Suraya Sadeed always does the impossible, in her feisty but gracious, focused but generous way. Through the non-profit agency she founded, Help the Afghan Children, she braved otherwise insurmountable financial, transportation, communication, military and cultural barriers to bring humanitarian aid to Afghan refugee and Afghanistan's most desperate people in the post-Soviet withdrawal, during the blood-letting mujahadeen civil wars when the rest of the world had largely forgotten her ancient war-torn homeland. She established secret schools and clinics for girls and women under the long-noses of the largely misogynistic and ignorant Taliban rulers; and carried in thousands of dollars to deliver via horseback, mule-train, rusty helicopter and foot to remote northwest provinces decimated by earthquakes. She brought food and fuel to thousands displaced from their homes and squeezed into a narrow zone between Taliban and Northern Aliance fighters, as the U.S. forces bombed from above and other aid agencies fled. She initiated national model schools, curricula and teacher-training; and painstakingly assembled community support and involvement to build state-of-the art schools across Afghanistan where children are benefiting from a rich curriculum, as well as classes in computers, environmental studies, and peace and conflict resolution.
Equally unfazed by an audience with the late king of Afghanistan, a luncheon with former President G.W. Bush, or a confrontation with a Kalashnikov-toting Talib on an eerie glass-shattered Kabul hotel balcony, Sadeed never loses sight of what is real. She tells us about the most vulnerable --the prematurely-aged mothers scrambling to keep alive a child, the orphans warehoused to Dickensian institutions, the bloody-footed internally displaced and refugee families camped in the ruins of Kabul's old Russian neighborhood, or baking on a waterless Afghan plain or in a Pakistani camp. Yet over and over she also manges to lead us to the side of the most hopeful-- the individuals with whom and for whom she works--an Afghan doctor or teacher eagerly starting a clinic or initiate a school, an elfin elder sharing his last handful of nuts and berries to energize her through the day, an exiled Afghan-American widow offering $15 to HTAC's work to memorialize her lost sons; a young student affirming her desire to study medicine and help her people. For, throughout, Sadeed acts on behalf of the principal "bearers of the future," Afghanistan's children, and especially the Afghan girls everywhere who are so thirsty to learn.
Sadeed's book, like her person, does the impossible. For she spins out her story with a a poet's heart, an open and keen eye, and an intense intelligence. She propels us directly into the tents and shelters, onto the arms and shoulders, of the Afghan people themselves, in whose land she finds a unique hospitality and profound physical beauty.
Even if you do not have the time or interest to read any other book about Afghanistan, make time to read Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse. You will be inspired by its passion and message; entertained by Sadeed's genuine, gutsy and wise voice; bewitched by its skillfully-woven narrative, gut-wrenching descriptions and tongue-in-cheek understatement; and humanized by its mitigating humor and authentic tears.