I was clearly losing a grip on documenting all the stories worth telling. The excerpt below is like a list of stories I had wished I had made time to write:
Kabul, Afghanistan | Sometime in January, 2004?
Why oh why must I have been present in Kabul for both Loya Jirgas.
I learned a saying today – “sota musulman”, which, if I recall correctly, means to “spear a Muslim” – the Afghans’ way of saying that the only way to keep people in line is to rule by fear and force. I noticed from years of travel to countries like this that there was a certain value in displays of force and fury, that soft-spoken reason (of which I fortunately had little anyway) didn’t serve any end purpose too successfully – that you just didn’t get the respect you were looking for without the threat close at hand.
Del mear-e, paw meer-e -- The woman screaming at Loya Jirga – to the commander.
R, the pretty, petite Afghan-American returnee working for UNAMA and living completely solo in a standalone house – a testament to her eccentricity and commitment to the country.
W, the guesthouse manager, in the room across the hall from me, caught between worlds – in Afghanistan you are either here or there and the people in the middle remain captive and suspended by conflicting desires. He had made his first bits of money as a boy on a bicycle in a Pakistani refugee camp in Peshawar– befriending Americans operatives and electing to hold the laser lights to the bombing targets that the aerial fighters needed. As a Pashtun, he blended in and nobody would have noticed that he was playing a role in the hellfire coming from above. Rough and uneducated and very much a Pashtun at heart, he had ingratiated himself to a crew of undercover missionary/cowboy/military-style Americans. While remaining very much a Muslim (though more in identity than in practice), he ran and grew their operations. As the years went by, came to host endless delegations of corn-fed, good-natured, sometimes ignorant, sometimes kind Americans from places like Iowa and Kansas who strummed their guitars at night, ate their Afghan mush uncomplainingly, fantasized about mass conversions, and turned in at 9 pm.
How did all this make him feel? It had clearly enriched him beyond his wildest dreams because by the time I met him, this little refugee boy owned 4 homes and had visited the US 3 times as a fundraising tool of the organization. He was an enabler to everything, and conflicted with desire to live the full occidental lifestyle. I could see the darkness in his face…literally. We were friendly with each other and a part of me even admired him, but I also saw a guy who had sold out, who was hungry, and who was dangerously opportunistic while wishing to be principled – classic mini-warlord traits.
Since the tailors are temporarily full-time employed at the US Embassy, they are working for us evenings and weekends. Last night, Nasrullah scheduled the first of these nocturnal production sessions. And since I had decided to take him out to dinner to keep his spirits up, I had the dubious pleasure of seeing the workshop after dark. Now I understand why everybody scoots out of work by 3:30 in the afternoons. By 8:00 pm when we came back to drop off Nasrullah, the Taimani neighborhood was downright spooky. As we drove further and further down the street, passing Sarak-e 5, 6, 7…the building became increasingly dilapidated and roughhewn, the absence of light more noticeable. By the time we turned on Sarak 10, the car headlights illuminated walls of buildings that were genuinely forbidding – run down and with utterly deserted with silent exteriors. There was no sign of life on the pitch black dirt track of Lane 1. 8 pm was unsafe in Afghanistan and it might as well have been 3 am in the wrong part of Oakland. We pulled into the gates, feeling too exposed with our car headlights in the gloomy haze of the street. But the house itself was like a sitting duck with a blaring generator helping to illuminate every room on the two floors. I couldn’t help but wonder the ease with which any pack of bandits could just pull up in a pick up truck, unlatch the gates, and rob us blind.