as turbaned, AK-47 toting terrorists. Co-workers referred to Afghans as “camel jockeys and towel heads.” To say that I was skeptical of the U.S. government’s rush to war would be an understatement.
While many Afghans fled during the 1979 – 1989 Soviet invasion, our guide Najib Sedeqe stayed. He provided introductions to people and organizations i.e. Rabia Balkhi Hospital that we would not have had access to otherwise. The head doctor at Rabia Balkhi gave us a tour of the maternity ward where eight pregnant women in various stages of labor waited to deliver their babies without anesthesia. When we visited the “ICU” I thought to myself that there were a lot of sets of twins. As it turned out, babies were doubled up two to an incubator due to a medical equipment shortage.
In 2007, I returned to Afghanistan as a volunteer for Afghans4Tomorrow, teaching English in the A4T girl’s schools.
Global Exchange Reality Tours: Afghanistan: Women Making Change, October 3 – 12, 2017