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Echoes Across Afghanistan, “Choi, Choi, Naan”

Carol Beecher

Pages: 156
ISBN: 978-145752-612-1
List Price: 19.95
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Available: February 2014
Edition: Perfectbound

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Echoes Across Afghanistan, “Choi, Choi, Naan” is an intertwining story of American women as Peace Corps volunteers who vaccinated women and children against smallpox in Afghanistan, and of a young Pashtun male vaccinator, Khan Mohammad Alami. The American vaccinators spent two years, from 1967 to 1969, traveling on mobile vaccinating teams, living without electricity, indoor plumbing, or toilets, and sleeping each night on a dirt floor in a different village. Eighteen years later, the author received a phone call from “a voice from your past” and discovered that Khan was now living in Herndon, Virginia, and working at the Voice of America. His life, as he related it, is an exciting story to read but had been an extremely dangerous one to live. It included his work with the American Embassy, arrest, interrogation, and torture by the secret police, and his harrowing escape with his wife and three children to Pakistan. The vaccination program for which the American women volunteers in Peace Corps Group XI worked was sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations. It was part of the WHO program to eradicate smallpox worldwide. The Afghan government had requested women from the United States to work as vaccinators in this program because it was impossible, within Afghan culture, for their own women to be trained to do a job that would take them outside their homes, and for the same cultural reasons, the Afghan male vaccinators could not vaccinate women. After a year and a half, the volunteers, with the influence of the American Ambassador, secured for Khan a ten-week trip to the United States as a language trainer for a Peace Corps training program in Colorado. After returning to Afghanistan with this experience, he was able to work in Kabul with American organizations including USIS and the Peace Corps office. The American women left Afghanistan in 1969, and the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979, after which Khan worked for the American Embassy as a political advisor and translator. In the political climate of Russian control of the puppet Afghan government, with a strong and brutal secret police, it was extremely dangerous working for Americans. He was a loyal Afghan nationalist who lived by his wits in his efforts to rid Afghanistan of the Soviet invaders. In time, Khan had to flee with his family, by foot through very rough terrain and over high mountains, to escape the wrath of the secret police. The story continues with their life in Pakistan, coming to the United States as refugees, becoming American citizens, hard work, and the successful blending of their Afghan culture with American cultureE

To me, life is a trip traveling on an uncharted path. My trip began in 1941 growing up on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania and going to a one room schoolhouse with eight grades. I went on to get a bachelor of arts degree from Pennsylvania State University, a master’s degree from Chapman College, and to go tent camping in the National Parks and youth hostelling throughout Europe. I vaccinated women and children against smallpox in Afghanistan as a Peace Corps volunteer, and then had a career in the Federal Civil Service until retirement and the writing of this book. Traveling and experiencing the cultures and ways of life of people different from myself has been one of the driving forces in choosing my life’s path. The people I have encountered, whether by design or chance, while on my life’s trip have changed me forever. During my career for the Department of the Army and later for the Defense Logistics Agency, I worked both overseas in South Korea and in several US states. While in Korea I was active in social work and was instrumental in assisting the rag pickers, small orphan boys who survived by collecting trash and who lived in a tumbledown shack just outside the Army base. My main participation was to gather and energize the troops: the Army Wives’ club; my Peace Corps friend, Russell Feldmier; American and Korean soldiers; and the government of Taegu City. The result was a modest home for the boys, a chance for school, and a better life. One of the enduring highlights of my life has been the continued friendship of the women who served as vaccinators in Group XI. Our shared experience of learning to work as a team under difficult physical conditions, coupled with the need to count on each other, created relationships that have lasted over forty-five years. In 1987, while working as the Director of Logistics at the Sierra Army Depot in Herlong, California, I was reunited with Khan Mohammad Alami who had been my Afghan counterpart while I was a Peace Corps volunteer 1967 through 1969. He was now living in Herndon, Virginia, with his wife and three children. In 1989, I transferred to Richmond, Virginia, where I was the Director of Installation Services at the Defense Supply Center Richmond, and where I retired from Civil Service in 1998. Since then, I have stood on the Great Wall of China, seen the icebergs in Alaska, traveled extensively, and written this book.