Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bittersweet Afghanistan

Night time has arrived and I am waiting to go home. For me, my time in Afghanistan has come to an end; after one week, I will leave this place. I will leave my chadars (head scarves) behind and slowly unfurl my American self again. Though the details of day to day life may fade, I will never forget my time here; Afghanistan, and especially my students, will always have a place in my heart.

One of the last things that I taught the students in my writing class (before their final exam last week) was the idea of oxymoron. We talked about the word "bittersweet," and I asked my students to tell me a situation in their lives which was bittersweet. This is what they said:

"I am about to be married. I am very happy that my family has found a suitable and good boy for me to marry, but I am afraid and sad to leave my own family behind when I must join his. Getting married is a happy change in a girl's life, but leaving her family is terrible. This is bittersweet."

"When I was very young my family moved to Pakistan to leave the country [Afghanistan] during the Taliban. I lived in Pakistan for 14 years. When we returned to Afghanistan, I had to leave all of my friends, my home, my city, and all of my favorite places in Pakistan behind; I had to make a new life here. I was coming back to my real home, but leaving my childhood forever. This was bittersweet."

And, unprompted, the head of the English department at my University said this at my going away party yesterday:

"Jaala Jan is leaving us. This is both a good and bad thing; it is a bittersweet moment because she will return to her home, but she will leave us. We have come to know Jaala Jan as one of us. Look, she is Afghan! She will remain in our hearts forever; we will always pray that she returns one day."

Leaving Afghanistan is bittersweet.

As I leave here, I will always remember both the good and the bad; I will always keep these memories with me:

...the call to prayer (azan)echoing in the background of life, almost always a constant reminder of the Muslim faith that guides the people and fills the air

...the clip clap of donkey and horse hooves on the streets; the bump of their carts wheeling over uneven ground, dumping potatoes and onions here and there

...helicopters interrupting class, shaking white board markers off of their trays

...Farhad Daria and Ahmad Zahir blaring on everyone's radio; playing over and over again in everyone's head

...4:45 am summer sunrises

...the smell of rotting garbage and rancid standing water lining the streets; the vision of the car wash boys dipping their towels in the sewers to give the cars a quick "bath"

...gravel in my beef

...a river choked by carelessness and trash

...the huge hearts and effervescent kindness of the people

...invitations for lunch; mantou, boolani, oshaq, kofta, kabobs, and gigantic naan

...Crossfit Camp Eggers; a little slice of America, the place where I found my heart and fell in love

...herds of goats stopping traffic


...cows getting gutted on the side of the road; a stump for a butcher's block; a strung-up sheep waiting for slaughter, staring at the severed head of another sheep lying by the gutter, blood flowing freely

...the sunset overshadowed by the brown dust of yet another wind storm

...70 Afs DVDs at Finest

...thinking every clap of thunder is a suicide bomb

...the view of T.V. hill obscured by my window; sitting in the prison of my apartment, wishing I was free

...burqas held tightly over eyes; women covered by men's insecurity

...darkly lined eyes, colorful make-up, and a stray tuft of hair peeking out from under a chadar; fabric tucked behind an ear, daring you to take a closer look

...policemen and soldiers roaming the streets; sentries without a clear purpose, weapons ready, always in danger

...mountains beyond mountains, holding secrets from decades of war that will never be revealed

...mud brick walls and houses, crumbling under the weight of corruption

...barbed wire strewn over everything; protecting nothing

...self immolation to end the suffering and imprisonment

...Rabia Balkhi's poems lamenting all women's sorrows; but dreams as well stories written in secret, eyes glancing at each other from hundreds of meters away; sparks that will never start a fire, extinguished by an arrangement

...roses growing from every crack, fertilized by dust and hope

...mischievous smiles, ensuring that the future will be better than the past

And so, as the night becomes darker and I fall asleep, these are the things which will never be forgotten; this is Afghanistan to me.