Blogging from Afghanistan, Part 3
August 8, 2011
Day Three of the MPC trip was spent in back-to-back meeting with District Ministers, our Agricultural Advisor, and the Deputy Governor of the Shindand District. These were a series of very detailed meetings wherein the team was nailing down very specific details with respect to timelines and contracts. The take-away from all of the meetings with the Afghani officials was that the MPC Model Village Project for Khairabad has the overwhelming support of the Shindand District leadership and that the real work is ready to commence in just a matter of weeks.
Day Four was the highlight and culmination of our trip – this was day for our site visit to Khairabad and personal meeting with Village Elder Siyyad Fazel Ahmad.
Truth be told, our penultimate meetings in Khairabad with Fazel and his fellow village elders could scarcely have gone better. We were given a 15 armored vehicle convoy from Firebase Thomas to Khairabad and its surrounds by the Italian military forces. More specifically, the convoy was personally led by the commanding Italian military officer for the entire western Afghanistan battle space, Col. Patane — an Omar Shariff figure straight out of central casting. (He was paired with his second in command, a “young Tony Curtis” type).
Our convoy set out at 7 am sharp and an hour-and-an-half later, we were at the home of Village Elder Siyyad Fazel Ahmad. When Fazel Ahmad laid eyes on Doug (our MPC Advisor), it was a reunion for the ages. This smiling, battle-hardened warlord simply could not believe that “my brother had come back.” His greeting of Behzad was no less extraordinary — a lasting embrace, eyes closed, a true brother in the midst of Ramadan.
When Fazel convened the meeting of over thirty village elders in his shura room (consisting of the oldest living male from every family in Khairabad), MPC got another embrace. Fazel opened the meeting by reciting — unprompted — every pledge that we were hoping to seek from the village for MPC. Fazel started by saying that, “this is a dream come true for the people of Shouz and Khairabad. MPC is here to implement projects that we’ve been waiting for…especially the school, which will only double-up our community.” Fazel continued, “Whatever you choose to help us with, we are going to cherish it, take care of it, and make the best use of it.”
After Fazel finished with his opening words, we played a personal message via DVD that Joanne had taped and sent for Fazel and his elders to hear. Fazel translated while Joanne played on screen. The crowd — sitting in 90 degree heat while fasting through Ramadan – was captivated by Joanne’s message and promise. It was quite a moment.
We then got down to work by discussing the details of village responsibilities in exchange for the project work that MPC is about to embark on. Italian Commander Patane endorsed our program to the group of elders and noted that, “today marks just the first brick of the wall that we are going to build in this area.” The symbolism of the brick wall is quite fitting, because at the end of the day the Afghanis want a return to security and stability. This security is both physical and internal. This security is physical – in terms of the Italian and U.S. troop presence that is offering stability to the region as a counterpoint to the insurgency. But it is also understood that this security must also become internal, through the strengthening of villages, which are educated, nourished, healthy, and productive.
Back to the shura. After contracts were further discussed, gifts were exchanged and pictures were shot — we all headed out to the land that Elder Jamal personally granted for the MPC school project and drinking well. It was quite amazing. There we all stood, in the dessert – thirty village elders, our Italian partners, the MPC team, and little boys from the village excitedly running all around us. It was a tizzy of promise and teary eyed men. And, while, it is true that there were no little girls running around – we have the hope, now, that they too will have the opportunity to be standing, even running around, on the school ground very, very soon.