My phone rang while I was playing with my newborn and toddler in the basement on yet another hot and smoky day during last summer’s heat waves and wildfires. I looked at the screen. Bill Lynch was calling. “Didn’t he just retire from building inspection? I wonder what he’s calling about,” I thought as I answered the phone and began walking upstairs.
“I have a friend, Javed,” Bill said in his distinct Dublin-Irish accent. “He and his family managed to get out of Afghanistan. They saw killings and beatings along the way.
“They’re now on the other side of the border, and my family’s trying to get them to Canada. I’m calling because I’m wondering if you have any advice.”
“My goodness…,” I said as I sat down on the living room sofa looking out over Kootenay Lake and the mountains, except I couldn’t see anything through the hot dense smoke. That heat and smoke had been making life miserable for weeks, yet suddenly ceased being so bothersome.
My mind flashed to the pictures in the news where people squeezed into cargo planes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Mothers, like me, were in those crowds clutching their newborns as they refused to return to Taliban rule. And for those who couldn’t make it out, the United Nations was projecting a 90 per cent poverty rate as the country’s struggling democracy fell.
“Does he have daughters, and a wife? He must be terrified for their safety — they must be terrified — with the Taliban rolling back into government.”
Bill proceeded to tell me that Javed had a wife and daughters who couldn’t bare to live the dire life the Taliban forced onto women. On top of that, Javed was himself in danger. He had been working for a small American non-governmental organization building playgrounds for boys and girls to play on together – enough of a faux-pas for the Taliban’s extreme misogynist views that it put Javed at risk for their violence.
But then there was where Javed went to get the playground equipment. American military bases were often the easiest and most reliable place to send and pick up donated swings, slides and monkey bars. The number of military officers he’d see, other Afghan civilians he might have recognized, anything he considered trivial while picking up a see-saw now made him a target for Taliban “interrogation.”
“And you know Michelle,” Bill continued. “Javed truly is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.”
In 1998, Bill was on his second trip to the Middle East, quenching his thirst for region’s incredibly artistic buildings. While wandering the streets of Peshawar, Pakistan, a city home to many Afghan refugees from that decade’s Taliban rule, he and his wife found themselves a bit lost. Naturally, they asked someone for directions. With a lovely, almost antique locution, that someone introduced himself in English, “My name is Javed.”
They didn’t get directions though. They got a guide and a new friend instead.
“After Javed toured us around the Mahabat Khan Mosque, he invited us to his home for dinner. They pulled out all the stops and hosted us for the next 10 days. We returned a few months later, and it was the same hospitality. A year later, the same hospitality. And now, it’s my turn to be there for him.”
A few months later, I was on a Zoom meeting with Bill and some other amazing Nelsonites forming a group to bring Javed and his family to Nelson. We became the Nelson Friends of Afghan Refugees.
Please join us by contributing to our fund to help Javed and his family settle here. We must raise $60,000 to meet the federal government requirements. A big job, but we also know that Nelson has a strong culture of rallying to help refugees. Donations be made online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/nelson-friends-of-afghan-refugees.
We often talk about how lucky we are to be in Nelson, especially in these times. There is no better way to celebrate that good fortune than by sharing it with others in their time of need.
Michelle Mungall is the former Nelson-Creston MLA.