Thursday, March 25, 2010

Once in Afghanistan (Rhoades)

A Visit with “Afghanistan” Filmmaker
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Not just American soldiers have gone to Afghanistan. Peace Corps volunteers were there in the late ’60s to help vaccinate the local populace.

That visit by vaccinator teams is recorded in this documentary – “Once in Afghanistan” – directed by Jill Vickers and Jody Bergedick.

Vickers at the time was one of the 17 American volunteers, so hers is a firsthand tale. She will be at the Tropic Cinema tonight to introduce her doc as the latest entry in the Tropic’s Visiting Filmmaker series.

You (along with me and others) can ask Jill Vickers about that faraway land where we now fight a war. And what compelled her to record the reactions of Afghan women to the idea of being vaccinated against smallpox by well-meaning Peace Corps teams.

In particular, “Once in Afghanistan” taps into the recollections of the American women who were there, facing a culture so radically different from anything they had encountered before.
She begins her film with this observation: “We would bang on doors, walk in unannounced, walk in on weddings, walk in on funerals, and everything would stop and we’d vaccinate. Thinking about it years later it was astounding that the Afghans put up with it the way they did, with such humor and welcoming.”

The group was all women, because it was felt woman could vaccinate Afghan women easier than men could. Now older, these female volunteers look back on their experience.

“We were young, we were naïve,” recalls one. “Overachievers,” says another.

They dressed more like Afghan men, a confusing sight to local women. “We thought we were covered up, and they thought we were naked.” Long baggy tunics and exposed hair, alone and doing that kind of job, made the people question whether they were men.

Undulating bare hills greeted them. “It was winter and there was snow and all the buildings were mud and flat roofs,” remembers a former team member.

“The sights and the smells, wood smoke and other smells, and donkeys in the street and horns honking, it was almost overwhelming,” says another.

The black-and-white photographs and faded color film set this in another time and place – one closer to primitive times. “I remember thinking,” says one, “this country is only three days away from my life, and yet it’s just totally another world.”

“I really had no idea what it was gonna be like,” smiles another, “but I’ll tell you one thing, it was out of the office!”

This Dirt Road Production will take you there. And Jill Vickers will be here to take the journey with you.
[from Solares Hill]

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