(Editor Note: Rosemary Stasek, AWWP friend and former mayor of Mountain View, California, died on Thursday September 24, 2009, in Afghanistan.)
It was a Wednesday in June when I had my interview with Rosemary. She accepted me as program assistant for her organization, “A Little Help.” I was glad and I was afraid. But she was not like a boss to me. She was like a teacher. The first days, everything was new. She gave me some letters to print. I tried and I tried, but the printer was angry; it was not printing, I went to Rosemary and told her, “Please, come check the printer.” She came and checked, and plugged the cable on the printer and smiled at me.
One day she gave me a list of supplies she had to buy for a hospital, and sent me to get price quotes. When I left the office, I found I understood all the words but one. I studied the word and then went to the furniture store and ordered some chairs. When I got back to the office, Rosemary asked me, “Where did you go?” I replied that I was at the furniture store. Again she looked at me and smiled and printed out a paper with a picture and showed me: the word I didn’t understand was “crutches.” When I looked at the paper, I laughed, and she laughed too, but she didn’t make fun of me.
Her office with its green lawn and roses was also her house, but it was my home too. I felt calm there. She was not like a foreigner. She was a family member. She stayed in Afghanistan almost six years and Afghanistan was her home. Her other assistant, Karima, and I were both studying at the university. On exam days she didn’t like us to work very much at the office. She encouraged us to study and try hard.
Rosemary did a lot for women. Take a few minutes and visit her site http://www.stasek.com .
She was working days and nights, helping Afghan women not only in the capital, but all the provinces of our country. In Bamyan, Ghor, Mazar, Kabul, Parwan, and many, many other provinces, there are hearts who love Rosemary.
She remains in a lot of memories in my heart and soul. I remember the time we visited a blind school. The blind teacher and students were playing music and she started to dance. Everyone was blind so only I could see her, but she danced and we both had tears in our eyes, oh oh oh.
But life is unfaithful sometimes. The woman we knew was sick in the last three months. Most of the time she looked tired, but didn’t express it in her face. She had her cute smile. But you could read from her face that Rosemary tolerated pain. Once or twice I asked her, and she told me: “I am not feeling well, but don’t worry. I will be okay soon.”
She was sick all of Ramazan but in the beginning she gave lots of prayer rugs and holy Qurans for Muslims. The last time we went to the girl’s prison, she carried a lot of stuff that was very heavy. I told her I could carry it, but she wouldn’t let me.
The other day we went to tax office together. I had all the work done there. She thanked me and congratulated me. I told her, “Don’t thank me. It was all your work, Rosemary.” But she smiled and told me, “No, Roya, it was you doing all the work.” She drove us home. On the way, I told her, “Rosemary, this time when you go to States, I will take a driving course.” She laughed and told me, “You missed your chance; why didn’t you go when I was in Africa last month?” I repeated, “This time when you go, I will go to a driving course.”
When we reached the office, Marne, Rosmary’s kind husband, arrived from his office. Rose greeted him very friendly: “My dear husband, how are you?” She laughed and her laugh was an ocean of love.
One day before Eid, she gave all the office staff Eid gifts. She gave me new clothes. On first day of Eid, I sent her a message of Eid greetings. On third day of Eid, I called her. Although she was sick, she didn’t tell me on phone. I missed her, so on fourth of Eid, even though it was holiday, I went to the office to visit her. She was in her living room. I was checking my writings on AWWP when Rosemary tried to walk to her office, but she was having trouble walking. She used the walls to help her. I followed her into her office and wanted to hug her, but she was very sick, very, very sick. She couldn’t talk and could hardly breathe. She pointed and invited me to sit. I sat down and told her, “Rosemary, you will be okay soon. Take it easy.” She smiled, and I asked, “What can I do for you?” She said, “Roya, I know what my sickness is. You can’t do anything for me. Go to your office and make yourself some tea.” I went to my office but I was worried because of Rosemary; what was happening to her?
