Nancy Hatch Dupree, 1927-2017 Obituary
One of the most remarkable and fascinating Westerners ever to have been attracted to that infinitely exciting, dangerous and beautiful country – Afghanistan – has just died in its capital, Kabul, aged 89. On September 10, she succumbed to what was really a combination of old age and the infirmities it brings, and the fact that she never stopped working on the project which will preserve her memory for as long as Kabul exists – an Afghanistan Archive installed in a splendid modern glass and polished stone building, equipped with modern technology, she commissioned in the grounds of Kabul University.
She herself tirelessly collected books, papers, articles and pictures – anything Afghan of distinction and historical value which would enhance her creation and had just put the finishing touches to it when she died.
I always saw her when I visited Kabul – once a year in September, usually , and took her to lunch in a small restaurant she liked. She ate like a bird and always reminded me we were 'twins '– being the same age. She was full of reminiscences, fascinating snippets of contemporary history like her description of the parties the British Embassy gave,when she was young and full of life.
The British gave great parties, she said. The wine would flow, and although Afghans, being Muslims, don't drink in principle, the 'gardeners would sweep up the drunks next morning as they tidied up after the party.'
Her life had been a busy one, marrying an American diplomat called Hatch when in her twenties, and moving to Kabul when he was posted to Afghanistan. But it was not long before she fell in love with another American, Louis Dupree, who worked for the CIA but was really a scholar, and the author of the book on Afghanistan, simply called 'Afghanistan' and published by Princeton University. She herself, no mean writer, travelled with him all over the country and wrote a brilliant guide book ,An Historical Guide to Afghanistan, last published in 1977, but obtainable in all the Kabul book shops. I find it indispensable, full of insights, good pictures and beautifully written. It is in fact my 'bible.'
'When we used to take 'walkers' on trips to the Panjsher and Bamiyan to raise money for SGAA, I persuaded Nancy to take them first on a short tour of Kabul. One must was of course the National Museum. Stopping in front of the statue of Kanishka, the great Kushan king, standing majestically on the steps as you go in, Nancy announced in a loud voice. ''This is where the Taliban Minister of Culture [pause] took a hammer the other day [pause] and smashed it to smithereens! [pause.] Luckily the restorers at the Louvre were able to repair it - so that it looks as good as new!'
But Nancy's greatest achievement was her creation of an Afghanistan Archive, housed splendidly in an elegant garden, where students can work and research in peace and quiet with the most modern equipment. Nancy's archive is her final tribute to the city and country she took to her heart and gave her life to.
As she always told me , we were 'twins,' both 89, both travellers, both writers, and both in love with Afghanistan in our different ways I shall miss her, as will her host of friends in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan.
When Nancy Dupree, the American doyenne of Kabul's once-glittering international set, says of the current situation in Afghanistan, 'it's dire', you know it must be pretty bad. She has seen it all, over the years, and fondly recalls the old days when the British gave such good parties at the Embassy that the gardeners had to sweep up the drunks from the bushes next morning.
I spent nearly a month in Kabul last September and soon knew the litany of complaints from her, my driver and everyone else by heart: no jobs, no money, corruption worse than ever, and all the young people want to leave. 'Even the son of my chowkidar [watchman] wants to leave,' Nancy said with horror. 'I told him, no, you must stay and help the country, but he didn't want to know.' Afghans are now the second largest refugee group in Europe, after Syrians.
The wider picture is equally disturbing. Up and down the country the Taliban are on the warpath, inflicting unsustainably heavy casualties on the Afghan army and police, while the government in Kabul dithers, apparently incapable of appointing, of all things, a defence minister. The man they nominated months ago was turned down by Parliament as too inexperienced, which most observers think was true. To make matters worse, the extremist Islamic group, ISIS or Daesh, is also making inroads in the Jalalabad area.
The failure of the government, cobbled together by John Kerry, the American Secretary of State a year ago, to defuse a dangerous squabble about who really won the Presidential election, now dominates the political scene and the country's future. There is no common ground between Ashraf Ghani, the American-educated technocrat who became President and his rival Dr Abdullah, once number two to the famous mujahideen commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud, assassinated by al Qaeda just before 9/11, who became CEO, or prime minister. As the Government lurched from one crisis to another in the space of a few weeks, Kunduz fell to the Taliban in October, although the Government retook it; followed by the loss of much of Helmand, the poppy-growing heartland, where, in the past, the British and the Americans also took big losses; and most recently, the Taliban attack on the former British 'capital' of Lashkar Gah, 'the place of the soldiers,'.
