Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guard Duty

Had tower guard for the first time. I found it relaxing. I shared the tower with an Afghan soldier who spoke as much English as I did Pashtu. I offered him one of my atrocious cigars, which he declined. He noticed my torch lighter with a silent and hungry gaze. After lighting my cigar, I handed it to him. He fumbled with the switch and smiled when the jet flame leapt out. He handed it back to me, and I extended my hand, motioning for him to keep it. His eyes flashed at me and proudly tried to refuse it. I insisted, and clasped his shoulder and pushed his outstretched hand back towards his chest. He beamed at me, and fished out a 10 Afghani note from his wallet. I mocked outrage and told him I'd have none of it. He searched his pockets and found a limp box of Pakistani matches with a bootleg Donald Duck painted on the cover. I marveled at his generosity, I shook the box to my ear and smiled. I struck one of the blue tipped matches and touched up one side of the cigar that didn't light properly. I shook his hand and thanked him.

I went outside and smoked in the late afternoon air. Due to some thick gray clouds, it was not entirely unpleasant. There was a small farm across the gravel road, corn, fruit trees, cows, sheep, boys off in the distance playing cricket. It was a welcome sight, being unable to see any dull army buildings or equipment.

An inch into the putrid cigar, I saw a young boy pedaling a thin framed white bicycle. He was having a hard time at it, the road being gravel and four of his mates piled on the seat, the handlebars, the front and rear bumpers. They saw me up in the tower and immediately jumped off and started chattering. They bent down and found small sticks and smoked them with me, making dramatic movements bringing the wood cigarettes to their lips and blowing elegant imaginary smoke. The pilot of the bike, a daredevil, rode far behind his friends and at a blazing speed, took off and braked hard and turned sharp, skidding superbly on the gravel road. His head snapped towards me, his eyes searching for a reaction, and beamed when he saw my thumbs up. They showed me their cricket bowling with round rocks found on the road, and just then the Afghan soldier came onto the tower. The boys saw him, jumped on the bike, and strenuous were the pilot's efforts to get going. I guess they knew some were more impressed with their charms than others.

I looked off into the distance and saw a young girl wearing a long dark red cloak. Her hair was covered with a dark brown shawl. She lay on her back on a small stone wall and with a long stick, traced the clouds in the sky. Her leg was bent, one knee in the air, and her other foot dangled and bounced against the wall. Abruptly, wakened from this fancy, she looked to her left and saw an old black goat and a faded sheep wandering away from the fields. She stood, dusted herself off and tramped in a great circle and flanked them before they reached the road. She was fluid in her motions, her stick coming down expertly upon the haunches of the errant goat. She took great strides and shortly the beasts were back in their place and she returned back to her spot on the stone wall.

I am enchanted with these people. They belong to another age. They move with a dignity and confidence that I certainly do not possess. A people that belong somewhere. It's refreshing.

I respect what I've learned about the Pashtun culture. One tribe was insultingly called "The Ungovernables" by a kingdom attempting to conquer them. They took it as a compliment. "Ungovernable" meant to them unwilling to submit.

There is a bit of a scandal going on now. Certain foreign aid services are being accused of spreading Christianity to the Afghans. There have been public demonstrations and calls for harsh punishment and expulsion of the workers. It's because no Pashtun would offer his other cheek when one had been struck. Nor will he be told to love his enemies. Tell a Panjshiri that he must humble himself and carry another man's cloak not just the one mile required, but an extra. The teachings of the Nazarine cult are not admirable to a man with a Shinwar heart beating in his chest. His religion is one of resistance and struggle, and he is a zealous practitioner.

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