"We're On Fire"

Afghanistan: August, 2002: Our bus left the refugee area and we were driven back to the warlord’s enclave. Everyone got off and went into the heavily guarded headquarters where Commander Chief Miramza met us graciously. We were seated once again and additionally fed ripe watermelon slices and freshly picked grapes. The commander seemed genuinely appreciative of our having made the effort to help the people. It’s just that you never really know where their true loyalties lie. Maybe he was happy that the Taliban had been dislodged from power in his area and maybe Bin Laden may have been his hero. There was just no way of telling. You just never knew whose side he might figure that “Allah” was on. 

I remembered that back in Tashkent during my meeting with the embassy folks they had told me a supposedly true story of an incident that had taken place during the American bombing raid. They told me that a Taliban tank operator was sitting on top of his tank watching the absolute precision of the American bombing operation. The bombs would travel along the ground ripping deep trenches in the ground then find their way exactly to the pinpointed target and completely wipe out the designated object. 

He watched the precision operation for several days, turned to his Taliban buddies and said, “I was told specifically that Allah was on our side and assuredly he would give us the victory. But, I don’t think so.” And thereupon he jumped down from his tank and walked home. 

We pulled out of Balkh and drove back toward Mazar-e Sharif. It was early evening when we returned to the Young Nak compound. The showers there were nothing to brag about but the wetness of the water washed away the desert dirt and soothed away the emotional afternoon. God’s faithfulness had protected us once again. 

After dinner it began to cool down a bit outside. It was so hot at night that we just laid on the mat and sweat. As I had mentioned earlier, fortunately, our room was equipped with a fan. 

To keep the mosquitoes and other insects from attacking our totally unprotected bodies, the manager of the Young Nak compound delivered each night to each room a burning citronella coil that stayed lit like a punk and burned slowly throughout the night. He set the punks in the windowsill, which was made of concrete, and no one worried about safety but simply enjoyed the mosquito-free atmosphere. 

Monday, August 5

About 1:30 a.m., I was startled as I caught a glimpse of a figure running in the darkness out of our room. My eyes bounced open and I was wide awake. I sat up and reached for my little flashlight, which I had lying on the sleeping mat next to my head. I quickly turned on the light and realized that the room was engulfed in a heavy layer of smoke. 

The sleeping pads had been situated on the floor adjacent to the room’s walls, around the entire parameter of the room, except where the door was located. I was sleeping on the pad on the same wall as where the door was located. My head was in the corner and my body stretched toward the doorway. The mat that was at a right angle to my head was placed right under the low positioned window. Jason was sleeping exactly opposite the room from me and Mr. Kim was on the floor opposite the window. Toward the end of the mat, which was under the windowsill and at a right angle to my head, I could see a patch of flames about three or four inches above the surface of the mat.

About that time Jason jumped up and we got to the hot spot at about the same time. The coverlet on the mat was ready to erupt into full flame. The mat itself had burned most of the way through and had reached a kindling temperature sufficient to launch it into full flame.

Immediately I started pulling my things off the mat. I had placed my travel bag, my camera, and other items on the mat next to my head. If the flames had erupted they all would have ignited quickly.

It had been Mr. Kim who first realized that we had a fire. And it was he who had run out of the room to get some water. Soon he came running back into the room with a supply of water and thoroughly doused the fire. Jason and I then grabbed the mat and hauled it outside just in case the fire was not totally extinguished.

Another Korean man who had been sleeping upstairs had also come to the room sensing that there was a fire. The smoke coming from the mat had been toxic and once the episode was over I realized that it had affected my lungs as well as my vocal chords.

The thing that bothered me most about the mishap was that I had not awakened at the strong smell of the smoke. I had awakened at the man running out of the room. It certainly was no mystery as to what had started the fire. The fan had blown the window curtain just right to flip the mosquito-repellent punk off the windowsill and onto the mat. I guess my subconscious mind had accepted the fact that there was supposed to be smoke from the punk and didn’t let me know the difference between the burning citronella and the toxic smoke from the mat. Had I been by myself in a room somewhere in one of the other countries where I traveled, I might not have awakened before the mat burst into flames. Once more, God had been faithful to protect us.

It seemed like a short night after that, because we had to be up at 4:30 a.m. in order to get ready to leave on the bus.

On Monday we would reverse the trip that had taken us into Afghanistan as we traveled back to Uzbekistan. We left Mazar-e Sharif and drove through the sand dunes that had blown their way back over the road. We cleared Afghanistan border control and made our way across the bridge that joined the two countries over the Amu Darya River.

