After leaving the Mountain View City Council six years ago, Rosemary Stasek did something unexpected: She moved to Afghanistan, founded a nonprofit there, and made the country her new home.
Stasek moved into a middle class neighborhood in the capital city of Kabul and got married. She worked at her nonprofit, which was founded to empower women through education, and visited women and girls in the city's prisons and salons.
Six years later, Stasek says she feels her life is in danger in Kabul for the first time since she arrived in 2002, and she and her husband have been talking about leaving. This summer an international aid worker was shot outside the yoga club which Stasek attends, and three other international workers were killed while on their way to work.
"They were doing all the right things, and this happened," Stasek said. "This summer things have gotten dangerous."
The former mayor was back in Mountain View last week, and on Sept. 11 she gave a talk to just over a dozen locals at the public library, saying she wanted them to understand what was happening in Afghanistan, and what she called the real reasons underlying the war there.
"I'm afraid you're not hearing the real stuff on the news," Stasek said. "I don't want you to leave without my story."
The recent rise in violence is being reported in the international news, Stasek said, but the media concentrates too much on the Taliban and not enough on the country's burgeoning drug trade, which prevents Afghanistan from rebuilding its economy.
"It is generating such enormous quantities of money," she said. "It is skewing any triumph of economic development."
"Wheat would fetch [residents 10 percent of what they would get growing poppies," she said.
Stasek gave two talks last week at the invitation of local librarians, who are helping organize the yearly "Mountain View Reads Together" program. This year, residents are reading "Three Cups of Tea," a novel about a mountain climber who devotes his life to building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Event organizers will hold book discussions throughout November, along with other group discussions on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Stasek had visited Afghanistan briefly as an aid worker, and moved there to found her nonprofit, "... A Little Help," to help compensate for the way women were disenfranchised under the Taliban.
She arrived after the Taliban was out of power, and people were hungry for education. During her presentation, she showed pictures of schools that had been destroyed under Taliban rule. Though the structures had not been rebuilt, they were packed with hundreds of children crowded on the floor.
"The problem with a desk is it limits the amount of kids you can get in a class," she said.
Although residents are still eager to learn again, Stasek worries that as the country faces more violence, the Taliban could rise to power again. Most of the international effort to end this violence is focused on this Islamic group, but regional warlords, drug trade and governmental corruption are more serious problems, she said.
"Everyone up to the minister of anti-narcotics is being financed by the drug operation," Stasek said.
For more on Stasek's nonprofit, visit www.stasek.com/alittlehelp. To learn more about Mountain View Reads Together, visit www.mvreads.org.