Little Women of Baghlan is the true account of an ordinary young woman who answers the call to service and adventure during an extraordinary time in world history. Her story rivals the excitement, intrigue, and suspense of any novel, unfolding against the backdrop of changing social mores, the Cold War, the Peace Corps, and a country at the crossroads of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Iran. When John F. Kennedy, delivers a speech in the Senate Chambers on a hot July day in 1957, a young girl named Joanne Carter listens from the Senate gallery. Ten years later Kennedy has been assassinated and America is mired in the Vietnam War. Jo remembers Kennedy’s words and is inspired to join the Peace Corps. She flies into Afghanistan on March 21, 1968. From her plane window, the Hindu Kush Mountains appear desolate and barren, not unlike the surface of the moon. On the ground, Kabul explodes into color and sound. Taxis honk. Busses spew diesel fumes, sharing traffic lanes with donkeys and camels. The air is infused with the aroma of wool, dust, and dung. As the Volunteers tour the Blue Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif, three Russian MIGS buzz the courtyard, foreshadowing the Soviet invasion of 1989. With co-workers Nan and Mary, Jo starts a school of nursing for Afghan girls. The students are almost non-literate. The hospital lacks equipment, trained doctors, and a reliable source of water. Babies routinely expire from poor delivery practices. On Christmas Eve 1968, Jo walks the frozen mud streets of Baghlan. Overhead, the Apollo 8 astronauts orbit the moon. In January, the women travel on vacation to India, prompting the Peace Corps director in Kabul to dub them the “Little Women of Baghlan.” They make a stop at Peshawar Air Base in Pakistan, and Jo attracts the attention of a handsome, charismatic airman. When they return, Jo reflects on the paradox that is Afghanistan. The Afghans are mired in poverty, yet generous to the point of embarrassment. The men are welcoming and solicitous of the Volunteers, yet capable of turning a blind eye to the suffering of their wives, daughters, and sisters. The climate is harsh and unforgiving; the Hindu Kush starkly beautiful. During her two-year deployment, Jo fills the pages of a small, compact diary, never dreaming her tiny handwriting will eventually become a significant historical account. Nearly a half century later, her journal is a bittersweet reminder of a country that has since vanished—a country on the brink of becoming a modern nation, moving toward the recognition of women’s rights. The Volunteers live in safety. They celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr with their Afghan hosts; the Muslims bring a Christmas tree to their American guests. The Peace Corps workers are long gone, replaced by Soviet troops in 1979, mujahideen fighters ten years later, the Taliban in 1996, and the United States military in 2001, joined by NATO forces in 2003. Afghanistan is no longer the name of a country, it is the name of a war. The country Jo once called home has been buried under layers of recent history, and there is little evidence to suggest that such a time or place ever existed.
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About the Author
Susan works at St. Mary's Hospital in Kankakee, Illinois, serves on the Human Rights Committee for Good Shepherd Manor in Momence, Illinois, and is a member of the Kankakee Valley Wind Ensemble. She lives in Momence with her husband Ken.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is about the triumph of the human spirit. Susan Fox paints a picture with her words about a group of young Americans that travel half way around the world to spend two years in a country with such a different language, culture and environment. And at that time few people in the west knew about or where Afghanistan really was on the map. Because of the warmth and generosity of the Afghan people the Peace Corps volunteer would bring home far more rewards than they were able to leave behind. Sue ties the past to the present in this remarkable and personal book. Please read it.
I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of this book. Thank you, Susan, for this! However, I have not let this influence me in my review. 'Little Women of Baghlan' tells the story of the period of just more than two years that Susan Fox's great friend, Jo Carter, spent in the United States Peace Corps. I found this book to be interesting, informative and very enjoyable to read. Susan makes it a point not to be too political with her detailing of Jo's story, allowing it to be more a story from the heart of Jo's actual experiences with the people she met, especially during her major deployment to a remote village of Afghanistan, Baghlan. Although Jo and the two friends she shared a house with in Baghlan (Nan and Mary) certainly experienced difficulties in initially becoming accepted by the locals, finding a house (it was a case of who you know rather than what you know) and commencing the nursing school, they soon felt a warmth for the people of Baghlan. You soon feel that although the community of Baghlan may have been lacking in material riches, this was more than made up for through the richness of their kind hearts and souls. As a reader, it is hard not to feel love and empathy for the young girls at the school and even for Jo and Nan as they attempted to educate them in nursing practices. In the end, it is possible that Jo learnt more from the girls about life than they did from her about nursing. There are also numerous stories about their encounters with other local Afghanis and the way in which they were eventually accepted as 'us' rather than 'them'. As stated earlier, Susan tries to steer clear of much of the political matters of the time. However, she does contrast the 'westernised' culture with the Muslim Afghani culture. This helps the reader gain an understanding of some Muslim customs, something that is very much needed in today's somewhat broken society. We need to all accept that we are more similar to one another than different from one another and live with tolerance and acceptance rather than distance and fear. Susan does express Jo's empathy for the lives of Afghani women though and, in particular, their status (or lack of) within marriage. However, she does balance this with expressing why certain customs take place and how they may not be as bad as they appear on the surface. For instance, re arranged marriages, a young Afghani girl about to be married expresses that her parents know her even better than she does herself and, out of love for her, would find a partner who loved her and suited her. All in all, I found this book to be a wonderful read, written with great love and empathy for a beautiful, loving community. I am so glad that Jo Carter kept a diary every day as this enabled a wonderful story to be told. I am also glad that Susan turned it into a book which I enjoyed so much I truly did not want it to end.
You could tell this book was a labor of love. The author Susan Fox made you feel as if you were submerged in the country/ culture and history. I became involved with Jo, Nan, and Mary as if they were my friends (main story characters) and I cared about them and their outcomes. Lastly, I felt I was in a history class (in a good way) learning about Afghanistan and the surrounding countries before the Taliban. It would be great if more books could provide a history lesson as well as captivate.