Jamil’s wariness hadn’t dissipated, but the stranger displayed no evidence of hostility, so Jamil acknowledged, “I am a healer, and I have been staying in the village.”

“And is it true that, like the prophet Isa, you will heal any in need, rich or poor, male or female?”

Was this a trap? an ambush of some kind? Jamil’s blood was throbbing in his ears, his heart suddenly racing as he admitted cautiously, “If such need is within my ability, yes.”

Stepping forward, the man embraced Jamil with a hearty kiss on both cheeks. “I am Omed. And you are a miracle. When a guest at the chaikhana told of such a healer in a village over the ridge, I knew the Almighty had heard my prayers.”

His new acquaintance seemed to take for granted Jamil would follow as he headed back to the motorcycle. Gingerly, Jamil squeezed on behind Omed. Twilight had now faded to full night, and the motorcycle had no headlight. But Omed gunned the engine unhesitatingly up ridges and down into ravines until Jamil could not have turned back had he wished, because he’d never have found his way. Then their zigzag trail dropped onto the smoothness of a road, and Jamil spotted a twinkle of lights ahead.

As the motorcycle sped between cubic shapes, Jamil could see this town was much larger than the village where he’d last lodged. Shopfronts and the minaret of a small mosque fringed a dirt commons along with the town chaikhana, a combination tea shop and inn for passing travelers. Lighting came from kerosene lanterns, not electricity. Omed was speaking now over his shoulder, but Jamil could make out only an occasional word above the engine. The motorcycle pulled up in front of a long, single-storied concrete building.

“If you will wait here, I will return immediately.” As Omed strode toward the chaikhana next door, Jamil walked along the length of the concrete building. A red crescent above one door, the Muslim adaptation of a Red Cross symbol, identified a health clinic. So the town had its own healer. Then why was Jamil here?

Another symbol marked a schoolroom. But Jamil’s attention was drawn immediately through a door that stood open. Inside was a familiar village scene. A carpet-weaving cooperative such as Jamil had encountered in the last village. But here a single large room was airy and dry. Kerosene lamps reflected brightly from concrete walls painted a cheerful sunshine yellow. Windows paneled with translucent plastic would provide ample light during day hours. More strikingly, the looms were not backbreaking floor models, but vertical wall units, adjustable so that the section being woven was within easy reach of weavers. Benches permitted sitting instead of crouching on the floor.

Just inside the door was a stall where shoppers sorted through finished rugs. The nearest was not a local Pashtun with his light brown hair and round, sunburned features. Rather than shalwar kameez, the tunic and pantaloons of local dress, he wore jeans and a T-shirt, an olive green Army parka instead of a patu. He was also bareheaded and clean-shaven, a fashion becoming popular among Afghanistan’s younger urban residents. In this rural community, he stood out like a jungle parrot among Kabuli homing pigeons.

“Jamil, forgive me for tarrying so long.” Omed had returned.

Jamil swung around, exclaiming, “But this is truly wonderful! You would not need opium to work such looms as these. Where did all this come from?”

“Foreign soldiers built the community center. And an aid organization supplies such looms. I—knew some of their people.” There was hesitation in Omed’s answer. “It was I who convinced the elders to make this change. Though the looms cost the village nothing, they did not at first wish to agree because there are conditions. The women do not weave on Fridays. No opium is permitted. Children may work if their families need them, but only after they attend classes, both boys and girls. Women with small children do not work unless there is someone to watch their child.