As we pulled into the Moturis rental company north of Boston, I saw the name for the RV, random perhaps or perhaps written to be, is “Freedom”. The two boys Mohsan and Araj were with me, and my brother Stephen. The supervisor of the company outlet, a woman my age named Linda asked what I was planning to do, a little alarmed after noting I would put almost 10,000 miles on her truck. “I’m traveling the country with six children from the orphanage in Afghanistan where I’ve been a volunteer for the past three years.”
Linda’s eyes lit up, then welled up with tears. “I’m giving you the travel packets. And don’t thank me, thank you.”
Linda saved us $550. And so the journey begins.
The AFCECO orphanage children’s tour of America is the result of kind grants through the U.S. Embassy’s Afghan Women’s Empowerment Fund and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Woman Project. These two entities gave freely and confidently that given AFCECO’s track record as an organization this crazy idea would somehow turn into gold. I can say that so far, two weeks after departing Kabul, it seems to be so.
The trip to Boston from Kabul took almost two and a half days. But the children as well as Nasrin, the AFCECO education coordinator assisting me on this endeavor kept their chins up the entire time. Upon arrival at Logan Airport we were met by my brother and his wife Kathie and daughters Katie and Kristen with yellow roses and kind if not slightly nervous smiles. Which child was which? Frishta, 11 years old and about to turn 12, is the youngest. The boys are both 13. Then the older girls Hala, Maria and Lida are 16, 17 and 18 respectively. Nasrin, a 26 year old from Farah Province and a key asset to AFCECO’s education programs, had been to America before with children of the SOLACE program that needed medical attention. We were, as Kathie later noted, not nearly as exhausted as we should have been.
Since then already a book could be written. Christmas and New Year’s, meeting our first sponsor Rachel Williams who arranged four presentations for us, two with middle schools and two with Rotary Clubs in the region, and a visit to the Boston Science Museum and Aquarium. There are moments etched forever in my mind. When Araj was asked, after he chose the letter M for a pewter necklace, why the letter M? “For Me,” he answered, and Mohsan why the letter N? “Because I like it.” The laughter at every turn as these children grow by leaps, and equally and deeply affect the people they meet. Most unforgettable was the meeting of Maria with her sponsor Doffie, the two having grown so very close over the years. Here for the first time they touched, hugged, and kissed. Then, a week later, Maria giving her biography story to a room full of Rotarians and suddenly feeling the emotion of the dark time of her childhood. She pushed through choked words, pulled back her tears and delivered her speech magnificently. By the time she got to the part about “the old Maria turned into the new Maria” the audience was frozen in time, transfixed, and then erupted in applause.
I’ve been teaching the older three “The Alchemist”, a good book about life changing journeys, and the younger three “Stuart Little”. It is important their English improve from both the interactions and classes. I also was able to give Nasrin and the three above 16s driving lessons. They got to where they could drive around a complicated parking lot of a school, having had only one interaction with the “off road” experience (hitting the gas instead of brake and barrelhousing into the woods). I can say that I am one of the proudest teachers in the world.
Today we embark on a journey that has never been done. The Freedom Bus departs for Albany, NY where we will give a concert with my brother’s folk trio. I have burned several CDs of our favorite music from central Asia, and we have movies as well to watch. The magic bus has beds for all. I will sleep with the two boys on the back queen sized, Hala and Lida on the over the cab double, Maria and Frishta on the settee double and Nasrin on the single. There is shower, toilet, kitchenette, refrigerator, stove, oven and microwave. It is, essentially, a traveling AFCECO parwarishga. And we are excited to share our story with you every week here on this blog site. You are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org should you wish to know more about our tour. We go down the East, across the South, up the West and across the Central. The children will experience more of America than most Americans experience, and they hope to also raise the much needed support for their beloved orphanage. We will tour the Capital Building with my Senator from Vermont, swim in the ocean of Florida’s south coast, celebrate the opening of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, sit around a campfire with a Native American storyteller, attend a mosque in Los Angeles, hug the largest trees of Muir Woods near San Francisco, and then make our way back across to New York City. Our flight back to Kabul is March 18th. What stories we will carry with us back to the loving arms of our AFCECO family…