-Berke Breathed, Bloom County Babylon
Happy Thanksgiving. Today's post is only for the most dedicated 6 M.I.K. reader only because it is fairly long. I will spend the first part discussing our Thanksgiving. Second, I am not sure if you remember, but I had a long discussion with one of the interpreters the day the clinic opened. That day I asked if he could type up a summary of his experience about when the mujaheddin came and took over his country. Remember, it was the mujaheddin that was fighting the Russians who had been occupying Afghanistan. When the Russians left the Mujaheddin fought a civil war up until the Taliban came along and took over.
I read his email last night and I was just floored. He has been through such unimaginable events. Last night we had a "Hail and Farewell" party which is essentially a welcoming and going away party for incoming and outgoing people. The same interpreter got up and gave such a moving speech. He thanked the people that were leaving for what they had done. He also described how we are making history and that we should be proud everything that we are doing. I can not even come close to recreating the moment but it was really a moving speech.
I was walking towards the office this morning and I came upon a 5K Turkey Trot that was going on. Later we had an "All Air Force" meeting where a 3 star General, General North, and his staff came and spoke to us. He is the head of all the Air Force personnel in all of Afghanistan and Iraq. He gave a really great motivating pep talk. It is always nice to get those every so often. It recharged our batteries, if you know what I mean.
After the meeting we went to go eat lunch. Maybe I am just easily impressed but they really had an impressive spread at the Goat House (the chow hall). It must have taken 3 weeks just to carve out all of the figurines. There were ice sculptures, every kind of meat you can imagine, a big bowl of peeled shrimp, ice cream, egg nog, etc. I must have eaten 4,000 calories.
Here is a picture of my plate.
Here is a big leg of roast beef. The guy actually smiled in the second picture but it was unfortunately blurry.
This is just a very small sampling of the cakes and deserts.
The ice sculptures were amazing.
They made a little turkey house. The roof was made out of pasta.
Here we are, minus Angela.
This was the best part. I had to include it.
Zalmai’s Tales: Life in Afghanistan by Zalmai Yawar
In early 1992 everything changed for the worse. The mujaheddin who were fighting against the communist government came to Kabul. Even before they entered the city, some parties started fighting each other. We happened to be living in the western part of the city which was controlled by the Hazaras of the Wahdat party. By this time fighting was going on in different parts of the city. The government forces (Jamiet-I-Islami) were fighting in two fronts, against Ezbe Wahdat of the Hazaras in the west and against Ezbe-I-Islami of Hakmatyar in the south. Due to the fighting, a lot of non-Hazaras had to leave their homes in the western part of the city. The Hazaras killed a lot of people and looted many homes as they left. My family is Pashtun. Therefore we had to leave, and went to Logar, the province were my father and my mother were born. But not all of us could leave all at once. I had to stay at home in Kabul, to look after our house and our belongings. I was seventeen years old and spent more than nine months by myself in our house. Our house was near Kabul University and when the university library was looted by the Hazaras, they sold a lot of the books in the shops. People would stand by the side of the road and buy them when armed men brought them in sacks. But in those times, books were more valuable as household goods than as literature. The men would remove the hard cover from the books and sell those separately to people who were making shoes and used them as soles. The paper of the books was bought by women who were making bags. It was very sad to see so many good books destroyed. The books were sold by weight. The price for 7 kg books – which was called a ser – was just 700 Afghanis, roughly about 16 cents. I bought a lot of books. I would collect the best ones and put htem in the scale and buy them with some of the money that was sent to me for food. I made a new cover for the books at home. Because I was alone, I kept myself busy reading English books. The books gave me heart. I would say things like, “Well, there were other times in the past when innocent people suffered for one reason or another.” For example, the book The 25th Hour told me the story of a man who was a Jew and had to suffer because of it.
* * *
One day my younger brother Masoud came from Logar and wanted to stay a few days. I did not like this idea because I did not want anything to happen to him. When he was leaving for Logar a few days later, I went with him to the city. On our way we were stopped at a checkpoint and taken to a car. We were taken to the front line which was located behind the Ali Abad Hospital. The armed men who had taken us would not go with us. They told us to go ahead and then turn right where we would find shovels and pickaxes. We were asked to dig our share of the trenches and come back. We went to the place where the shovels were and looked up. Armed men from the other side were watching us. They belonged to the Jamaiet-I-Islami party. They were aiming right at us. If they wanted to shoot at us they could, but they were just looking at us. If they had mistaken us for Ezbe-I-Wahdat men, they would not have missed us. The Amherst Story Project - 2004 Our hands were shaking as we tried to tell them that we had been brought there by force by armed men. We were really scared. But we were not as frightened of the people who were aiming their guns at us as we were of our captors. The whole area got very quiet. Suddenly, we heard an explosion and some gunfire. The thump of an explosion was followed by the rat-tat-tat of machine gunfire. Mortars and machine gun fires whistled through from both sides. We did not know what to do. We were in a far more dangerous place than those who had brought us there. We ran toward a room near us. We just sat there in the corner, scared. A lot of bullets were hitting the walls of the room. The fact that we were in a room and not outside comforted us. We sat there for just a few minutes. But the minutes seemed like ages. The exchange of machine-gun fire and mortars continued. We could hear when the other side fired a mortar and cringed because we thought it would land on the room where we were, but thankfully it would hit somewhere else and we would be relieved. I do not remember how many hours the fighting lasted, but when it got quieter we left the room and tried to go back to the place where the men had left us a few hours earlier. After so many mortars, we were not afraid of machine-gun fire, so we started running towards the main road. The front line was a residential area. They had dug holes in the walls of houses. One could go from one house to another through these holes. One our way back we also had to jump from roof to roof with some roofs as high as three or four meters. It was something which I could not do in ordinary circumstances, but fear gave me strength. Eventually we got away from there and arrived in a place which was still occupied by families, and we felt safe.
