(With apologies for the title.)
When I first heard the heroic Sarah Chayes on NPR, heroic was not a word that leapt to mind. I used to make jokes about her tough assignment: Paris, France. Her uniquely pronounced tagline, “this is Sarah Chayes in Parizz,” always caused my wife and I to try to guess to whom she was related to land such a cushy and sought-after post. But Karma must be bad at NPR, because suddenly she was datelining from war-torn regions of Afghanistan.
One minute, after putting to bed her report on the adopt-a-tree program at Versailles, she’s at the charming boulangerie on the corner selecting fresh baguettes to feed to what I presume was an endless stream of visiting friends and family. The next minute she’s dodging mortars and IEDs on her way to interview a warlord. I imagine dealing with guests became less of an issue after that.
Then her story gets even more amazing. I’ll let her website tell the rest:
In 2002 she decided to leave journalism to help rebuild the shattered country, whose fate will help determine the shape of the 21st century. Currently she runs a cooperative in the former Taliban stronghold, producing fine skin-care products from local fruits, nuts, and botanicals. (www.arghand.org) The aim is to discourage opium production by helping farmers earn a living from licit crops, as well as to encourage collective decision-making. From this position, deeply embedded in Kandahar’s everyday life, Ms. Chayes has gained unparalleled insights into a troubled region. Her book about Afghanistan since the Taliban is The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (New York: Penguin, 2006)
I bring this all up because after Obama’s can’t-please-any-of-the-people-any-of-the-time speech there’s a (destined to be short-lived) surge in coverage of Aghanistan on NPR. I’ve heard a lot of repetitive and insipid takes on the situation, but there’s one thing I haven’t heard: Sarah Chayes. Why would this be? Why wouldn’t they interview someone who is not only unusually knowledgeable about the situation but also clearly in the NPR address book? Did she not give two weeks notice? Did she talk about fight club?
The reason is not that she’s hard to find. She’s back in the states. Things in Kandahar have gotten too dicey for her business to continue operating in the open. In fact I just attended a rather brilliant lecture she gave about the war in Afghanistan. One of the aims of the lecture was to explode a number of myths about the situation, a mission she accomplished thoroughly. Is that the problem? Is it that her narrative goes against the conventional wisdom too much and would therefore take too long to explain?
So come one, NPR, get on the stick. Get Sarah Chayes back on the air as an expert this time. Give her knowledge and ideas some play while the topic is hot, because if recent history is any guide we’ll all forget about Bush War 2.0 in a couple of days. While she was on in November 2008, and while her book did get a little coverage when it was released, she’s had nothing like the week of long segments you aired and still prominently feature on your home page based on Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s strychnine in print. Is Hagerty’s personal journey into neodeism really that much more important?
I’m looking at you, Morning Edition, Diane Rehm, ATC, etc etc etc.
And while I’m on the subject I’m going to recommend (again) that you look at some other important and novel recent takes on Afghanistan from William Lind. Maybe you’ll even interview him.