Li'l Butterfly's Plea to Obama
How one woman went to Afghanistan with $100 in her pocket
Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
November 17, 2009
In 2004, Liz Grover bought a one-way ticket to Afghanistan. She was 22 years old, and all she had in her pocket was a friend’s address and $100. Beforehand she had spent a year studying in Nepal, with a Hindu teacher who routinely traveled throughout the region with practically nothing.
“I was thinking to myself if he can do it then I can too,” Grover said. “Yes he is a holy man in his own culture, but he’s also a human.”
After the 9/11 attacks, Grover was shocked by the number of people who lumped all Muslims together as extremists and terrorists. So she decided to go to the source and meet Muslim people on their own territory.
“It wasn’t easy to do this,” she admits. “I was just about to turn 23. I’m willing to take chances, but I get scared like everyone else.”
Grover’s $600 ticket would take her to San Francisco, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Mumbai. Delhi and Dubai, on the way to Kabul. And when she did arrive it would be with less than nothing. Because in Dubai, she had to taxi to the next town over – and when she presented her electronic ticket, the clerk simply laughed. “What is that? We don’t do that here?”
“They had no records of me or anything under my name, and I had no money for another ticket,” Grover said. A replacement ticket would cost $150.
In her exhausted state after more than two days of constant travel, Grover decided to follow the example of her Nepali teacher. She waited until she saw some Westerners arrive, approached an Australian traveler and asked to borrow $50.
“He took me to the counter and paid the $50,” she said. “He was not happy, but what could I do?”
Arriving at Kabul airport to the sight of men carrying Kalashnikov rifles, Grover received her first lesson in Afghan culture. Arriving at the airport to collect her, with a young Afghan man in tow, Grover’s friend immediately cautioned her not to hug him in this public place. Then, when she explained that she owed her Australian rescuer $50, she had her second lesson. Her friend had no money with him, but his companion immediately handed her $50 to repay the debt. No questions asked.
“He was an Afghan Muslim. He didn’t know me at all. But he gave me $50. That was my introduction to Afghan hospitality.”
The girl from Long Island, NY, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her Indian-born husband, ended up spending two adventure-filled years in a country she has grown to love. She volunteered and then worked – first for nonprofits and later for the United Nations. She learned a lot about the elections, about the country and about its people. And she made close friends with Afghans and Western aid workers. Her book, “Butterfly on the Road” describes the amazing and sometimes terrible things she witnessed, and the people she met on her travels. It will be released next year.
Because of her experience in Afghanistan, and what she hears from her friends there, Grover has strong feelings about the war and about how President Obama should make his decision. That’s why she decided to make this video plea to the president and post it to the Internet.
“I don’t know all the answers but I think sending more troops is a bad idea,” she said. “If all the troops left tomorrow that would be a bad idea too – it would explode. But even when I was there innocent people were being killed (by Nato troops). Unintentionally, but that doesn’t help the situation and the Afghans don’t appreciate it.
“I want to see a president who will go in there and talk to Afghan men and women., because it’s not our country: It’s their country.