* * *
Sometimes the fighting would be brief. But usually it would go on for days and even weeks. I always kept enough food supplies to last for at least three weeks. To get to the nearest bakery that was still baking bread, I had to walk about 45 minutes. One day, the government forces (Jamiat-I-Islami) launched an offensive to capture Kabul University from the HEzbe-I-Wahdat forces. The fighting was intense and went on for weeks. I did not have the chance to buy bread, which was the only thing that I had to survive on. I spent most of the three weeks of fighting in the basement of our house. It was dark, damp and smelly. My food ran out. All I had left was wheat. For days I boiled wheat and ate it three times a day. The Iranian Embassy negotiated a truce, but even that truce did not last long.
* * *
I saw so many people killed by bullets fired from the top of the hills surrounding the western part of Kabul. You would be walking on the road and all of a sudden a man or two or sometimes even three would fall down to the ground and then you would here the sound of the guns that had fired the bullets. People would run and hide behind trees, walls or anything that would give them protection. Getting injured or even killed was so common. Yet it never occurred to me that I would be one of those people hit by a bullet or that I would be in one of those houses hit by a rocket until it almost happened. It was the winter of 1993. I woke up from the sound of shooting and rockets. It was four o’clock in the morning and I was in bed. I covered my head with the blanket. Part of me said to go downstairs to the basement, but I got lazy and decided to stay in bed in the upstairs room. The fighting got more intense and the explosion of mortar shells got nearer and nearer to my house. I decided to go downstairs but I The Amherst Story Project - 2004 made the decision a bit too late. I went downstairs and took a few steps towards the entrance of the basement. I heard an explosion and saw a big blast about thirty or forty meters away from me. I saw pieces of bricks flying in different directions and heard the sound of shrapnel hit the roof. Just about four or five seconds later, another blast came much closer. I pressed myself against the nearest wall for protection, then tried once more to get to the basement. But there was yet another blast. Before I could do anything I felt a hot wave of air hitting my face and I felt something hitting me on my thigh and my groin. I did not feel any pain. It was like a bee stinging you. My eyesight was blackened and that is all I remember. The last mortar shell had landed on meter way from me, behind the corner of a room on which I was leaning. When I opened my eyes I was staring at neon lamps. I was puzzled because we did not have power at home, let alone non lights. Just then I heard people talking. My mouth was dry. I saw other people lying on beds. I found out that I was in a hospital and then remembered the events of the morning. The first thing I did was to move my hands to make sure that they were still there. My body felt heavy. My legs were still there, too, but my right leg felt strange. It felt as if there was an iron bar in side it. A nurse later told me there was nothing serious, the shrapnel had been removed. She also said that I was brought to the hospital by my neighbor. I also had a burn on my face which left a small spot on the white part of my right eye. When I was brought to the hospital my eyes were full of gunpowder. The nurses were washing my eyes with a kind of solution. Other patients in the ward were more wounded than I. When we left the hospital, we went to Logar. My mother, brother and sister were really happy to see me. I was also very happy to see them. By this time our house, which was unguarded for several weeks, had been looted. We had lost literally everything – all of our furniture, books, clothing and family photographs. I felt despair. All those troubles that I had gone through had been for nothing. My mother told me that she did not want anything. She said the fact that I was alright was everything for her.
* * *
During the five year the mujaheddin were in power, the city was reduced to ruins. During that time more than 40,000 innocent people died.
* * *
Throughout the twenty-six years of my life, I have felt like a ship sailing in the ocean. A ship with no skipper, blown about by the arbitrary direction of the wind. I am waiting to see whether the sea will calm down or whether we must endure more devastating storms in the future.
"I have lived in Kabul my entire life"
"Here's Habibia High School in Kabul, where I graduated. It was really hard to go to school under the Taliban with all their ridiculous roles and regulations, like growing a long beard and memorising long verses from the Koran. It was a nice building before the war, but the bombing destroyed it."
"The other day I took a picture of it again after it was renovated, so it shows what peace can bring."
"About 14 years ago, the only bus you could find was like this. People called them pressure cookers because they had no ventilation and the windows were sealed by pieces of irons and were very hot. I remember my aunt saying, 'Masoud, can you check the tires of the bus and make sure that all the four wheels has its nuts!'. Often, in the middle of a journey, the tires would go flat and their nuts loosen and fall off, adding one or two hours to your already boring journey."
"I have experienced the horrible years of civil war in the early 90s and the brutal rule of the Taliban. Despite all the hardships that I and most of the people living in Kabul went through I managed to go to school."
Thanks for reading.