Dear Friends

Last night Linda and I sat in our garden for a dinner of take-away chicken. It was too hot in the kitchen to cook. Our guests were late – who knew when they would get in from their eye camp.

We made arrangements to cook them pancakes when they arrived. Maybe it would be the next day before they showed up. They had to come through our city on the way back to Kabul because the mountain passes were blocked with fresh snows.

As we sat at the table Linda noted the oppressive atmosphere. Monsoon rains were flooding Pakistan across the mountains from us. But the humidity in our valley had risen, promising rain but never delivering, making the heat so unbearable. And the light was a strange amber lending an eerie feeling to the twilight. “Look,” I said, “there’s not even the slightest breeze.” The highest leaves on the trees sat stationary as if formed of stone.

Through the night our phone rang several times and an anxious morning confirmed our worst fears. “Ten bodies, including eight foreigners, found in northern Afghanistan” was announced over the news websites. Our guests would not be coming.

The eye camp was led by our long-time friend Tom Little. I had seen him only a few weeks before as he was planning the trip to a remote corner of the world – Nuristan. The name means “land of light” and few attempt to go there because of its isolation. How appropriate an eye camp from the NOOR project would go and help.

Hundreds of patients had been seen. The team had packed their supplies back across the mountain pass to the vehicles they had left a week earlier in the southern district of our province. Tom checked-in by sat phone as they were packing the vehicles and that was the last anyone heard of them.

Linda and I knew most of the team well but our grief can never touch the grief of the families of those who died. We had never met the visiting dentist from the USA nor the visiting pediatrician from the UK. They came along to add depth to the medical work. But we did know Brian, the young videographer who had stayed with us in March so he could film the local sport of buzkashi. We had eaten with Cheryl earlier in the summerwhen we were down in Kabul.

Daniela had taken us under her wing to help re-orient us to Afghanistan when we returned last year. Glen was a great companion and a kindred spirit. Dan had taught our children to shoot baskets and drive his jeep back when we lived in Mazar.

And Tom had been a mentor and friend for thirty-four years. Back when Linda and I met in Kabul in the early 1970’s, Tom led our humble community outreach to hippies. When we left, he and his wife Libby stayed on – through the time of the communists, and the Mujadeen, and the Taliban.

Who knows who killed the team and why. What makes sense in days like these?

The sky is clear now – blue draped with high clouds. A wind is blowing through the trees.

Inside my heart is an oppressive heat – windless – and I wait for the weather to change.

Joel and Linda