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It’s chilly enough to start wearing my favorite things again.

As the temperature dropped this week, I was grateful for a new scarf that was a gift from my brother.

It’s in my favorite color, and he brought it back from a country that has my heart:  Afghanistan.

I’m surprised that this pashmina is so warm and soft.  Its sky-blue tones are uplifting in this sometimes gloomy season.

My brother won’t return to Afghanistan now, since Canadian troops are leaving.  Most are expected to be home by year-end.

Although I have strong memories of the place, I don’t have the courage or strength to go back either.

Before my brother gave me this gift in June, I had one other present from Afghanistan, a handmade scarf in forest green.  It’s a long strip of soft cotton, with simple, even stitches, and rustic fringe.

It was a gift from another woman journalist, who also has not returned to Afghanistan, since we covered the war for Canadian and European media.

I’ve worn this green scarf often over the past decade, keenly aware that it was handmade, and delicately embroidered, by a destitute widow.  I am proud to wear it, knowing that the purchase honored the artisan’s craft, and helped provide for her family.

Mothers without men to support them in most parts of Afghanistan (the matriarchal Hazaras are a strong exception) are reduced to begging because of the shame Afghan society assigns to single womanhood after marriage — even if she’s a widow of war, with youngsters to feed.

And, sadly, most widows in Afghanistan lost their husbands, brothers, and sons in war, whether it was the current one or any number of conflicts dating back more than 30 years.

Every purchase of an artisanal product from Afghanistan is likely to help a widow and feed children.

Despite the billions nations have spent there — in war and peace —  Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and many of its residents live in unimaginable poverty.

It’s especially heartbreaking to live there in winter, when children get sick and die because there is little heat, rough shelter, limited medical care, and still not enough food or warm clothes.  (We slept on a dirt floor in the desert mountains one winter at the start of the war, and for this Canadian, who is no stranger to cold, it was tougher than surviving in the Arctic.)

I think of Afghanistan with affection when I wear these scarves.

I think warm thoughts of my brother, whose world travels as a Canadian peacekeeper have always been accompanied by gifts for everyone.  (He’s so generous that he ships home presents in metal trunks.  Our family cherishes his blue, peacekeeper’s beret, that universal emblem of hope, however fragile.)

I wear my made-in-Afghanistan scarves, thinking of all the losses there, the grief of war-wounded families there and here — in Canada, the U.S. and other countries — and hope for an end to everyone’s suffering.

I pray for peace, and I am thankful the troops are coming home.

(I’m not a shopper.  When I buy gifts, I search for unique products from local artisans, wherever I live or am traveling.  Want to buy gifts that make a difference?  I recommend “A Gift That Gives More”, through The Hunger Site.

Help a woman in a refugee camp learn embroidery through Zardozi, a training and marketing NGO in Afghanistan that helps women support their families.  Zardozi means “golden threads” in Dari, one of the dominant Afghan languages.

For other ways of helping those in need, at home, and all over the world, check Greater Good.)