A year has passed since Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, a member of the NGO Peshawar-kai which engages in medical and irrigation projects in Afghanistan, was gunned down while working in the country. At the end of 2020, I had the opportunity to listen to Chiyoko Fujita, a nurse who worked with Nakamura for almost 20 years in Afghanistan and who still supports the NGO's activities.
Fujita said that when she was in her 20s, she heard Nakamura describe in a lecture how Muslim women in the area were hesitant to show their skin even during medical examinations, meaning diseases could not be detected at an early stage. Upon hearing this, she volunteered to help without a second thought.
Fujita conveyed Nakamura's unpretentious personality through various anecdotes. Nakamura would cut his own hair; often too much of it. Afghanistan has a strong culture of respecting one's seniors, so when the local staff saw the state of his hair, they were at pains to control their laughter.
In moments like this, Fujita would ask, "Doctor, did you cut it yourself?" and he would reply, "Yes. Does it look funny?" Finally, everyone could laugh out loud. Another time, when they were digging a deep well, Nakamura took it upon himself to go to the bottom of it barefoot and join the work. He was later told by experts it had been dangerous for him to do so. Even in grim environments, they laughed all the time.
Over time, his warmth and the sense that he was just another person on site touched the hearts of the local people. At first, everyone would ask, "When are you guys going home?" but the doctor and his colleagues would continue working hard in the field, even in droughts and aerial bombings.
Of course, not everyone can make it that far. There are many things I have tried to do in the medical and education fields that I gave up on along the way. But Fujita also said, "If each of us can be mindful not only about our own day-to-day lives, but of those in need elsewhere, that alone can make a big difference."
I nodded in agreement. Not everyone can be a hero, and not everyone can save tens of thousands of people. Nevertheless, even if we can change our focus from "just me" to "me and someone else," society will change. In this new year, I hope we can continue to laugh like Nakamura and his colleagues, and treasure "myself and someone else." If we can do what we can at our own pace, without heaping too much pressure on our backs, then that will surely be enough.
(Japanese original by Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)