Out Through the Inbox

A New Memoir by Tamim Ansary, Whose Impassioned E-Mail for Afghanistan Catapulted Him Into Celebrity

Last month, Ansary met with the leaders of some NGOs in Pakistan while visiting Afghan refugee camps on behalf of an American relief organization. He was particularly impressed with AREA, the Agency for Rehabilitation and Energy Conservation in Afghanistan, a group that trains and pays villagers to use land-mine-detection equipment. "The land mines are a root issue in terms of getting this country back on its feet because agriculture and herding are the root industries—and you can't farm or herd if you have land mines."

This summer Ansary will return to Afghanistan for the first time since his departure 36 years ago, on a primarily personal quest. His late father, who remained in Afghanistan after Ansary and the others left, owned vineyards. "Technically, those are my lands," he explains, his voice wavering a bit. "I can talk to the people who are using those lands and assure them that they can have it. And maybe I could work with the people, and work with AREA, and help them clear the mines." He adds, almost as an afterthought, that he will try to write about his trip for magazines or newspapers. "Of course, it'll be—it's always for me—the personal story, which continues to unfold." For now, it seems, Americans are hungry for that personal story—the human face of the country in which our government plays out its war on terrorism. But considering the massive problems Afghanistan must solve, one wonders if, for both Ansary—who will soon witness the havoc wreaked upon the site of his idyllic childhood—and for those readers who will look to him for understanding, that "small story" will continue to suffice.

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