John Morton and two MSIA ministers, Holly Engelman and David Morton, are traveling in Pakistan and Afghanistan doing humanitarian aid work for Wheels for Humanity in collaboration with the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA). Through email, John has been able to send us brief messages about his travels. We have compiled his piecemeal accounts in this article for your enjoyment.
Sent to us by John Morton on the evening of January 23
“Today was D-day on our trip. We started at about 8:30 a.m. heading from Chaman, where we are staying, to the Afghan border.
On the way we visited a PIMA clinic and then onward through the border. I emphasize “through” as there was no customs check whatsoever. It was a bit like going from one side of Wichita, Kansas, to the other when Wyatt Earp was working there. We noticed a few of the local fellas packin’ their Kalashnikov rifles and that decorum continued throughout the day.
We stopped at another new PIMA clinic in Spin Boldak. The locals were patiently lined up outside waiting to get some medical attention. This clinic is the first professional hospital ever to be located in this area and includes a fully functioning operation room and radiology lab. I was probably the most popular guy as I was kept busy taking some Polaroid photos which I gave to the locals, particularly the younger ones.
After Spin Boldak we left a marginally paved road for a dramatically carved, rocky and unpaved stretch of road for the next couple of hours. The road rally was on as we sped at top speed, top being the operative word as some of us over the rear axle made repeated contacts with the ceiling and our heads. We were treated to views of relatively uninhabited and sparse terrain with many substantial rock formations on the horizon. In the distance we could see snow capped mountain ranges to the north and east.
Instead of commercial outlets along the way, we found the occasional roadside makeshift stands selling food, auto parts, and staples. There were also frequent young children squatting roadside with their hands cupped and extended to beg for alms.
As we moved closer to Kandahar we saw many indications of the war. We crossed a couple of severely damaged concrete bridges from the recent bombing. We passed burned out vehicles and structures and several places with craters in the road. As we entered the outskirts of Kandahar we saw more and more of the remains of war. There was rubble in several places which we are told came from the bombing. And we saw American soldiers inside the gate of the Airport.
Kandahar center was like a large bustling bazaar, crowded with people and vehicles competing for space. We were certainly noticed by the locals who often waved and smiled while some approached us to interact.
What started with the aftermath of the most rain in 6 years, cloudy and cold, turned to warm and sunny. We had a nice lunch in the courtyard of a PIMA facility in Kandahar. I had been carrying a satellite phone, that Verizon had made available complimentary throughout the trip, but had not been able to connect. I tried it yet again from Kandahar and “bingo” soon was talking with John-Roger just after 1:00 a.m. his time in Los Angeles. While we had him on the phone we planted a Light column and I repeated to the video camera, capturing the moment, the invocation prayer that J-R told to me long distance. That was a spontaneous and unplanned event and felt about the same as calling from the moon. David, Holly and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wake up some family and friends and leave some messages. It was quite a delight.
We later visited a main hospital in Kandahar that PIMA has taken over in order to re-establish the staff and infrastructure needed. As we were approaching the main entrance we noticed that the guards, who are typically not in any kind of uniform but merely distinguished by carrying the Kalashnikovs, were rather excited and talking with our hosts about something. We found out that some of the Taliban fighters were holed up in the building next door, refusing to surrender. They were concerned for our safety so we were quickly escorted to what they considered was a safe haven.
As the PIMA staff continued on a tour of the hospital, David, Holly and myself waited out front and soon were having fun with our Kalashnikov-carrying friends who look undistinguishable from their Taliban foes. When our PIMA escorts came out from their tour to find us fraternizing and taking photos with the Kalashnikov guys, they were somewhat flabbergasted. I suppose it was a bit like seeing the lions and the lambs lying down together.
On our way back to Chaman, a 3 hour plus trip, we noticed the dust had picked up measurably. In checking, we found that we had been spared a great deal of dust thanks to the most rain in 6 years from the night before. One rather funny sight was the Afghan tank we passed driving up the highway with some local mujahedin acting like they were out on a hay ride. As we arrived at a border checkpoint in Spin Boldak we found out that the border was closed for the night. Hmm, sleeping in a mini van with 8 of my fellow passengers didn’t quite seem like the quintessential cap to our day in Afghanistan. Somehow our escorts managed to work out something so the border re-opened for us to pass. And, just as we were crossing the border into Afghanistan, our driver, apparently in an effort to perform well in the road rally, drove us rapidly into a pothole. My head made the greatest impact with the ceiling of the entire day. As much as that blow hurt and stunned me, nothing could dampen the extraordinary journey to Kandahar.
Tomorrow I begin a 3 day process of traveling back to Los Angeles. David and Holly are planning to stay for another week as part of the Wheels for Humanity relief effort.
Lovely meeting up with you along the Way. See you around the next bend.”
And this from John later that night
“There have been a few moments in which guys carrying their Kalashnikov rifles approached us, at several checkpoints or some kind of stop. These guys don’t wear uniforms, and we saw the camouflage uniforms of the Northern Alliance so we know the difference exists. One situation involved our caravan stopping to look at an American parachute that the locals were now using as a roadside tent. Then 4 rifle carrying guys started approaching our car from somewhere previously unseen, our escorts started yelling “drive on, drive on”, but I noted the smiles on their faces and chalked it up to their welcoming us as is their custom. One fact is certain — we are safe and sound and have been constantly honored by our hosts and whoever they have introduced us to. There has not been a sign to us of unwelcome. Yes, walking in the light works.”