This month’s blog takes us to Afghanistan with Helen A. Cruz, Impact Resolutions’ senior human environment specialist.
During the mid-1990s, I undertook my second international technical mission to Afghanistan for the United States Agency for International Development, in collaboration with an international private voluntary organization, and the US based Volunteers for Technical Assistance. I was there during the Mujahideen era. In order to facilitate communication and coordination, our Afghan-born chief-of-party encouraged me and our technical advisors to enjoy lunch together. This usually took place in a makeshift tent.
For dessert, occupying pride of place on the dining table was a platter of fresh, crunchy Afghan apples. I thoroughly enjoyed them, not only for their juicy flavour, but their nutritional value too. Unbeknownst to me though I was enjoying them perhaps a little too much because I forgot all about my dental prosthesis. As I happily chomped away, I suddenly bit down on something hard and unfamiliar. My heart sank as I immediately felt a gaping chasm and realized I’d just broken a tooth. Suddenly feeling rather shy and self-conscious I discreetly asked my American deputy chief-of-party if he happened to know of a good dentist nearby. Picking up on my sense of agitation, he diplomatically motioned towards the door and advised me that I was in luck—there was one right across the street. Heaving a sigh of relief, I got up quietly—or at least that’s what I thought—and made a hasty exit.
Across the street, and just as described, I saw a sign with the dentist’s name, credentials and a proud exclamation that he was Texas trained. Whew! I walked into his clinic. I’d caught him just in time because he was about to leave for lunch, but upon my arrival he extended a warm welcome, flashed a reassuring smile and asked what he could do to help. I pointed to the not-so-subtle gap in my teeth and mumbled that thanks to an errant bite into a delicious apple I’d broken a tooth. He immediately knew what to do and I felt so relieved when he sat me down in his chair and told me he could fix my problem, right then and there.
The good Afghan dentist cheerfully hummed away as he busily worked away on my mouth. After a short time he exclaimed that the problem was fixed, albeit temporarily. He encouraged me to go back and enjoy the rest of my lunch, but suggested I returned to his office in a couple of days for a more permanent solution. I thanked him profusely and headed back to the office. Much to my surprise I was quickly greeted by a colleague who asked how my tooth was. I thought my departure from lunch had been inconspicuous, but evidently not. In hindsight it shouldn’t have come as big surprise—being the only female member of the team it’s not unusual that my moves might be subject to a little more scrutiny.
Anyway, two days later, I eagerly returned to my Texas trained friend. He greeted me with a characteristically friendly smile and deftly removed the temporary implant to replace it with a new one. As he finished the procedure, he admonished me to always carry a spare one too.
Lesson learnt! Fast forward to today and that’s what I do—always carry a spare tooth. As for the implant, after more than twenty years it’s still performing well.