When Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) offered to send Maureen Mayhew to Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, she refused. Fearing she would be forced to give up her independence to preserve her safety, it was the last place on earth she wanted to volunteer medical expertise. But events didn’t unfold as she had anticipated and in April 2000, wrapped in unfamiliar clothing, she stepped out onto the Afghan dust for the first time. Walking toward Taliban immigration officials, a fire raged in her belly and a tremor shot through the hand grasping her blue knapsack. Little did she know that she would return to this country seven more times over the span of a decade, learn to converse in the regional Afghan language of Dari, and develop lasting relationships with women, men—even members of the Taliban—and families through her work as a physician.
In Hand on My Heart: Awakening in Afghanistan, Mayhew juxtaposes her experiences of Afghanistan as a foreign, female physician with her personal journey of questioning who she is as a professional woman in the 21st century. As she travels from one remote outpost to another, sharing cups of tea in secret, muddling through language barriers, and brokering trust with her patients, she finds her Western beliefs challenged and makes sense of her own struggles with gender roles. With curiosity and tenderness, Mayhew reflects on moments of disorientation, fear, wonder and joy. Hand on My Heart is a moving account that takes readers on an uncharted path into the mysteries of the human heart.