Never miss a story

Get subscribed to our newsletter


×
Afghans "seem to be so well-balanced, personally, between mind and heart," says Mary MacMakin, seen here in Kabul. RFERL
  • A Boston native who majored in physical therapy at Stanford University, MacMakin had lived a privileged life in the United States but it was in impoverished Afghanistan where she says she found her true calling as a humanitarian worker
  • Due to her lifelong commitment to the country, she was presented with her documents by none other than President Ashraf Ghani and first lady Rula Ghani on Norouz
  • MacMakin ran projects for humanitarian groups like Save the Children and CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere)

June 19, 2017: In February 1961, Mary MacMakin arrived in Afghanistan with her husband and four children, landing on a snow-strewn runway in the capital, Kabul. It was a trip into the unknown for the 31-year-old aid worker and her family.

Little did MacMakin know that her trip would kindle a decades-long dedication to Afghanistan, a country MacMakin has now long called home.


A Boston native who majored in physical therapy at Stanford University, MacMakin had lived a privileged life in the United States. But it was in impoverished Afghanistan where she says she found her true calling as a humanitarian worker at the height of the Cold War.

ALSO READ: In Northwestern Afghanistan to survive, ‘We Sold Our Property to Buy Weapons and Attack’

“I have always felt…home here,” says the 87-year-old, who lives in a cramped, shared apartment in Kabul. “I have been in love with the mountains and the people.”

She tries harder to explain her fascination, recalling a shared taxi ride with three young men in Kabul many years ago. She says conversation naturally turned to why MacMakin, so obviously a foreigner, felt so at home in Afghanistan.

“I told them I have been trying to figure that out for decades, why I like living here. And one of the reasons I’d discovered,” she says, “is because the people seem to be so well-balanced, personally, between mind and heart. Americans live in their head/mind so much they have forgotten their core being, their heart.”

It was no surprise when MacMakin finally decided to apply for Afghan citizenship last year. Due to her lifelong commitment to the country, she was presented with her documents by none other than President Ashraf Ghani and first lady Rula Ghani on Norouz, the Persian new year, in March.


The decision was as much practical as it was emotional, she says.

“Getting my residence visa renewed every six months became a big hassle after I reached 65 because the government does not issue work permits to people over 65,” says MacMakin, who speaks Dari, one of the two national languages in Afghanistan.

Since first arriving 56 years ago, MacMakin has witnessed history, living through the overthrow of the monarchy, a communist coup, the Soviet occupation, the rise and fall of the Taliban regime, the U.S.-led invasion, and the international military withdrawal in 2014.

But she almost didn’t make it.

Back in 1961, the family had first flown from San Francisco to New Delhi. They then boarded a Douglas DC-20 with a dozen others for the trip to Kabul, only to make a perilous emergency landing in the Indian city of Amritsar because of engine trouble. A week later, MacMakin finally made it to the Afghan capital, where she remembers the snow was piled so high on each side of the runway that airport personnel had to shave the tops off the highest drifts so the plane’s wings could clear them.


Mary MacMakin (right) with Betty Tisdale, founder of HALO (Helping and Loving Orphans), in Kabul in 2014. RFERL

The family settled in. Her husband had been sent to Kabul to start an education publishing house, and MacMakin said she soon began learning the language and getting to know the city.

“I started exploring the bazaars as soon as we had a few days of Dari lessons,” she says. “An American woman who had lived in Kabul for a few years had a horse and persuaded me to get a horse, too. The two of us then rode all around Kabul exploring the city.”

MacMakin ran projects for humanitarian groups like Save the Children and CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere).

In 1967, the family moved back to the United States. Four years later, MacMakin returned to Kabul alone to continue her aid work while her husband stayed behind to raise their children.

The 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the brutal 1992-96 civil war forced her to leave. When she returned again to Kabul, in 1996, she said she was “shocked” by what she saw. Most of the city had been reduced to rubble. Kabul resembled a wasteland. And there was a new fundamentalist militia in power — the Taliban.

But that did not stop her from opening PARSA (Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support for Afghanistan), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and children made widows and orphans by the wars.

During its five-year reign, the Taliban banned girls from going to school and women from working outside their homes. At great risk to her safety, MacMakin set up a secret, makeshift school for girls.

In July 2000, the Taliban arrested her on charges of spying for the United States and of attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity, allegations she firmly denied. She was held in a juvenile prison for four days before being deported to Pakistan. She returned only after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 overthrew the Taliban.

In 2006, MacMakin stepped down as head of PARSA and handed the reigns to Marnie Gustavson, a fellow American who has worked in Afghanistan for the past 15 years. Gustavson describes MacMakin as a “maverick” and “a little crazy” but also deeply compassionate.

“Afghans think that Mary is theirs, certainly more theirs than the Americans’,” says Gustavson. “She fits into how Afghans appreciate anyone of her age and who has done as much as she has done. She’s quite revered.

