Saturday, January 22, 2011

Afghanistan Diary: The Boy Who Could Not Speak

The conversation started innocently enough.  An Afghan and I were discussing marriage life.  I was remarking how a mutual friend had four wives and that I just could not comprehend how he could do it. 

"I'm scared enough when my wife is mad at me.  I could never return home if four wives were mad at me."  I said.

The Afghan, who we will call Mohammad for the purpose of this blog post, laughed.  "He was a famous commander during the Soviet Jihad.  He commanded hundreds of men.  He can handle four women."

Laughter was shared between us some more.  Mohammad's face then grew troubled.  He started to say something then stopped.  I noticed this odd abrupt change in behavior.  Never before in our conversations had his emotions suddenly changed.  Perhaps it was because we were talking about family.  Maybe there was something wrong with his family, I wondered, among many other possibilities.  He swallowed his pride and told me about his biggest concern: his son "Ahmed."

Mohammad started with a description of his son.  "He is my only son.  He is a smart boy of 11 years.  He can read and write.  He loves me and his mother very much.  He cannot not talk though.  He struggles but he cannot say a word.  If he really tries he makes sounds but it hurts him and he gives up."  Mohammad then went on to describe how they have tried everything to make him talk.  Prayers did not work.  They even told me about a folk cure "everyone knew."  "We took him to the home of a Hindu in Kandahar and he ate the Hindu's food but he still did not talk."  When I asked how the folk cure was suppose to work Mohammad replied, "That's what everyone said to do.  No one could explain why."

I was deeply touched by Mohammad's story of his son Ahmed.  Motivated by a united combination of personal ethics, religious morals, and geopolitical-imposed responsibilities I set out to help.  I promised Mohammad I would do what I could to help.  I could not promise much I told him but I would try.

First step was to look at the list of Afghan doctors in the area.  A quick survey revealed that every registered Afghan doctor was either an American Civil War-style saw-and-bones style doctor or a pharmacist (surprisingly there are alot of pharmacists in Afghanistan).  Giving up on that approach I looked to see if there was anyone in Kabul who could help.  Sadly a combination of rapid urban sprawl, poor Afghan government documentation, and thirty-plus years of brain drain left with me nothing.

I then turned to the United States military.  A helpful officer, "Rhodes," called around for me.  He reached a doctor in the Army National Guard who turned out to be the most well connected man in all of Afghanistan.  The doctor offered to meet Mohammad and Ahmed and arrange for treatment and/or speech theory anywhere in Central or South Asia.

Today Mohammad and Ahmed are going to meet the doctor Rhodes contacted thanks to all people who cared about a boy who could not speak.  Time will tell if Ahmed will ever be able to say "Za ta sara meena kawom" (I love you) to his dad and mother.  At least now he has a chance.


torgo jr. said...

these posts are great and you're doing some great stuff over there. the master and I are thinking about you...hope you're doing well.

smeeko said...

wonderful story. It could be a book or short documentary movie.

keep up posted on what happens to the boy.

Stay safe.