The Missouri Review 29.2 (2006) 58-71
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J. Malcolm Garcia
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| Figure 1 |
Kabul: Summer, 2002
As my UN flight from Islamabad taxis to a stop at Kabul International Airport, I see Masood and Wahob waiting for me behind the wire gate of the parking lot. Masood is to be my translator, though he's not my choice. Wahob is my assigned driver. Together the two of them took me for four hundred dollars the last time I was here. Masood was working for two journalist colleagues of mine when I first arrived in Kabul shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks. I had to hire my own translator.
I found Khalid, a short bulldog of a twenty-three-year-old biology student; I called him "Bro" because I could not pronounce his name correctly. Bro had picked up a smattering of English from his father, who had lived briefly in Europe.
We'd met when I interviewed his uncle, who directed a mine removal agency. Bro and I had worked together for nearly four months. We were a good match. He had never worked for a journalist before, and I had never reported from overseas. Events neither of us could have foreseen or anticipated had brought us together.
"I was home with my wife and daughter on September 11th," he'd told me. "We heard what happened on the BBC. We were very sad. It was hard to believe. But then, and I hope you understand, we were happy. We knew [End Page 59] this would bring the Americans. We knew the Taliban would be gone. The bombs never fell in Kabul. Just on the hills outside of Kabul. The entire sky turned orange and shook with great anger, and we heard the explosions. Then it faded into yellow and black. Everyone would run out to see. We were gratified."
Bro's English wasn't as strong as Masood's, who as the son of a government bureaucrat in the post-Soviet Afghan government had attended the best schools and studied languages. Bro preferred driving to translating. Together we'd stumbled through my first few weeks in Kabul until we'd established a solid routine. My interviews fell into a pattern that was similar to reading subtitled foreign movies. Question, translation; answer, translation. I had immersed myself in Kabul life until I knew the city as well as most Afghans. Bro hung out with the expats, and his English had improved.
Then in March 2002 I left.
The morning after I returned to Washington, I woke early from jet lag. I walked to a Starbucks. It was a clear day, yet indistinct somehow, as if I were not really there. The same people who had retrieved their morning newspapers from their porches when I'd left in November said hello, still in their bathrobes as before. Flags hung everywhere, faded from so many months in the sun, rain and snow. Partially peeled bumper stickers boasting patriotic slogans plastered mud-spattered cars. Teenagers wore T-shirts mocking Osama bin Laden. The nineteen-year-old son of a friend had enlisted in the army just before I returned. He asked me if I had seen any "kills."
A colleague took me out for beer.
"They kept you out there longer than you needed to be," he said. "Afghanistan has been off the front page for months."
I'd wanted to talk about Afghanistan, but by then no one was interested. Most people had read enough about it and didn't need to hear how it was for me. A deep distaste for anything to do with Afghanistan settled over me, and I stopped trying to talk about it. Instead, I kept to myself and read books about Afghanistan. I especially enjoyed reading about Kabul. I wrote to some of these authors and told them I had reported from Afghanistan. If they responded at all, they usually thanked me for reading their book and told me the title of their next book.
I slept late, took long walks. I...