On November 6, 2002, former Boisean Geoff Jutzy landed in Kabul, Afghanistan. He would spend the next two years living alone in a guarded compound while building a computer lab within the bullet-riddled walls of Kabul University's medical school. His life there was touched by mutilated vagrants, desecrated buildings, abandoned tanks and social strife as well as laughing children, bustling street markets, urban revitalization and a growing sense of goodwill between Afghanis, aid workers and American soldiers. He saw the headlines from the other side, and what you are about to read may surprise you.
November 6, 2002
We started our final approach into Kabul. That's when shock set in for the first time. We flew over some large neighborhoods made of mud bricks. Only some of the buildings were occupied as others had been partially or fully destroyed by earthquakes or bombs. We started spiraling as we got closer to the ground, and I could hear the engines winding up and feel our craft going faster! Stephen told me the reason for our erratic pattern and ever-increasing speed was to avoid ground fire, especially surface-to-air missiles! He told me they used to drop flares out of the back of the plane to throw off heat-seeking missiles. "Oh," I said, and stared blankly at the back of the seat in front of me just long enough for the panic to loosen its grip on my brain. It was then that I looked out the window again and saw the twisted wreckage of others that were not so lucky. There were maybe 50 planes littering either side of the runway. No one had bothered to take them away. They just stayed there, a grim reminder of what this land has witnessed in the last 25 years of war.
Jutzy's first day in Afghanistan made real the images he had seen on the news. Much of the city was in shambles, and nothing could have prepared him for the harsh realities of a nation torn by war. When Loma Linda University recruited Jutzy to build a lab and teach English at Kabul University, the only training they provided was a month of English language school in Moscow, Russia and a few meetings with a missionary about Islam. From there it was up to Jutzy to adjust to an isolated lifestyle, primitive working conditions and cultural taboos that kept Afghans from buying American groceries and Jutzy from ever seeing the face of his good friend's wife.
November 13, 2002
On our way to school yesterday, Jacob (pronounced Yakoob), one of the Afghans who works at our compound, told us about a demonstration at the university the night before. He said that two students were killed and eight injured! We weren't really surprised as there has been some tension here at the medical facility. The students are tired of the conditions. They feel the university should provide food, water and electricity so that they may eat, drink and study into the night.
So as we pulled up yesterday, we could see a large group of students down the street. They gathered in front of the building, some of them just standing there, others in heated arguments with each other. I did witness a couple of them fighting, but the fights didn't last long. We began to think maybe we should leave. The last thing we wanted was to be in the middle of a gunfight! I didn't see any guns, but you just don't mess around in a place where you can buy a fully automatic Russian assault rifle for about $80 in a dark alley! Throughout the day the reports on the casualties of the night before changed from two dead, eight injured to eight dead, eleven injured and nearly 60 jailed!
The streets of Kabul were somewhat empty during the day, and at night, everyone made sure to be inside their compounds before the 9 p.m. curfew lest they be shot, arrested or harassed by armed guards. During Jutzy's stay the curfew lifted, and he ventured to underground bars with foreign friends (alcohol is forbidden in Afghanistan, but in the interest of tourism, the government sometimes looks the other way when restaurants and hotels bend the rules). Jutzy encountered people from all over the world-Europeans, Canadians, Africans, South and Central Americans-many doing work for the United Nations or the International Committee of the Red Cross. He also met American soldiers and was surprised to learn that some Afghans appreciate their presence and see America's "war" on Afghanistan as part of a struggle that began decades ago.
July 11, 2003
The Shomali Plain was the scene of great battles for territory between the Russians and the Mujahadin. The entire area is stacked high with tanks and armored cars that have been blown to bits by mines or rockets. I have crawled around a few, half expecting to find a skeleton or a piece of one. I haven't yet come across anything like that. I wonder what happened to the men who were in these armored death traps ...
A few weeks before Jutzy was to return home, Newsweek published a since-retracted story about abuses of the Quran at Guantanamo Bay. The fallout in Afghanistan was brutal, and many walls that had been torn down between cultures were hurled back up again.
May 13, 2005
There was a demonstration at Kabul University last Thursday. I watched as the students thrust their signs in the air, probably chanting something anti-American. They actually want to bring, "Death to America." Well, that's what they say when they're in their big group, anyway. Individually, most of these folks are some of the nicest of people around. Yes, there are some troublemakers, and yes, they even burned a flag. But my Afghan friends sat and watched these guys have their moment and then go home.
I have noticed that the bad stuff that happens gets a heck of a lot more press than the day-to-day good stuff. I guess no one wants to hear about how Geoff Jutzy met a guy named Bashir, who got off his bike and walked 1/4 mile with me so he could practice his English; or about the taxi-driver who was so impressed with my slight knowledge of Farsi that he talked my ear off all the way home (half of which I understood)! That's understandable though. My life is not exactly exciting as a flag burning.
Part two of Jutzy's Idaho-to-Afghanistan odyssey will appear next week. To read more, visit www.geoffghanistan.com.