Saturday, December 4, 2010

War was our national identity, and as a citizen of the country, we are product of war

“What the fuck are you doing here?” the American solider said as a smile of disbelief spread across his weary face.
It was the summer of 2007, just before I began my first year at Columbia. We were in the Kapisa province of Afghanistan, about 100 miles north of Kabul.
I was traveling to a family wedding. The groom and three of his friends were in our car while our mothers and siblings trailed behind us in a second car. When we arrived at Tagab Valley, we realized that the road was blocked by American soldiers. In some village in the valley, insurgents had opened fire on a passing convoy, then disappeared deep into the village, or up into the mountains. The Americans were out to get them. To avoid the possible flow of other insurgents into the valley, the troops had blocked the road that passed it.
For the first hour, we sat in the car, listening to music, teasing the groom. As the traffic in front of us remained immobile, the groom became increasingly nervous. He was to exchange vows in less than two hours. ”What if I miss my ceremony?” the groom joked, but the look on his face was one of worry.
I walked out of the car to approach the American convoy. I was the natural choice, for I was the only one in the party who spoke English. Dressed no differently from the locals, I realized I could be perceived as a threat. So I returned to our second car and asked to carry my six-month old cousin with me. This way, I would not come across as dangerous.
As I approached the first armored vehicle, baby in arm, the sniper turned his attention toward me. I got closer, passed through the Afghan forces that were accompanying the soldiers, and stood right next to the first American vehicle.
“Is there someone I could speak to, please?” I asked. The soldier looked at me, befuddled. Amidst the dust, amidst the chaos, he heard someone ask a question in English. Without much of an accent. He simply pointed me to his commanding officer.
“Sir, I am traveling with a wedding party,” I said. “ I would like to know when the road—”
“Whoa, whoa” the officer interrupted me, “before you go on: how the fuck do you speak English like that?”
As I explained to him that I was a student in the United States, I forgot about where I was for a moment. I had recently graduated from Deerfield Academy, in western Massachusetts, and I was to begin my first year at Columbia College in the fall. The officer turned out to be from Worcester, Massachusetts. He had traveled down to Deerfield several times.
With the number of “fucks” and “mans” and “likes” exchanged, for a moment it seemed like I was back at boarding school. We were having a conversation I had had several times towards the end of my days at Deerfield: about leaving the valley behind, about moving to the crazy city. But his helmet, his uniform, the dust around us, and his question reminded me that we were far from there:
“What the fuck are you doing here?” He asked with a kind smile. A smile that I could swear I had seen in Western Massachusetts, a voice that I could swear I had heard before.
“I am here for a wedding,” I said. “The groom is nervous that he will be late for his bride!” read more
By Mujid Mashal

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