Alan Brody worked for twenty-two years with the UN Children’s Fund, most recently as UNICEF Representative in Swaziland (1999–2006), and before that with assignments in China, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Nigeria. He is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Iowa, and served for over seven years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana in the 1970s. He is currently a freelance writer, lecturer, and consultant based in Iowa City, Iowa.
I knew Alan and his wife Mary in Ghana when I worked in the North as a Peace Corps teacher and visited them, as my oasis, in Accra, the capitol city in the coastal South. The depth of their friendship has touched my life in ways they cannot know.
Recently, on a lark, after seeing two movies back to back with Africa-themed stories, I used my tracking skills to search Alan on the internet. I rejoiced in locating him back in the States, found his number through directory assistance, called him, and we’ve been wildly emailing through the holidays.
I’ve always known Alan is a wonderful writer, but over the years his writing has continued to deepen. His latest publication is an exclusive for The Virginia Quarterly Review online titled “Revisiting Afghanistan: A Conversation with Najibullah,” formerly president of Afghanistan. The theme of the VQR online January 2008 issue is torture.
Alan’s article in The Virginia Quarterly Reviewonline is filled with pungent political insight and charming anecdote that sets a wiser context for the current wordwide situation of the Taliban, torture, and terrorism.
I particularly enjoyed the second half of Alan’s article in which he and a collegue go to visit Najibullah, “a guest” of the UN.
Alan explains that Najibullah “found himself stranded as the guest of a UN that had no soldiers to protect him, safe only so long as the mujahideen chose to respect the diplomatic sovereignty of the UN representative’s official residence, where he stayed on even as the UN staff departed.”
Alan prepares for the proposed visit by buying a box of chocolates:
“Don’t you think,” I said, “that it would be appropriate for the Head of Mission to pay a courtesy call on our Guest to wish him a Happy New Year?”
“Most appropriate,” he agreed, with a smile of mischievous complicity.
To prepare ourselves, we went to a shop in the center of town and bought a box of chocolates. The shopkeeper asked, “Would you like that gift-wrapped?”
Here was a city, I thought, which had been under siege for six weeks, yet the shopkeeper had New Year’s chocolates for sale, complete with red ribbon and gift wrap. What a testament to the resourcefulness and entrepreneurial instincts of the Afghan people—and what remarkable things such a people might achieve if only they could enjoy blessings of peace.
I trust these short excerpts, even out of context, will whet your appetite to read the entire article. Alan has a way of communicating information very convincingly and entertainingly. I hope you’ll take the time to read his important article in the Virginia Quarterly Review online.