Into Afghanistan via Rashkent Uzbekistan

Afghanistan: August, 2002: On Friday, July 26, Anna Marie, Jason and I met at Denver International Airport. We flew from Denver to Chicago and on to Germany. We arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan at 10:30 p.m. following a frustrating five hour delay in Frankfurt due to Uzbekistan Air mechanical problems. I was given a note to call my good friend Dr. James Terbush before I went to bed. He was also in Tashkent and staying at a nearby hotel. I apologized profusely for awakening him. We set a time to meet the next morning. 

Sunday, July 28

It was good to see Dr.Terbush. He works for the U.S. State Department as an embassy doctor and medical liaison in different regions of the world. Jim and his wife Leigh have been special friends of ours for several years. He had just been to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and also Mazar-e-Sharif where I was planning to go. He gave me a thorough briefing on the terrorist situation. Of course, he had the advantage of riding in an American government convoy with gunners on each corner point of the procession. But nevertheless, his trip had been extremely risky and dangerous.  

Dr. Terbush asked if Project C.U.R.E. would be willing to get involved in sending medical items into Kabul and other southern parts of Afghanistan, as well as Mazar-e-Sharif in the north. He let me know that the government thought it would be an advantageous gesture if Project C.U.R.E. would, as a third party, increase our involvement of humanitarian aid into Afghanistan. He said that if it was of interest to Project C.U.R.E., he would set up a meeting with the necessary people the next day.  

Monday July 29

Mr. Sung Han Kang told us that for a period of time the people in Afghanistan, primarily the internally displaced persons (IDP, sometimes called internal refugees) had only grass to eat and infected water to drink. IACD had tried to help them build earthen ovens where they could bake bread. They had been able to get blankets to give to the refugees and some bread to deliver to them. Mostly they encouraged them not to stay in refugee camps but rather to try to return to their old home areas and start over. They explained that things in refugee camps never get better, only worse. 

For lunch, Jason and Anna Marie went to the Kim’s home, and I left to keep my appointment with the folks at the US embassy. My meeting went extremely well as we discussed the possibility of Project C.U.R.E. getting involved in medical aid not only in Mazar-e-Sharif, but also in the other major cities in Afghanistan. The Afghan embassy in Tashkent and the United Nations were each requiring lots of information regarding our applications to go into Mazar-e-Sharif. But as of Wednesday they had not rejected our requests. We knew we were making progress when they asked for our passports and valid photos to be delivered to them on Wednesday morning. I wanted to be sure to include Jason in the meeting so that he could catch the feeling for what Project C.U.R.E. was required to do on the diplomatic front.  

Dr. Sharipov’s looks and features were more eastern European than Uzbekistan. He carried himself well, dressed very Western and had a fresh haircut. He certainly fit the role of being a part of the top cabinet ministry of Uzbekistan. The two of us hit it off very well from the beginning. He was extremely complimentary of what he had seen at our Project C.U.R.E. operation when he had visited us in Denver. He just flatly admitted that he wanted us to work with him at the top levels in Uzbekistan and promised to introduce me to all the cabinet members who were the decision-makers in the country.  

We rushed back to the rehabilitation center where we received a very fine and thorough briefing on what we would be doing on our trip into Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. The trip had been approved and we would be traveling in a group of Koreans who would be performing a free medical clinic for the refugees. We would also be delivering 5,000 loaves of bread and fruit to areas of desperate need.  

Saturday, August 3

Anna Marie would be checking out of the hotel that morning at the same time I checked out. She would go to the home of Dr. and Mrs. Chong Soo Kim where she would be safer and better looked after. Jason and I had to be at the airport at 7:30 a.m. to catch our flight to Termez, Uzbekistan, near the Afghanistan border. From there our group of 18 Koreans plus Jason and me would travel by bus across the border and continue on into Afghanistan.  

The Amu Darya River makes the boundary line between the two countries. The process at the border crossing took nearly four hours. We just patiently waited in the hot sun for the officials to do their work.

The road from the border to Mazar-e Sharif was fraught with lots of drifting sand dunes. A bit of wind and the road would totally close over with several feet of sand. Of course that would make the travel very dangerous. It was not only bad on the vehicles, but if you would get stuck you would be absolutely helpless and very vulnerable to being attacked, robbed, or kidnapped by desperate predators. Nearly all adult males carried rifles or automatic weapons, or shouldered rocket launchers.  

The sun was setting when we arrived in Mazar-e Sharif. The streets were crowded with donkey carts, taxi carts pulled by ponies, and old beat-up automobiles and trucks held together with the best repair patches available to the drivers.

The streets were mostly dirt and sand. The previously paved roads were deteriorated and full of potholes. The men all wore beards and Afghan turbans. Everyone and everything was dirty. The women all wore scarves over their heads and the majority of women wore the full-length dress called a “chadiri.” It even covered all the head and face, leaving a woman to peer out of a patch of lace about five inches square. A lot of the men wore the “parahan turban.” A knee-length shirt was worn over baggy pants that were pulled tight at the waist by a drawstring.  

Almost all Afghans were Muslims. In the previous years the radical sect of Taliban had completely taken over the country and had carried on a cruel and unusual campaign to strictly enforce the most severe of the Muslim traditions and laws. All men had to pray five times a day at a local mosque. Women not only had to completely cover themselves, but they could not work outside their homes and could not go to school or attain any formal skills. Any non-compliance to the Taliban’s interpretation of the codes resulted in severe beatings in public and other forms of intimidation and humiliation. Death to anyone resisting the Taliban or their carrying out of their rules was not at all unusual. It had become a terrible and inhumane system of control by cruelty.  

Our bus inched its way down the dirt streets between ramshackle structures. We made an abrupt right turn barely squeezing the bus around the corner. Down about a block on the left side of the street was a walled compound with a small sign on the gate reading Young Nak.

The sign stood out as a bit incongruous. All the turbaned men, women in chadiri, donkeys, dirt, carts, and rag-a-muffin kids, and in the middle of all of it was a clean, well painted, well maintained compound with a Korean sign on it!  

Quite honestly, it was a welcome sight, because I didn’t think that there was a decent hotel in the city. We were fed a good meal of rice and cooked vegetables and fresh Afghanistan bread right out of an earthen oven from down the street. After dinner we were assigned sleeping spots in the different rooms. We slept on mats on the floor. It was so hot that no top blanket or even a sheet was supplied. Jason, Mr. Kim, and I slept in one room. We were really quite fortunate because our room was furnished with a ceiling fan. It was miserably hot in Mazar-e Sharif in August. 

Next Week: Meeting with the Main Warlord

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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