A view from Kabul
Deb Storie is a much-valued member of Manna Gum’s Advisory Council, and up until November last year, she was also Chair of the Board for TEAR Australia. The following reflection, written from Kabul, was her final report in that role.
The Shamali Valley
I wrote my first Chair’s Report to the Board of TEAR Australia from my familiar desk in Melbourne while severe weather events battered much of Australia, winds of change shook the Middle East, commentators cast gloom over the economic woes of Europe, and regional authorities and investors ‘moved on’ poor rural and urban communities in Laos, Cambodia and Burma to make room for ‘development’.
I write this, my last Chair’s Report, from a less familiar desk in a once-familiar city. The Director of a TEAR Partner Organisation in Afghanistan led yesterday’s gathering in Kabul: “We pray for local and foreign governments, perceived as occupiers and tyrants by many and as liberators and friends by a few. May Your Spirit move among them. Lord, we give them into your hands.”
I spent last week listening to men, women and children in the Shamali Valley. Children thrilled to be at school and determined to make the most of it. Children unable to attend school yet grateful for other opportunities to learn and socialise. Men whose fields are finally cleared of mines welcome the weight of a plough in their hands again, the scent of freshly turned earth, the mist of their oxen’s breath, and the hope of future harvests. Younger men with soft hands and gelled hair wear pens in their pockets, emblems of more urban aspirations. A butcher’s apprentice elated that now - his beard gray, his strength insufficient for hard labour, his first family long-buried from hunger and war - he can at last fulfil a lifelong ambition to learn a trade and leave daily labour behind.
Women, widows and the wives of daily labourers, share their anxieties and hopes: their dread of the approaching winter and determination not to beg; their memories of times when their husbands had work and didn’t have to travel so far to find it; and their dream of having a little land of their own, the trees they would plant, the vegetables they would tend, the house they would build, the well they would dig. Meanwhile, they take courage in knowing that they are not alone and, together, save and borrow small sums that, used well, make life a little easier.
A week listening to stories of resilience, courage and hope, each story shadowed by real and ever present danger. Mulberry buds promised fruit in Spring but shrivelled thirsty before Summer. Two schools are rocketed at night. A governor asks, with immense courtesy, how the project might reward his cooperation. Labourers wait all week at the employment post and return home with empty hands and empty stomachs. A missile strikes a village far away. The earth shakes but there is no earthquake. The speakers pause, listen, remember, and resume speaking. They speak of hope in language laced with the leaven of uncertainty: If the rains fail again ... If the guns return ... If the rich and powerful notice ... Notice what? Our vineyard ... Our oxen ... Our children ... If the rains come too little or too late ... If the guns return to our part of the country ... If those who have much take from those who have not the little they have ... If these things come to pass we cannot tend our crops and our flocks, cannot look for work, cannot go to school, cannot meet with friends to encourage each other and save and plan together. Dreams shrivel like mulberry buds before Summer.
Remember the words of Micah:
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
And 800 years later on, the words of Jesus:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Conflict, drought, fear. Peace, climate, justice. Realities and dreams that echo the words of prophets: Blessed are the peacemakers ... children of God.
Postscript from a Conference in Kabul
A woman remembers being evacuated from Northern Afghanistan with her family following the Koran burning earlier this year. The evacuation plane shares the sky with other planes undertaking ‘active engagement’. One pilot lifts one family to safety. Other pilots drop death on other families. This woman and her family are British. That means that their country is involved. She speaks of the children her children play with, Afghan children, their best friends. She doesn’t elaborate. She doesn’t have to; her face speaks volumes. Sometimes you burn with anger because the country you love, your own country, does such despicable things. Sometimes it is easier to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us than it is to forgive our friends for persecuting those God calls us to love and pray for - especially the children.
It takes more than one miracle for wars born of fear and greed and arrogance to end. But we believe in miracles. The light has shone in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome. Emmanuel - God with us. Amen.