My phone rang while I was playing with my newborn and toddler in the basement on another hot, smoky day during last summer’s heat waves and wildfires. I looked at the screen. Bill Lynch was calling. “Hasn’t he just retired from building inspection?” I wonder why he’s calling, I thought as I answered the phone and started to climb the stairs.
“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 are now on the other side of the border, and my family is trying to bring them to Canada. I’m calling because I wonder if you have any advice.
“My God…” I said, sitting on the living room couch with a view of Kootenay Lake and the mountains, except I couldn’t see anything through the dense, hot smoke. This heat and smoke had made life miserable for weeks, but suddenly stopped being so bothersome.
My mind flashed back to images in the news where people piled into cargo planes with nothing but clothes on their backs. Mothers, like me, were among those crowds hugging their newborn babies as they refused to return to Taliban rule. And for those who couldn’t understand, the United Nations predicted a poverty rate of 90% as the country’s struggling democracy crumbled.
“Does he have daughters and a wife?” He must be terrified for their safety – they must be terrified – with the Taliban returning to government.
Bill started telling me that Javed had a wife and daughters who couldn’t bear to live the terrible life the Taliban imposed on women. On top of that, Javed was in danger himself. He worked for a small US non-governmental organization that built playgrounds for boys and girls to play together – enough of a misstep for the Taliban’s extreme misogynistic views that it put Javed at risk for their violence.
But then Javed went to get the equipment from the playground. American military bases were often the easiest and most reliable place to send and collect donated swings, slides, and monkey bars. The number of military officers he saw, other Afghan civilians he might have recognized, anything he considered insignificant while picking up a swing now made him a target for Taliban “interrogations”.
“And you know Michelle,” Bill continued. “Javed is truly one of the nicest people I have ever met.”
In 1998 Bill was on his second trip to the Middle East, quenching his thirst for the region’s incredibly artistic buildings. As they wandered the streets of Peshawar, Pakistan, a city home to many Afghan refugees from Taliban rule this decade, he and his wife found themselves a bit lost. Naturally, they asked someone for directions. With a beautiful, almost ancient phrase, someone introduced themselves in English, “My name is Javed.”
They didn’t get directions though. They got a guide and a new friend instead.
“After Javed showed us around the Mahabat Khan Mosque, he invited us to his house for dinner. They pulled out all the stops and accommodated us for the next 10 days. We came back 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 at a Zoom meeting with Bill and 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 need to raise $60,000 to meet the requirements of the federal government. A lot of work, but we also know that Nelson has a strong culture of mobilization to help refugees. Tax-deductible contributions can be made online through Charitable Impact at Nelson Friends of Afghan Refugees (https://my.charitableimpact.com/groups/nelson-friends-of-afgan-refugees).
We often talk about how lucky we are to be in Nelson, especially in these times. There is no better way to celebrate this good fortune than by sharing it with others when needed.
Michelle Mungall is the former Member of Parliament for Nelson-Creston.