Saturday, December 04, 2010

A Broken Dam

Darul-Aman Palace in western Kabul. Once the "house of peace," now a bombed-out remnant of the past.

A dam broke here. Not one which holds back and harnesses the power of a rushing river, but one that holds in the atrocities of war. Strained smiles have faded into mouths forming stories that I wish weren't true. Are they true? Only those who witnessed them firsthand can ever know.

This week, I am not a teacher but a vessel. My friends and students; colleagues and mentors all have started to fill my consciousness with recollections of their collective past. The stories pass through their lips and flow into me; holding them in my memory is much easier than living them, I imagine.

But at night I think about what happened here. I wonder how people did these things to each other. How does this happen? And how does it end?

This week a dam broke. Casual conversation over tea turned into a report on the crimes of war. These are the things I remember. I haven't identified any ethnic groups or tribes or political parties because I don't want to perpetuate the prejudices about each group of people.

So, loud like the torrent of water rushing through that which once held it back, here is what I have been told:

"They massacred us. They still discriminate against us everyday. Have you ever been to one of their houses? They are dirty and treat their women badly. The war is over, but they are still dogs."

"They tortured and raped women. They murdered children and had no regard for civilian life. They hated us and still do."

"I heard that they warmed a metal rod in a fire and then plunged it through the ribs of a thief. They got him wet, electrocuted him, and then pulled his fingernails off. I saw his nails on the street."

"You see, you don't know this, but in this very room, when they left there were naked female bodies found stacked up against the walls. They had raped and killed them. There were even some still alive and they told of the horrors, which I cannot mention; the things those girls saw with their own eyes will never be forgotten."

"I remember taking my friend to watch a public execution. He didn't want to go, and either did I, but I felt we needed to know what was happening. A man had apparently stolen from someone important. We sat quickly and watched. They took a big sword and tried to cut him in half. It didn't work, so they sort of sawed him in half. I can still hear the screams. My friend pulled me away and scolded me for taking him. He was crying. I didn't say anything."

"She was walking down the street in her burqa when they took her. They forced her to marry a much older man because they knew she was a good, single, girl. Good single girls were often forced to marry important men. Later, she was able to divorce him, but many of us believe the divorce was a curse. After she remarried a younger man, they never had children. Some say it is her fault for divorcing. I say it is their fault for ruining her life."

"When I saw helicopters flying through the sky, I knew they had gained ground in the hills. Helicopters couldn't fly if the enemy was still in control because they would have been shot down. You hear helicopters and think of war. I hear helicopters and think of peace and the absence of stinger missiles."

"They were good. We were most secure when they were in control. Everyone says that they treated women inhumanely, but that is not true. They didn't let women go to school for their own safety. There was fighting and if your sister or daughter or mother was killed, it would be your own fault. Also, many young women were forcibly married to much older men if they were found walking in the street. But it was safer when they were in control."

The dam has broken. What stories will the flowing water bring tomorrow?

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At 10:04 PM , Blogger Lu said...

I cry for you and those whom you have encountered. I pray that life will be better someday. Mom

At 11:41 AM , Blogger Michael Lindsay said...


You're doing a great job of giving a voice to those that might not be heard otherwise.

Keep writing!

At 7:19 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Michael and mom, you are my two biggest fans! Thanks for the encouragement!

At 9:39 PM , Blogger Kat Buckly said...

Couldn't read all the stories. Broke my heart a little. I respect you more than you will ever know but I miss you and wish you were here. We love you!

At 9:12 PM , Blogger Randy said...

Jaala, the work you are doing is so important.... be safe! Randy


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