She left the office and sat on the chair in her lawn. Tequella, her lovely dog, was barking, but she was just sitting. She couldn’t breathe, but she was brave. She called me and asked me to add credit to her mobile phone. I did it and she asked me to make her a salad, but then she felt worse and didn’t ask about it. Marne came from his office and sat with her. I looked from the window. They were like two birds fallen in love. After a while, he returned to his office.
It was 5:00, time for me to leave. Again I sat with Rosemary and I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to look at her and be with her. She looked at me and she felt I was very sad. I asked her, “What should I bring you tomorrow?” She said, “Bring me apricots.” I asked, “What about peaches?” She said, “That’s okay, peaches are also soft. Try to find good ones.”
When I said goodbye to her, she said, “Roya, don’t leave me alone. Stay a few minutes until Marne comes from his office, or tell Fatha the driver to stay here.” I stayed with her longer. Then she told me, “Go, it will be late for you.” I told Fatha to stay and I left the office. When I was on the street getting a taxi, I saw Marne arriving, and I was happy.
On the way home, I was thinking about Rosemary. The next day was Thursday. We had lunch guests. I was worried because I had to get to the office, but the guests were late. So I texted Rosemary that I would come to the office late, but she didn’t reply. It was the first time she didn’t reply to me. I thought she was disappointed in me. I didn’t want to accept that she was sick and couldn’t reply to my message.
On the way to the office, I tried to buy apricots. There were none, but I bought some peaches. I was in a hurry, hurry, hurry. Fatha was at the office. I asked him, “How is Rosemary? Where is she?” He told me Rosemary was very sick and Marne had taken her to the hospital.
I put the peaches on the nice plates Rosemary had in her kitchen. I was hopeful that when she came, she would eat the peaches and I would bring her more. I called Marne. He told me they were at ISAF hospital. I told him, “I want to come,” but he said it was not possible for me to enter because it is a military hospital.
At 5:00, I went home. That night the sky was dark and the moon was lost. At 10:00 p.m., I messaged Marne and asked about Rosemary’s health. He wrote back that she was very ill. I think I only slept two hours that night. Early Friday, I was washing my clothes and then I checked my phone and there was a missed call from Marne. When I called him back, I didn’t greet him. I just asked, “How is Rosemary?”
His voice held the pain I felt. He told me with deep sorrow that Rosemary died the night before.
I couldn’t hear that news. I hung up and started to cry. I was alone and needed someone to share my grief. It is very hard when you are alone, and you lose someone who you love. I called Mr. Ted, my dear teacher, director of SOLA. He thought I had a family problem. When I told him, he was shocked. Then I called Kathleen Rafiq, Rosemary’s best friend. She tried to console me. I called Karima; she was shocked too. I went to her house and we talked about Rosemary and her kindness. One day and one night, nonstop, I cried, it was not only tears coming from my eyes, but blood was with them.
On Saturday morning I didn’t go to the university; I went to Rose’s house. When I opened the door, I saw a sad picture I can’t forget: that tiny house and office was like a garden without a tree. Everything looked sad and worried; walls cried. Marne was sitting alone on the chair on the lawn. When I saw him, I couldn’t control myself. We cried. Even Rosemary’s dog Tequella cried; trust me, there were tears in her eyes. Later I went into the kitchen. The peaches I had bought for Rosemary were still on the plate. Her office door was open a bit, her handbag on the chair, her writings on the board of her office. I put some rose petals on her desk on her office, and some petals on her empty chair. I asked Life: why is it like this? We can find everything in our life, but when someone leaves this world, we can’t find them back.
She passed her last breath with us Afghans. I tell American people, if all of the women are like Rosemary, be proud. She was an example of love, kindness and hard work. We learned a lot from her.
As I left at the end of the day, I knew I would never again tell the taxi driver, “2 Qalay Fathallah.” I won’t say, “Rosemary, see you tomorrow.” She won’t tell me, “Bye, Roya. Have fun!” I left the office at 5:00, walking empty streets, crying and saying “Goodbye, Rosemary. Goodbye, Rosemary.”