June 19, 2002 - Seattle Post-Intelligencer : A PC Staffer Returns to Afghanistan

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 06 June 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: June 19, 2002 - Seattle Post-Intelligencer : A PC Staffer Returns to Afghanistan

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, June 25, 2002 - 10:39 am: Edit Post

A PC Staffer Returns to Afghanistan

Read and comment on this story from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Suzanne Griffin shown in the photo above, the wife of a PC Staffer, who is returning to Afghnistan at:


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Jun 19, 2002 - Seattle Post-Intelligencer Author(s): Gregory Roberts P-I Reporter

When Suzanne Griffin travels to Afghanistan next week, she will be almost literally living out a dream: Her husband, Michael, told her he would dream at night of returning as an old man to the country, where the couple lived for two years in the late 1960s.

Michael Griffin never made it back. War and tyranny thwarted his hopes over the years, and he died of a heart attack in 1999.

"That's always been in my mind," Suzanne Griffin said last week in her office at South Seattle Community College. Once the fall of the Taliban regime last year reopened travel to Afghanistan, Griffin said, "I thought, `I can do this.' He's not here, but I can go."

Griffin, 56, is the dean of the English as a Second Language program at SSCC and former head of the adult refugee project of the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

She'll spend two months in Afghanistan with the International Rescue Committee, a worldwide relief organization, helping to organize ESL instruction. That's a critical component of the Afghan effort to get up to speed in computers, engineering and other fields in which English is the lingua franca.

The first time Griffin arrived in Kabul, the Afghan capital, she was a 22-year-old newlywed accompanying her husband, a Peace Corps field officer. As his unofficial assistant, she traveled with him throughout the country, often visiting remote villages where Westerners, and especially Western women, were a rare sight.

"By and large, there was no hostility," Griffin said.

But stones were thrown at her a couple of times, she said, and she knows she must tread lightly in a male-dominated country with deeply conservative views of gender roles.

"I think it's kind of holding your ground, and knowing the rules of the culture," she said.

In retrospect, her 1968-69 sojourn in Afghanistan took place during a golden age of progressivism and peace in the country, Griffin said. Women could move freely in Kabul with their heads uncovered, and some even taught at the university.

Since then, the country has suffered through a Russian invasion, an extended civil war, the reactionary totalitarianism of the Taliban and, most recently, heavy fighting in the U.S.-sponsored overthrow of that regime.

"They had managed to make progress socially, politically and culturally, and then it all fell apart completely," she said.

The Griffins tried to return to Afghanistan in 1978, but a coup stymied them and they ended up in Iran, where Michael earlier had been a Peace Corps volunteer. Suzanne taught English to engineers until the 1979 Islamic revolution drove them back to the United States.

The couple lived in San Francisco, then moved to Seattle so Suzanne could earn her Ph.D. in communications and technology at the University of Washington. They stayed, with Michael building a career as a commercial real-estate appraiser and Suzanne joining the SSCC faculty in 1993.

They raised two daughters in a house filled with Afghan and Persian rugs and handicrafts and the fragrant aromas of such Middle Eastern specialties as kabuli pilau, an Afghan rice dish made with spiced lamb, carrots, raisins and pistachios.

"I thought I would never go back" to Afghanistan, Griffin said.

But when the bombs started falling on Kabul in the aftermath of Sept. 11, it roused her from her resignation. She knew the territory, she said, and she speaks Dari, a principal Afghan language.

"I kept thinking, `I've got to do something here,'" she said.

Not all her friends and colleagues agreed.

"People say it's too big a thing to try - and when people say that to me, that's usually the signal to try it," Griffin said. "It's like a challenge."

Besides, she said, "I'm really looking forward to working with Afghans. Their hospitality is incredible."

But she's not blind to the dangers.

"I hope I don't get fatally sick," she said, remembering the chronic intestinal distress of her previous Afghan experience.

"And I am concerned about that stray bullet."

Yet, Griffin is optimistic about the future of Afghanistan.

"It's a time of hope," she said. "The loya jirga (this month's national assembly) is a huge step forward.

"I think there's a real chance for the country to make it."

When Griffin arrives in Kabul, she plans to look up an old friend whom she only recently learned is still alive, when he was quoted in an American newspaper story. And she hopes to revisit her old neighborhood and other parts of the city she once knew.

"I want to see what's still there," she said, "and have a good kabuli pilau." P-I reporter Gregory Roberts

can be reached at 206-448-8022

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