It was actually more difficult getting back into Uzbekistan than it had been getting into Afghanistan. There was a tremendous amount of drug traffic out of Afghanistan. Production of heroine in Afghanistan topped nearly all other countries in the world. Therefore, they very carefully check not only the travelers and their luggage but pay particular attention to the large and small trucks that cross the border and the automobiles. I was surprised, however, to see drug-sniffing dogs employed at the Uzbekistan border working to detect the chemicals.

Tuesday, August 6

Tuesday morning was an informal training session for Jason on needs assessments. Anna Marie and I met with him for a couple of hours reviewing observations and situations that had taken place on the trip. Jason was an eager learner and had really become a committed and loyal member of the Project C.U.R.E. team. I had become impressed that he would be able to handle international assessments for Project C.U.R.E. in various venues around the world.

At noon Daniel Kim came to get us checked out of the hotel and delivered to the airport. We had a good opportunity to discuss the findings of our assessment studies with Daniel Kim and suggest the logistics and details of the medical shipments from Project C.U.R.E. into Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It was going to be an exciting project to see what we could do together with the Koreans in Central Asia.

Meeting with the Main Warlord

Afghanistan: August 4, 2002: We drove out from Mazar-e Sharif to an area called Balkh. It was the home of about 150 refugee families. They were IDPs, as opposed to being refugees from another country seeking safety in Afghanistan. They were a part of a larger segment of the community but had not integrated into the rest of the community. 

Their living quarters were within the walls of bombed-out buildings two and three stories high. The buildings had been completely gutted by the explosions and fire. The new inhabitants pitched their tents on the dirt floors of the old structures and any earthly belongings they retained were stashed under the makeshift tents. There was no running water available to them and no sewer facilities. They had no means of income and were relegated to beggar status. 

Our bus pulled up in front of a high-walled enclave heavily guarded by plain-clothed and uniformed soldiers. All were carrying automatic weapons or shoulder-held grenade or rocket launchers. Daniel asked me to accompany him into the fortified enclave. 

The walled enclave was heavily shaded by large trees and there were remnants of a couple of large concrete and stone pads at the center. At one time in history the location must have been quite lovely. Along one outside wall there were about 15 Afghanistan tribal men seated in an oval configuration on dark red Persian carpets that had been spread on the ground. All were grizzled and seasoned older men with full beards, traditional parahan turbans, and Afghan turbans. We had gone to the very headquarters of the warlords for the northern part of Afghanistan. 

Daniel Kim had always made it a practice to pay a call to the area warlord, Commander Chief Miramza, to greet him, inform him of why he was in the area, and ask his permission to hold the free medical clinic and distribute the bread and fruit to the refugees. 

The warlord was a robust man dressed in military fatigues and wearing an unusual bit of headgear. Instead of the traditional turban he wore a round ring over his baldhead with a flat piece of material over the top. But looks aside, the order for the moment was definitely dignity and respect. 

We greeted Commander Miramza by formally embracing and shaking hands. We were then invited to sit in the formation next to the warlord on the bright red Persian rugs. We explained what our agenda was for the day and then Daniel Kim explained all about Project C.U.R.E. and introduced me to say some words of greeting to the council. 

From the leaders’ enclave we drove to the refugee area. Some of the people were living in brush arbors made of sticks and weeds piled over a framework to shield the families from the extremely hot sun. The temperature was about 106 degrees even at that early hour. I watched but simply could not understand how even the refugee women could tolerate wearing the long covering over all their other clothes, over their heads and faces. Even inside their brush arbor tent houses they still kept their heads covered although some had removed their chadiri in their makeshift houses. 

As we walked into the refugee area the tribe leaders led us to a mound of dirt elevated about five feet above the regular landscape. The top of the mound was flat and measured about 20 feet in diameter. While we were standing there men came with shovels and hoes and knocked down all the large weeds that had grown over the mound. When cleared they brought pieces of carpet and spread on the flat surface. 

We unloaded 5,000 loaves of Afghan bread from two vans and stacked them on the pieces of carpet. Daniel Kim and Young Nak Foundation had pre-arranged for the bread ahead of time and had paid for men to collect the loaves from various local bread makers right at their outside ovens. 

When the bread was unloaded we set to work unloading 150 large melons and stacked them on the edges of the carpet in front of the bread. Our next duty was to count out exactly 30 loaves of bread and put them in 150 individual stacks. 

