That night, when we were all in our sleeping bags—Teru already asleep, Doug busy noting the day's weather in his journal with hand-drawn symbols, Sarfraz somewhere outside negotiating our horses for the morning—Greg and I, insomniacs both, sat with our backs against the stone wall and talked about his vision for Afghanistan.
"The U.S. fired 88 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan in 2001," he said. "I could build 40 schools for the cost of one of them. The Taliban are still here. They're just waiting for us to leave. You can kill a warrior, but unless you educate his children, they will become prime recruits."
Greg pulled his scarf up around his face, looking just like an Afghan in the candlelight. He would not be coming with us deeper into the valley. There are about 550 Wakhi families in the western Wakhan, and he and Sarfraz had identified 21 villages that needed schools. "Educating girls, in particular, is critical," he continued. "If you can educate a girl to the fifth-grade level, three things happen: Infant mortality goes down, birthrates go down, and the quality of life for the whole village, from health to happiness, goes up. Something else also happens. Before a young man goes on jihad, holy war, he must first ask for his mother's permission. Educated mothers say no."
I asked him how the villages paid for their half of building and supporting a school.
"Often they provide labor in lieu of money," Greg replied, "but most of the money in many Afghan villages outside the Wakhan comes from growing poppies."
"Opium," said Greg. "It can't be eliminated. These villages are desperately poor. They're utterly dependent on this income. Eliminating opium farming will only cause more poverty and more hopelessness, which will cause more killing and more wars."
I let it rest.