“The Sleeping Buddha”

THE SLEEPING BUDDHA: THE STORY OF AFGHANISTAN THROUGH THE EYES OF ONE FAMILY

HAMIDA GHAFOUR

McArthur & Company

REVIEW BY JANET NICOL

Hamida Ghafour awakens her own sense of buried kinship in The Sleeping Buddha and gives readers a more true picture of Afghanistan. Ghafour’s family fled the Soviet invasion in 1981, eventually emigrating to Toronto. Then, in 2003, Ghafour received a golden opportunity to return to her birth country as a journalist, reporting on the reconstruction effort.

The result is an engaging and moving account of personal family history and contemporary events. Ghafour traces four generations of her family, connecting their lives to the greater story of ancient Afghanistan and deepening our understanding of a complex and diverse history. Her lively portraits of remarkable people she meets, such as Fauzia Assifi, offer some hope.

Assifi is a returning Afghan who is helping to rebuild. Land mines are scattered in the fields and the morality of the people has changed, she tells Ghafour, casting a dark shadow on future generations. Nevertheless, Assifi and others are picking up the pieces. Abdullah, another returning Afghan, gives people raw materials and trains and pays them to build. If they own it, they will fix it, he tells Ghafour. And Qand Agha, a former resistance fighter whose uncle had recruited him in the early 1990s, now risks his life ridding Afghanistan of Soviet mines.

Ghafour saves her opinions for the epilogue. She observes meagre outcomes in the reconstruction efforts, given the millions spent. Let Afghans control and support their culture, she advises. Ghafour believes NATO is responsible for too many deaths of Afghan civilians, and has destroyed a necessary trust. But she also argues that NATO has not sent enough soldiers to make a real difference to security.

Afghans are now “beggars in their own land,” Ghafour sadly observes, leaving her to feel “a delayed grief for the death of someone I had never known.”

But amid her tears is hope. “Afghanistan would have to be healed by ordinary people, Afghan or not,” Ghafour writes, “doing a million small deeds simply because they wanted to.”

Reprinted from ‘Herizons’ magazine, 2008.
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