While we were working with the bread and melons, the Korean medical team of three doctors plus nurses, assistants, and interpreters, set up a clinic site on the porch of an old, bombed-out building. Each individual or mother of sick children was issued a piece of paper with a sequential number on it. That piece of paper allocated a place in line for those wanting to see a doctor. 

At the beginning, the refugees kept pretty orderly in the lines. But as time went on the would-be patients began to get restless and some of the more aggressive women tried to push and shove their way closer to the front of the line, or they tried to go around the house and sneak onto the porch from another direction. 

As I observed, I came to the conclusion that the Afghan culture was quite a ruthless and physically cruel society. Delegated or self-appointed men of the tribe began to enforce the crowd’s behavior. They were equipped with thick green branches. At any perceived misbehavior of the “rule breakers” in the lines, the men with the sticks would violently attack them and beat them severely until they either ran off or complied. 

As I watched it seemed to me that, indeed, the cruelty of the men toward the women was made easier since they really didn’t have to reckon with the identity or personality of the women they were beating. But identity of the misbehaving children didn’t seem to affect the striking of the kids in any way. They just got a beating. 

As the sun bore down and the time drug on, there was more violence. Women pushed and shoved other women and there was a lot of abuse from the women to the children. Under pressure, it seemed like the only way to communicate was by hitting. 

By 3 in the afternoon, the refugees were getting restless. I told Jason to watch how the crowd was reacting. I pointed out just how nasty crowds like that could become in a split second. I even told him of our experience in Baku, Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea when Project C.U.R.E. had teamed up with Dr. Howard Harper and Vision International to perform free inner-ocular lens transplants on blind children. When the time had come for us to shut down the procedures and leave, those parents and grandparents of children who had not received the sight-restoring operation became very emotional. They had anticipated that their children would see again like the other eighty-some blind children who had received their sight as a result of the procedure. “You can only imagine how it would feel to come so close to having your deepest need met and then realize that the people who could help others were leaving without helping you.” 

I went on to explain that it probably was one of Anna Marie’s most emotional times of her life, when as we were getting ready to leave, the parents and old people would go to her and beg and even offer wads of money if our doctors would stay and also make their babies see again. “It’s a real thin edge of emotions when a crowd of people realize that they might get left out. It can turn violent very easily.” 

Daniel Kim sensed what was happening and spread the word that we would shut down the free clinic at 3:30 p.m. The people also sensed what was going to happen. 

Suddenly men started pushing past the nurses and just grabbing bottles and sacks of pills. One man I saw was running away with about six bags of intravenous fluid. Those IV fluids would do him absolutely no good at the present or in the future but he wasn’t going to be denied his share. 

When things started to unravel, we packed and closed up the boxes of medical supplies. We each carried what we could and quickly headed for the bus. 

Meanwhile, Jason and others were distributing the loaves of bread and melons to the refugee families. The head of that refugee community was standing atop the mound and calling out the individual family names of the camp. When their name was called they would go up on top the mound and receive their 30 loaves of bread and their fruit. But, some folks were greedy and not willing to settle for order. Earlier their family had possibly already received their food, but they wanted more. 

Before all the bread could be distributed fairly some of the men in their 20s or 30s began breaking through the lines and grabbing the bread and running off. Then the rest saw what was happening and rushed the mound. 

At that point Daniel Kim hollered to Jason and the others handing out the bread and fruit and told them to just drop whatever they had in their hands and quickly go to the bus. By that time the young men were trying to grab anything they could get their hands on. They began trying to strip the waist pack Jason had fastened around his middle. They could not get it unlatched or the pockets unzipped. But someone did reach in and grab a hold of his camera from one of his side pockets. He ran back and grabbed it back from the young man and quickly made his way to the bus. 

Now then, at a church picnic or even at Denver’s National Western Stock Show, such an incident wouldn’t be too significant. But, when nearly every man in the community was carrying an automatic high-powered rifle or a grenade launcher and you are a citizen of a country that just recently bombed the “puddin’” out of the neighborhood, you are apt to have the makings of something nasty or at least dangerous. I was very pleased when Jason and I and the 18 Koreans were safely seated on the bus. 

Jason was a little shaken from the incident. It was the first such occurrence he had ever witnessed. In fact, our trip to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan was the first time Jason had ever been outside the US. 

