The Kandahar Marathon: Week Thirty-Three

The Kandahar Marathon: Week Thirty-Three

“Since the Taliban takeover, a financial crisis has rendered a significant amount of the Afghan population unable to access a sufficient amount of water, food, shelter, and health care services. Women and girls are suffering under repressive policies that ban them from secondary and higher education, force them out of employment, and subject them to strict regulations on what they can wear, where they can go, and how they can act. The basic rights of Afghan citizens have become severely constrained. Journalism is in peril, with the Taliban censoring opposing or critical media and persecuting journalists.”

~Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska

The news this week finally featured Afghanistan, and quite frequently in fact, which isn’t at all surprising on the anniversary of the troop withdrawal that is ultimately what sucked me into this issue so deeply, causing me to order and read every book I could get my hands on about Afghanistan, ultimately selecting ten to teach in small groups in my many classes and, beyond that, to run the Kandahar Marathon.

On Monday my congressman, a retired general named Don Bacon, emailed with the subject line “Afghanistan Aftermath” and lambasted President Biden for the withdrawal. He fairly pointed out that it was President Trump who initiated the act, and President Biden who acted upon it. He isn’t wrong, oversimplified though this version of events may seem. Congressman Bacon has been known to be helpful to Afghans seeking to flee the Taliban, and I respect him for that. He also pointed out that the United Nations Development Program predicts universal poverty for the nation, and soon. It was difficult to read and, while I disagree with him 90% of the time, I was glad he took the time to address the issue, perhaps one of the few we see eye to eye on.

Not long after, on the 18th, Kabul made a these-days-rare appearance in CNN’s daily briefing. I’ve copied it below:

Kabul   An explosion erupted inside a mosque during evening prayers on Wednesday in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 21 people and injuring 33 others. The explosion, which injured several children, took place in the north of the capital, according to health care organization Emergency. Officials do not yet know who was responsible or the motivation behind the blast. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed there were dead and wounded civilians but did not say how many. He tweeted that the Taliban government “strongly condemns” the explosion, and vowed the perpetrators of “such crimes will be caught and punished for their heinous deeds.”

More bad news. Also this week, one of my Twitter followers, a fellow educator, reached out. She’s been helping a family of Afghans to acclimate to Omaha, and Omaha Public Schools was refusing to accept an affidavit from the father verifying his son’s age and, thereby, eligibility to begin school.  I was sort of shocked, though little can truly shock me anymore. “Gee, sorry, when my family and I were fleeing for our lives we failed to snag the childrens’ birth certificates—my bad!” isn’t something anyone should ever be compelled to say, and certainly not in their third or fourth language. I was thankful that Sarah was advocating for the family, and together we kicked around ideas. I sent her some contacts and reached out to my school board member. We got the runaround a lot, but on Friday she got back to me with a short message:

“Sounds like they will accept the affidavit and he’ll start kindergarten at _______. I’m going over to [their house] this weekend to have him sign a new one with the actual birthday.”

Some good news at last. In a sea of destruction and turmoil, the little victories seem to count so much more.

Also on Friday, I did an interview with a podcast producer, reflecting on the election in which I ran and lost in 2021. I didn’t say as much on air, but I think often about why I ran and what I wanted to accomplish if I became an elected official. To have the ability to “make a call” as they say and fix a person’s problem like this, to have the platform and the power to improve the lives of those who have fled Afghanistan, those fleeing Ukraine now, and so many others—well it didn’t come to be, and while I am deeply disappointed in our own municipality’s fumbled response to the arrival of thousands of Afghan refugees in the past year, what I can do about it is limited to that of an individual civilian—far from nothing, yet it sometimes feels just as far from what I had hoped I might be able to do.

I took the running easy this week: five miles Monday, seven Tuesday, ten Wednesday, seven again on Thursday, and eight on Friday, for a total of thirty-seven on the week. I took Saturday and Sunday off, rather than fitting in a long run. I’ve decided not to run Sioux Falls next weekend, and will begin an eight-week training program on Monday that will run up until I run Kansas City and Des Moines on back-to-back days in October, two marathons in thirty hours. I didn’t like running so little this week, as I often think of my miles in terms of money raised to help those in need, but my left foot has been giving me hell, bleeding and itching and losing skin, and my knees are starting to complain; the reality is that if I want to make it to the end of the year still running, the extra day of rest probably wasn’t optional.

As I wrap this up, I want to ask you not to forget Afghanistan and not to forget the people who live there or who managed to escape. No doubt you’ve seen something in the news this week similar to what I described reading earlier. Maybe you know someone who you can check in on, an Afghan who might need help or even just a friendly face. Of course, as I write these words, I think of those I need to contact myself, and they are many. We all have our part to play, of course. As always, thanks for joining me on the journey.