'Grandmother of Afghanistan,' a foreigner, may end her iconic role

2013-04-21T00:00:00Z 'Grandmother of Afghanistan,' a foreigner, may end her iconic roleJay Price Mcclatchy Newspapers Arizona Daily Star
April 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

KABUL, Afghanistan - After more than half a century of helping Afghans preserve their history and culture and improve their lives, Nancy Hatch Dupree's extraordinary run in Afghanistan might be ending.

Dupree came to Afghanistan in 1962 with her first husband, a U.S. diplomat. She'll leave, if she can finally make herself do it, as a revered figure who's been called the grandmother of this country, a title used even by President Hamid Karzai.

During her decades here, she's been ejected by the Russians; turned down a request for help from Osama bin Laden; guided countless relief efforts; aided refugees; advised journalists, politicians and the United Nations; and written five travel guides and hundreds of articles on topics including Afghan history, archaeology, women issues and libraries.

Even during the period when the Taliban ruled, she commuted in periodically from Pakistan.

Now, though, at age 85, with signs that her health is starting to weaken, the small, gray-haired icon is pondering whether it's finally time to leave her beloved Afghanistan.

The capstone to her endless aid efforts and amazing adventures came last month with the dedication of the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University. It's the first place in this country where Afghan history and culture can be studied, home to an irreplaceable collection of 80,000 documents that hold the story of the nation's modern history.

Dupree and her second husband, the archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Dupree, helped Afghan refugees in Pakistan start the archive. For years, at Louis Dupree's instigation, Afghans in exile in Pakistan kept the documents. When Louis Dupree died in 1989, Nancy Dupree took the job of caretaker for the collection, in part to fill the void left by the love of her life.

For years, she fretted that the seemingly endless turmoil in the region would claim the archive's vulnerable papers before stability came to Afghanistan and they could be returned to Kabul.

It wasn't until 2006 that she thought it was safe to bring the documents back from Pakistan, which she did in trucks, hidden in plastic sacks. The collection first went to the library at Kabul University.

Technicians are working furiously now to make sure the documents will be beyond the reach of another war, scanning them to make digital images, copies of which will be stored around the world, part of a joint project with the University of Arizona.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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