Making Friends among the Taliban
Jonathan P. Larson
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Buy *Making Friends among the Taliban: A Peacemaker's Journey in Afghanistan* by Jonathan P. Larsono nline

Making Friends among the Taliban: A Peacemaker's Journey in Afghanistan
Jonathan P. Larson
Herald Press
129 pages
October 2012
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Where outside experts would usually expect local deficiencies, failure and ignorance, Dan approached with curiosity and respect.
Dan Terry and his wife, Seija, lived not just in Afghanistan but, certainly in Dan's case, under the skin of his Afghan neighbors. With what someone once identified as Dan's mastery of "chaos theory" and with many self-created adages regarding the need to understand people by being a part of their culture, the American known to hundreds of Afghans as "Dantri " became a legend. For thirty years, he toiled for various developmental / charitable organizations dedicated to improving the lives of the often poor, often oppressed people of the central Asian region. Dantri learned the language--the nuance, accent and local variants--and gained the admiration and love of the people he served. He was once thrown in a local prison, and though he could have used the "expat card" to avoid the many-day sentence capriciously imposed, Dantri took it, as he took most events in his extraordinary life, as a challenge and an opportunity. When his family brought him food, he shared everything with fellow prisoners.

In his zeal to improve conditions for his Afghan friends, Terry willingly met with workers in the darkness of a notoriously dangerous coal mine; he charged a vehicle through an armed road block to deliver gas to an outpost in desperate need of fuel; he advised a hospital director to allow Muslims, lacking a formal mosque, to use the hospital’s chapel as a place of prayer; he was taken hostage by a petty warlord and set free after the man realized that Dantri was too much like himself to deserve capture.

Author Jonathan P. Larson, himself a long-time international development worker and Mennonite minister, knew Terry as a colleague and close friend. The scenes from Terry’s life are recorded in such vibrant detail that you suspect Larson went to the places Dantri lived and talked to the people who knew him. Indeed, Larson did visit Afghanistan to delve more deeply into the exploits of a man he unabashedly respected, a man the Afghans affectionately called pagal: crazy. Sadly, though, Larson undertook the journey a year after Dantri and nine other aid workers (on a mission to establish eye clinics for the poor) were savagely, inexplicably killed in the northern part of the country.

Larson writes at times with what could be considered a lack of restraint, his regard for Terry unconcealed: "Dan's motive in life, however inchoate or flawed in its outworking, was a selfless love schooled in faith and attired in Afghan garb." But he fairly acknowledges Terry's weaknesses, the resentment he incited in his fellow aid workers who rightly considered his buddying up to Taliban and other suspect leaders to be a danger to their projects and themselves. Like many children raised in foreign climes, both Larson and Terry developed a brand of tolerance all but unknown to folks back home. If Terry at times seemed pagal to his fellow countrymen, it may have been the result of an early unhitching of his identity to nation or region, to join instead in a vast world family.

Anyone who ever visited the Middle East in general, Afghanistan in particular, who wants to understand better the real politics of the region, or who just craves inspiration for living life to the full, should definitely read Making Friends among the Taliban. Honestly, the title says it all.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2016

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