It's great to be home this year at Christmas.
But I can't help remembering other Christmases that I've spent abroad in situations that were far less comfortable. Last Christmas, 2008, I was in Baghdad, and attended services at a Chaldean church in the Karrada neighborhood where Christians at one time felt safe. In recent years, Christians by the thousands have fled Iraq, and the pace has accelerated recently as Christians have become targets in the north of Iraq. During the past year, a bomb was set off near the church that I visited a year ago; fortunately, no one was killed.
On Christmas eve 2007, I returned from Azad Kashmir, the Pakistani-controoled portion of that mountainous territory that is disputed between Pakistan and India. I had been visiting schools rebuilt by Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea, after the 2005 earthquake. Mortenson has built nearly 200 schools, mostly for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only a few days later, while I was still in the country, Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assasinated in Islamabad.
On Christmas morning, 1999, I returned to Philadelphia from an earlier trip to Pakistan, and a sidetrip to Afghanistan where I wrote about secret girls' schools under the Taliban. My now-husband, Paul Hogan, had planned to meet me at the airport with a sign that read, "Will You Marry Me? Check Yes or No." But the previous evening, our car had been virtually totalled by a drunk Chrismas Eve driver, and Paul was so upset that he didn't bring the sign to the airport. However, I did check Yes when I got home.
And I'm very glad to be in Philadelphia with Paul for this Christmas 2009.