“This is a person who immersed herself in this country and she learned and she received as much as she gave,” adds Gustavson. “We are ambassadors for the Afghan people because so much of the media and so much of peoples’ perspectives outside of the country don’t fit with what we see and know.”

Most of the thousands of international aid workers, diplomats, and security contractors who came to Kabul following the fall of the Taliban in 2001 have since left, especially after the withdrawal of most international troops at the end of 2014. But despite the escalating violence and political turmoil, a small number of foreigners, including MacMakin, are committed to riding it out in their adopted home.

MacMakin, whose husband died seven years ago, says she spends “every penny” of her monthly $1,500 U.S. Social Security check on living expenses and on another aid organization she has founded, Afzenda, which enables impoverished women to earn extra income from sewing.

“I’m not going anywhere,” says MacMakin. ““It is hard for people, even Afghans, to imagine why a foreigner would want to live in Afghanistan, but it has an undeniable attraction.” (RFERL)


Popular

Unsplash

Using social media in moderation isn't bad. It becomes a problem when this becomes a habit.

By Dr. Vihan Sanyal

Most teenagers use social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram these days. It keeps a person connected to friends across the globe and gives them a window into the lives of people they are connected with.

Multiple studies have shown that teenagers who use social media excessively do so because they are either bored, need an escape from their immediate physical environment, are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, are lonely, have few real-time friends or need to feel appreciated and validated.

Follow NewsGram on Quora Space to get answers to all your questions.

Using social media in moderation isn't bad. In fact, it can help boost serotonin and other feel-good chemicals in the brain and can help uplift a person's mood. Most people take a selfie of themselves and post it on social media, and feel good about themselves when people like their post and comment on it. It becomes a problem when this becomes a habit. Many people feel compelled to post photos of themselves multiple times a day and then keep checking their accounts for the number of likes they have received.

Keep Reading Show less
Unsplash

Ayurveda consists of set practices and lifestyle habits that work to make one healthy, both physically and mentally. Additionally, the herbs and medicines as prescribed in Ayurveda, are wholly natural and retain the ability to cure most diseases without any side effects.

N. Lothungbeni Humtsoe

Ayurveda, as mentioned, is the science of life. It is not just a set of general suggestions but a way of living life. It consists of set practices and lifestyle habits that work to make one healthy, both physically and mentally. Additionally, the herbs and medicines as prescribed in Ayurveda, are wholly natural and retain the ability to cure most diseases without any side effects.

Ayush Agrawal, Founder and Director of Rasayanam shares some prominent herbs that are renowned for their use in matters of health and wellness are discussed as follows-

Ashwagandha - Ashwagandha, by reducing the cortisol levels, helps control anxiety and stress. Its use is significant in calming the body and psyche of an individual and also helps in regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Ashwagandha is also popularly consumed as a vigor and strength supplement. Further, it aids muscle mass gain and boosts energy levels in people from all age brackets.

Follow NewsGram on Twitter to stay updated about the World news.

Triphala - This over 1000-year-old remedy constitutes three principal ingredients of Amla, Bibhitaki, and Haritaki which are some of the most famous medicinal plants native to the country. Known for its anti-inflammatory and laxative properties, Triphala is also considered particularly helpful in preventing dental diseases and cavities as well as digestive problems. The many medicinal properties of this herb are what make it so well accepted and preached throughout the country.

Brahmi - Brahmi is primarily used for its significant impact on the brain and its functioning. It is said to improve the brain's retention and memory power as well as its spatial learning abilities. Brahmi is commonly utilized to treat and control symptoms of anxiety, stress, and ADHD. Additionally, it is also consumed to reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure levels.

Keep Reading Show less
Unsplash

Here are some simple and efficient yogic techniques to get in shape. It only takes 15 minutes, and you don't even have to leave the house. These asanas can be done from where you are sitting and during short work breaks.

By Shraddha Iyer

With everyone's hectic schedules, we don't even notice how quickly a day passes and our health suffers as a result. How do you incorporate yoga into your daily routine with such a hectic schedule, and what can you practice?

For all the workaholics out there, here are some simple and efficient yogic techniques to get in shape. It only takes 15 minutes, and you don't even have to leave the house. These asanas can be done from where you are sitting and during short work breaks.

Follow NewsGram on Instagram to keep yourself updated.

Sukha Purvaka Pranayama

This pranayama is effortless breathing that focuses on breathing deeply into each section of the lungs, as the name says. There is a strong emphasis on both internal and exterior breath retention.

Steps:

- Simply breathe in for 4 to 6 counts, filling the lungs up.
- Hold the breath, ideally for the same count, or it can be as long as you can.
- Exhale for 4 to 6 counts, holding the breath out for the same time or as long as you can.
- This completes one round.
- You can start with 10 rounds and increase the repetition with practice.

Keep reading... Show less