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Brother, Can You Spare an Afghani?

Man begging outside the Blue Mosque in Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan


Published: 22 October 2008

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

William Faulkner

Traveling along the roads of Afghanistan (when there are roads) provides a different perspective on life back home.  Folks in the U.S. are worried about the economy, and while I can understand that many are struggling, it’s easy to forget how much we still have.  In Afghanistan, and other countries all over the world, there are many people who literally beg for their next meals.

Americans worry about who will become our next president.  Despite what their opponents say, if Barack Obama is elected, he’s not going to turn the U.S. into a socialist state (at least I don’t think he will) and John McCain is not going to invade Iran (at least I don’t think he will).  Even though a great deal of noise is made about ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans, it’s remarkable how much both sides agree about certain vital issues, and how stable our nation’s fundamental policies are.  No matter who is elected, America will remain true to its basic values of freedom, democracy, private enterprise and public service.  The change of government will occur in an orderly fashion, no bloodshed, revolutions or coups.  Think about it: When this campaign is finished, either an African American man will be president or a woman will be vice president.  The candidacy of Barack Obama has demonstrated how American society as a whole is NOT racist.  For all the scars we have inflicted on ourselves (slavery and racism being one of the worst), our democratic society is self-healing, even if that process can be painful and slow.

We might take a moment to remind ourselves that we do not live in a land of tribal law or a place where intergenerational feuds are part of the social fabric.  Look at Afghanistan. Widows abandoned and shunned.  Orphans everywhere. People missing limbs from the millions of mines still dotting the landscape.  Millions.  Tribes and warring ethnic factions and police so corrupt they make the Mafia look like do-gooders.  Taliban.  HIG. Al Qaeda.  And a lot more suicide bombers than Senators.  (Trust me on that one.)

The people of Afghanistan are extremely friendly and welcoming.  But let’s face it. They live in a world of constant struggle. Their country was already primitive, and their existence difficult enough before they became a place of conquest, civil war, and now a clash of civilizations (or, to put it more accurately, a clash between dozens of civilized countries and violent anarchy).

Near Kandahar, Southern Afghanistan

The woman above was begging beside the highway.  And she was not the only one.  I was a passenger driving through Taliban country in a pickup truck when I took her photo.  Car bombs detonate on that road all the time. Americans and others die there. And this woman, covered as most women in Afghanistan whom I see are, probably a widow, was begging just beside a police checkpoint, which, sooner or later, likely will get attacked. She might get blown to pieces by a car bomb. She apparently has no money, probably no family, nowhere else to go, and no other way to live. Still, she endures.

The world economy is having its problems, but it’s going to come back sooner or later. Meanwhile, those of us in America, and throughout the west, should count our blessings.  We have our families. We have governments which, for all their flaws, at least are reasonably functional, or in many cases, highly functional. We have hope. Or at least we have reason to hope.


Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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