Another red-eye was supposed to take us back from Herat to Kabul.  We were red-eyed alright, but the plane did not take off until 10:30 AM, a few hours later than scheduled, without any announcement or explanation.  I guess we can be thankful that we made it so far without experiencing any of the technical problems or baggage losses Afghanistan’s airlines are known for.  Instead, I had time to write my blog and the ride was smooth and uneventful.

Check-in and waiting areas are neatly divided between men and women.  And since about 10 times more men than women travel, I typically get through the checks much quicker than the guys, sit in the less crowded areas, and can board the plane first.  I might as well enjoy the few privileges that come with being a woman around here.

It was time for lunch after we finally had settled back in Kabul.  We went to the same Herat Restaurant we had been to a couple of days ago.  It has that unique garden with animals and a very pleasant atmosphere.  There are not many of these around.   Here in Kabul we are back to the routine: confined to the car mostly and accompanied at all times by Shirin, our Mujahedin-guard.  No more freedoms like in Herat.  The geese and cranes in the garden minded their business, but it was a pretty fierce looking ram that took interest in us and literally poked his head into our shoulders.  Despite its appearance it seemed a very mild-mannered animal which enjoyed to be patted.

The plan for the afternoon was to visit the Sandy Gall Afghanistan Appeal (SGAA) Center.  Contrary to previous practices we found out that one now needs a permit for this visit, too!  Bummer.  After the guard had stared into our disappointed faces long enough, he allowed us to come in and at least watch a basket ball game that was going on between four teams of 3 wheel-chaired men each:  The reds against the blues, and then orange against green.  One man in a white T-shirt seemed to function as instructor and one guy walked around the field filming.  This was interesting.  It was also interesting that Shirin, our armed guard, and his gun had to stay outside!  That was a first.  I learned, BTW, that Shirin’s gun license cost over $2000 (recently closer to $3000) in bribes every year.  This is outrageous.  These must be government officials who are lining their pockets with these bribes!  I had no idea.

The SGAA is based on the Scottish Journalist Sandy Gall who in the 1980’s reported regularly from Afghanistan and wrote books about the country as well.  In 1986, he founded this non-profit organization which today is run by the International Red Cross and outfits patients with artificial limbs.  It has provided prosthesis for over 20,000 patients injured through war and polio and provided physiotherapy for more than 50,000 patients since its conception.  Nobody is turned away; anyone with needs will be taken care of, as many as 250 patients per day.

I was really sad that we could not tour the facilities.  In front of us the game was unfolding, but there were many buildings to our right, in front of which beds had been put out with patients to enjoy the mild summer day.  About 20 minutes into the game I saw a group of 5 Westerners being led around by a doctor…  I decided to run after them and to ask if they would allow me to join their tour.  They did.  Unfortunately, they were at the end of the tour, but I got at least a little insight into what was going on:  Over 200 Afghanis work at the facility as trainers, cooks, cleaners, doctors, nurses, mechanics, and all.  Many of them are former patients, including the doctor who led us around on an artificial limb and with a cane.  All the wheel-chairs and limbs are produced in-house and maintained for the life of the chair and the patient.  The facilities the group had already toured comprised the medical tract, the reception areas, doctors’ rooms, and the clinic.  The building they were about to enter was the physiotherapy track and the mechanics area.  I was impressed!  This was the solution to the problems I had seen out there all along.  But why, if this facility was here, why would there be so many people without limbs and legs, still?  A cynic in the group thought it was because they made a business out of their disability.  I guess that is true for some, but I also think there is more to it.  Perhaps it is ignorance, or skepticism?

I felt much better after seeing this place thinking that I would donate some money to them at the end of my trip.  Most likely, that is a much more effective way to make a contribution than giving anything to street beggars.  This was a well-worth visit.  I wonder if there is a factory, or a place where these many people could find suitable work and a disability-ready environment.  The number I came across is that 3 out of 100 people in Afghanistan are disabled.  That is a staggering statistic.

To round out the day, Mubin took us up to yet another of the many hills in Kabul for a mango-picnic. The sun was setting, the wind was blowing gently and it was one of those picture-perfect summer evenings.  From the hill you could look down one way (North) into an old and obviously poor neighborhood.  People had small mud homes with flat roof gardens.  From the other side of the hill you could look down (South) into rows of fancy villas and embassies surrounded by lush gardens.  The class system works everywhere, no matter what, doesn’t it?!

Good night.


4 comments so far

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  1. I like this blog about Afghan cities.. I always want to experience Afghanistan, but not able to do so due to some obligations and fear of security.. But thanks to you I can see inside life of Afghanistan. Cheers.

  2. I could not help but reflect on the fact that we have thousands of people, right here in Washtenaw county, that cannot read – even though there are many avenues out there to help them take that step. Why the beggars? Is it an easier, less painful route? I don’t know the answers as to why.

  3. And yes, the class system does seem to be alive and well everywhere!!!

  4. Ha…I see that you are wearing socks, perhaps your own this time!!
    That is a staggering statistic for disabled people in the country. I remember seeing a documentary a couple of years after 9/11 about the shocking loss of limbs in Afghanistan and how prosthetics were so badly needed. If I remember correctly, they were dropping them from planes and people were running out to get a limb. I don’t know if it was at this particular place or not…but it is devastating. A donation to this place is such a good idea!
    Take care.