So I am extremely proud to be able to announce a ray of real hope from SGAA, in one word - Ponseti. Ponseti is the name of a Spanish doctor who invented a revolutionary method of treating Club Foot, known as the Ponseti technique, or method. Instead of relying on surgery, as in the past, the Ponseti technique depends on a skilled physiotherapist straightening a small child's malleable bones by manipulation and then plastering the feet to keep them in place. After a week or so a further adjustment is made to correct the position of the feet and they are then re-plastered. After 10 years of Ponseti, our technicians have become highly expert.
Luckily we have been blessed by having on our staff some exceptionally skilful practitioners, led by a senior physiotherapist, Ahmad Shah, who took to Ponseti like a duck to water. Great credit also belongs to two of our expert and dedicated consultants, Philip Henman, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon with the NHS in Newcastle who originally suggested we adopt Ponseti; and Jeanne Hartley, former head physiotherapist at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London, now our senior consultant, who has ably backed him up.
All of them, Afghan and British have made the programme an outstanding success, treating more than 7000 Club Foot patients in the past ten years, and changing the lives of all those children. We are now working on another similarly prevalent disability in Afghanistan, displacement of the hip in newborn babies, known as DDH.
I conclude by wishing you all a Very Happy Christmas and [what they call in Scotland] a Prosperous New Year, and by quoting Philip Henman's account of how we launched Ponseti in Afghanistan.
'Teaching the Ponseti method in Afghanistan was something like lighting the touch paper of a firework. At the first lecture in Jalalabad the physiotherapists and orthotists came back with robust and searching questions and concerns about the procedure. From the first description it was clear that they fully understood the ideas behind the technique and were anticipating the possible complications and difficulties. This was very exciting, even challenging, and a much more vigorous, engaged response than I was used to when teaching medical trainees in the UK. Almost immediately the numbers of children being treated was impressive. In future months and years the local therapists developed the method according to the local resources and environment taking into account the sort of patients who came to them - which is a very different mix of children to the ones that we, the ‘teachers’, encounter in our regular work. Their skills as trainers in their own right is evident by the way that the method has been adopted by other centres, where the therapists have been taught the technique by Afghan clinicians not by expatriates. Over 10 years the Ponseti method has spread to all the main cities of the country and has been adopted by the main health care providers for children largely due to the enthusiasm and commitment of the Jalalabad therapists who accepted the challenge of a new way to tackle the problem of childhood foot deformity.
Sandy Gall, Chairman SGAA
According to the 2005 National Disability Survey of Afghanistan, one in every five households in Afghanistan has at least one family member who is disabled. This is a result of 30 years of war, landmines, disease and poverty.
Since 1986 Sandy Gall's Afghanistan Appeal (SGAA) has trained Afghan professionals to provide artificial limbs and other mobility aids for more than 25,000 people with disabilities and provided physiotherapy treatment for over 60,000 patients with temporary and permanent disabilities.
Activities were initially based in Peshawar, Pakistan where there were over 1 million Afghans living in refugee camps in the 1980s and 1990s. SGAA gradually moved its activities inside Afghanistan from 1991 onwards and set up two main centres in Jalalabad in 1993 and Kabul in 1996.
Since 2006 SGAA has signed a partnership agreement with Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and its activities are now merged in a community based disability programme which works in 13 provinces.
The Chairman and Mrs Gall visit Kabul and Jalalabad March 2013
Top left: Mahpekai, senior prosthetist-orthotist, and double amputee, showing a drop hand splint she has fabricated.
Top middle, top right: SGAA staff from the Component and Orthopaedic Workshops
Bottom: Malek, who is a double amputee, winning his race in Kabul.
The boy in the picture is Hashmatullah. He and his father were walking through Darulaman (a suburb of kabul), Hashmatullah in front, when the father shouted: 'Look out, there's a mine !'
The words were no sooner out of his mouth then there was a terrific explosion right beside Hasmatullah, wounding him in both legs and seriously injuring h
is father who died two days later. By some miracle, Hasmatullah survived but he lost almost the whole of his leg. It was amputated just below the
hip and half of his leg, amputated above the knee in what is known as an AK.
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