Next Week: “We’re on Fire”

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House

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   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House

Embassy Travel Warnings: Afghanistan

Afghanistan: August, 2002: I had known that it was next to impossible to even get into Afghanistan as an American because of the extreme danger associated with acts of violence toward Americans following the bombings and air strikes by the Americans and their coalition. But I was also confident that if Project C.U.R.E. had the clearance and approval of the United Nations it would probably be safe to proceed under their direction.  

I also knew that the Afghan embassy in Tashkent would probably not issue a visa to an American to go into Mazar-e-Sharif if there was an eminent possibility for an international incident. But, of course, there was never any real assurance of safety where all the men folks were carrying automatic weapons and rocket launchers around as just a way of life. 

As I was considering the possibility of my traveling on into Afghanistan, I received the following travel warning released by the United States Department of State regarding any travel into Afghanistan by any American. 

The American Embassy in Tashkent
Afghanistan - Travel Warning
July 3, 2002

This Travel Warning notes the growing number of attacks against
humanitarian workers in Northern Afghanistan and continued security
concerns. The security threat to all American citizens in Afghanistan
remains high.
This Travel Warning supersedes that of February 28, 2002. 
The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens against travel
to Afghanistan. The ability of Afghan authorities to maintain order and ensure the security of citizens and visitors is very limited. Remnants
of the former Taliban regime and the terrorist Al-Qaida network, as
well as criminal elements, remain active in the country. U.S.-led
military operations continue. Travel in all areas of Afghanistan, including
the capital Kabul, is unsafe due to military operations, landmines, 
banditry, armed rivalry among political and tribal groups, and the
possibility of terrorist attacks. Several foreign journalists have died
covering the current situation in Afghanistan, including four murdered
near Sarabui in November 2001. Several humanitarian assistance workers, 
including Americans, have been assaulted and/or killed in the last month in
the northern area of Afghanistan. The security environment remains
volatile and unpredictable in Kabul and the countryside. On June 18, 
an unidentified group launched rockets within the city, and several
rockets landed in the vicinity of the Embassy. As stated in the
current Worldwide Caution, the Department of State has received
reports that American citizens may be targeted for kidnapping or other
terrorist actions. 
An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of un- 
exploded ordnance are scattered throughout the countryside and
alongside roads posing a danger to travelers. Some areas of the
country are facing food shortages. There is little infrastructure, 
and public services are extremely limited. Afghan authorities have
imposed curfews in some areas. Due to a growing number of
attacks against United Nations (UN) and private humanitarian workers
and non-governmental organizations in the northern areas of
Afghanistan in and around the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the U.S. 
Government warns American citizens, including those with experience
in the area, against traveling to or residing in the Mazar area. Those
currently in the Mazar area should review their security arrangements, 
contact U.S. military forces in the region to register their presence, 
and make preparations to deport.

The brightest spot of the whole trip was that Anna Marie would be traveling with me from Denver to Frankfurt and to Tashkent. Then she would return to Denver via Frankfurt and Washington, D.C. as I proceeded on to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Should I go into Afghanistan she would remain in Tashkent while I was gone. The risk would be too great for her to travel to Afghanistan. 

Another interesting twist to the trip was that I had decided to take with me to Uzbekistan Project C.U.R.E.’s Denver’s city director, Mr. Jason Corley. It was time that I should take him on a training trip to instruct him on how to perform a needs assessment study. He would not go on to Africa, but Uzbekistan would be the perfect learning situation, and if the plans materialized for an Afghanistan entry, I would see if he could also go. He would be one of a very small handful of Americans who could say he had been in Afghanistan following September 11, 2001. 

Next Week: Into Afghanistan via Tashkent Uzbekistan  

© Dr. James W. Jackson  

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House

Need vs. Risk

Note: This very week Project faced with another very strategic decision. Our contacts in Afghanistan are urgently requesting us to return to their country with more ocean going cargo container loads of needed medical supplies and pieces of medical equipment. In the past, Project C.U.R.E. has been one of the very few humanitarian organizations that have been successful in delivering the life saving goods into the country.  

In 2014, the Obama administration announced a timetable calling for a complete U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2016. Many contend that the surge's rigid timetable undermined U.S. leverage at a moment when maximum military pressure was being brought to bear on the insurgency, and that the anticipated withdrawal has likewise diminished the Taliban's incentives to negotiate. It appears to have emboldened the Taliban’s aggressive activities.  

Afghanistan is a very dangerous venue right now. So, does the desperate need warrant the risk involved of Project C.U.R.E. delivering help and hope to the people of Afghanistan?  

