Culture Latest — 06 February 2013

(“Eternal land of hope, 10 years of lives shared in Afghanistan” – published in French by Fayard). The author will be presenting her book in Geneva this Friday 8 February, 2012 from 1800 hours onwards with drinks at the Cafe-Librairie Les Recyclables. Address: 53 rue de Carouge, CH-1205 Geneva, Switzerland.
  “Afghanistan, eternal land of hope?” The international military has initiated a paced withdrawal from Afghanistan – a move that is presented by some as a strategic step in an accomplished mission, but seen by many as a retreat from a failed, exorbitant peace-building attempt and ignored by most now that the Syrian conflict has taken over the headlines. So it may seem seem strange, even  provocative, to see the word “hope” associated with “Afghanistan”, a name most often coupled with “war”, “terrorism”, “corruption”, “fallen soldiers”, “failure of the aid effort”, or “the drug trade”. Why hope? Because all those who have lived in, or visited, Afghanistan know that there is much more to the country than war; they have all been awed by the warmth, hospitality, joviality, intelligence and resilience of its people. Afghanistan, sometimes called Yaghestan – the “land of insolence”, is also a place where deep friendships are welded, where moments of joy and pain are shared daily, where life keeps on defying the odds. And where there is life, there is hope. Eternal land of hope, ten years of lives shared in Afghanistan is a tribute to those Afghans who, far from the headlines, live their lives as children, students, mothers, fathers, colleagues, entrepreneurs, friends, civil servants, husbands, wives, farmers, professors, sisters, brothers, like us – except that theirs has taken place through over thirty years of war. What does that mean? We hear a lot about the Afghans, but do we listen to them? Author Charlotte Dufour uses her memories of working in Afghanistan from 2000, when she was a nutritionist with a humanitarian organisation under the Taliban regime, to 2010, when she worked primarily as an advisor in Afghan ministries. She  describes some facets of the ten year reconstruction effort. In doing so, she introduces the reader to seven of her fghan friends, men and women of diverse origins, who share the story of their lives through three decades of war. Dr. Sabir, for example, describes how he spent his medical internship counting the bombs that were falling on the city during the civil war of 92-94, from the hospitals where he and his colleagues were attempting to treat the wounded without equipment, electricity or drugs. Farhad recounts how, at age 14, he and two friends fled the remote district of Hazaradjat where they grew up to go to Pakistan, taking the dangerous refugee trails with the sole goal of seeking a good education. Zohra cries as she recalls the intrusions of the mujahideen into their family house and her flight to Pakistan without knowing whether she would see her parents again. While Professor Qasimi, who was Dean of Kabul’s Agriculture Faculty before the arrival of the Taliban in 1996, shares his joy of having been called back in this position by all the faculty staff in 2002 and of having brought the school back to life within a few years. Each story is banal in the context of Afghanistan, and yet unique. Eternal land of hope does not claim to describe the reality of Afghanistan, but some Afghan “realities”, amongst others. Through their stories, we discover the complexity of the conflict, the diversity of life experiences and points-of-view. Despite these divergences, these friends are all united around the same aspirations and goals: peace and the reconstruction of their country. Their lives have been held together by the same pillars: their family, the education their parents fought to give them, and their faith in a God of hope and love. The tale of these friendships is set against a backdrop of transition from humanitarian aid to a deeply complex and multi-faceted enterprise called “reconstruction” or “development”. But Dufour shares some of the immense daily challenges, moments of profound doubt, and the sources of frustration and even rage. She also  highlights  the accomplishments and the motivations, aspirations, satisfactions that one can feel when taking part in such a unique experience – from the gaiety of a wedding party in the heart of Taliban country to the smile of a malnourished child who’s getting better. That is where hope can spring. Eternal land of hope is an invitation to go beyond the often-simplified presentation of Afghanistan made in the media, a call to build on what has been achieved, and a plea, no matter what the future may bring, to never forget the people behind the headlines and to never lose hope. Charlotte Dufour has been working on nutrition and food security in crisis and development situations over twelve years. She has worked primarily in Afghanistan, between January 2000 and 2010, with NGOs, the United Nations, the Afghan government and bilateral partners. Since 2010, she lives in Rome and focuses on nutrition in Sub-saharan Africa with the UN. Her first book, Amitiés afghanes, has recently been published by Fayard (in French). More information is available on her blog:        

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