The movie is set mostly in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2006, and shows some of the ways the Americans trying to help the country rebuild deeply misunderstood the culture. Marines repeatedly rebuilt a well that was bombed in a village, thinking they were helping village women so they wouldn’t have to walk a distance to get water. When Barker accompanied the Marines on one of their repair missions, the village women were able to talk to her — they couldn’t speak to the men — and confess that they were destroying the well because collecting water was their one chance to socialize without the village men around. And they wanted Barker to ask the Marines not to rebuild the well.
Barker confesses to becoming addicted to the excitement of being a war correspondent, but when one of her colleagues, who she’s also having an affair with, is kidnapped (she helps engineers his rescue), she rethinks that attitude. She tells the colleague she’s returning to the States because, she says, she was beginning to think that life in Kabul was “normal.” What was heartbreaking for me, though, was this: Barker, as a Westerner, could leave Kabul and Afghanistan, but for Afghans, life there, no matter how insecure and corrupt, is their continuing normal. Unless they’re rich, they have no escape. I hope Barker’s memoir reaches that insight.