I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps enlightening, to share with you some of Project C.U.R.E.’s actual involvement in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan Journal: July, 2002: 

I had a lot of good memories of Central Asia. I had at one time or another visited most or all of the individual republics of the old Soviet Union. The history was rich and colorful and included such eccentrics as Genghis Kahn, Timor Tourmaline, and Alexander the Great. Ancient tales of adventures along the Old Silk Road are still retold around Uzbek and Afghanistan firesides. 

But new sailing routes replaced the long camel caravans that plodded through the shifting sands of Central Asia, and upstart eccentrics like Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev exerted their dirty games of civil manipulation on the more recent political chessboard. 

I vividly remembered sitting on the cold floor of a rural Kyrgyzstan farmhouse in the dead of winter eating a late evening dinner as the snow blew into the old house from between the ancient logs. The entire oblast had run out of natural gas, and I had been invited to sleep around the wood burning cooking hearth in the kitchen with the rest of the farm family. I graciously declined, protesting that I did not want to inconvenience them or intrude into their privacy. 

Honoring my request to stay in the room where we were eating, they brought me blankets made from horsehides and a thin mat for the floor. Before the night was over I realized that I should have opted for the kitchen floor. As the snow continued to blow into the room where I was sleeping, I rummaged through the contents of my suitcase in the darkness of the old room. 

I was so cold that I had tried to pull my head under the blankets. But that had not worked at all. The old horsehide blankets still smelled terribly like the barnyard and I could count the time duration of my head under the covers in nanoseconds. 

But, finally, I pulled from my suitcase a couple of pre-worn undershirts and promptly wrapped my head with them turban style in order to stay warm and made it through the wintry Kyrgyzstan night. Great memories! 

I also recalled the hundreds of hospital and clinic facilities that I had visited throughout Central Asia. Project C.U.R.E. had made a great impact on the health care delivery systems within Central Asia and I felt proud to have been even a small part of that memory building. 

Over the years we had built some great partnerships in Central Asia with organizations like Vision International, Caleb Project, and Boulder Valley Hospitals; we had also done extensive work with various Korean missions groups. The longer we were involved in Central Asia the broader our reputation and influence had grown and the more groups there were that had come knocking at our doors. 

Project C.U.R.E. had previously worked in partnership in Tirana, Albania, with a Korean missionary group called Messengers of Mercy. One of their members, Mr. John Kim, who worked for United Airlines in Chicago, traveled with me to Albania for our needs assessment study. Project C.U.R.E.’s partnership with the Korean group has proven to be very successful in many places. 

Toward the end of 2001, Dr. Choi, from the headquarters of Messengers of Mercy in Chicago, asked if I would travel to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and check out several projects there in which they were involved. I had agreed to go contingent on Mr. Kim’s traveling with me. They agreed and we began to work on a mutually agreeable date in 2002 for the assessments. 

At the same time I had been contacted by Central Asia Free Exchange (CAFE), one of our previous partners in Uzbekistan regarding some urgent medical requests made to them by the highest-ranking cabinet minister on the president’s council of Uzbekistan. If Project C.U.R.E. could participate in providing for the cabinet member’s request it was felt that many doors of opportunity would be opened in Uzbekistan. 

The high-ranking cabinet member, Dr. Alisher Sharipou, was so interested in working with Project C.U.R.E. that he traveled to Denver to promote our involvement and also to check us out. It had become quite clear that I needed to make a trip to Uzbekistan. We finally agreed to travel on the dates of July 26 through August 7. I was quickly running out of any available travel dates for 2002.

Almost equally as pressing was a request for me to return to Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa, to perform an urgent needs assessment study there. After a lot of consideration we decided that the only way I could possibly make another trip to southern Africa was to combine the African trip with the Uzbekistan trip. 

I would travel to Frankfurt, then to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and then back to Frankfurt, and south to Johannesburg, South Africa, and north to Harare, Zimbabwe, then back to Frankfurt and back to Denver via Washington, D.C. 

Following the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, had become an important hub for the war on terrorism. It also had become a very dangerous place. 

As the time drew closer for my travel into Uzbekistan, a strange thing occurred. One of the Korean groups, with whom we would be shipping partners in Uzbekistan, suggested that I go with them into Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. They felt that the United Nations would approve our travel into the war area to assess the situation. 

There were thousands of refugees in the area without adequate food, water, or medical attention, and perhaps Project C.U.R.E. could offer some relief in those areas. 

Next Week: Embassy Travel Warnings

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House