By Luke Nephew
Flight from Dubai to Kabul: It’s a flight full of Afghan people and soldiers. And me. And surely a handful of other curious characters. The tension is palpable in the waiting area by the gate. Eye contact between the warring parties is avoided let alone any dialogue. I think about the time when we were in the Bahrain airport where all men and woman sit it different waiting areas and I took out the guitar and played Akon’s “Ain’t nobody wanna see us together but it don’t matter no, because we gonna fight, yah we gonna fight, fight for our right to love.”
Against all odds that went over great, this particular moment however just didn’t feel like it was asking for a song. But then as the bus brought us across the runway to board the plane, an American soldier helped an Afghan family carry their bags up the stairs and store them above their seats. The other people watched with quiet suspicion.
That’s what it is I think, as I sit myself down in the middle seat between two Afghan men, it’s a deep dark sense of distrust. Distrust dangerous ground to build anything on, let alone a country, much less nine military bases or a prison like the one at Bagram Air Force Base outside Kabul where people are kept without charges for months or years. Very dangerous ground. The plane shutters itself awake and rolls out onto the runway. The lights go off. The babies seem to all break the silence in unison. Some of us don’t have the option of distrust they cry. Their wailing for food or sleep or to be held sounds so beautiful to me in the harsh air of the old plane. “Where are we going?” they seem to be asking.
* * *
The Safi Airways flight lands safely. Victory counted. The babies are quiet. Through the dusty windows I see lines of old grey bomber planes standing quietly in line on the asphalt. They seem like guilty children, waiting in fearful anticipation to be reprimanded for something they knew was wrong but did anyway… It wasn’t our fault, they whisper, they made us do it. There’s no line at the customs desk. I walk up, get my passport stamped and then the young soldier barks at me, “right thumb.”
For a real brief second, I thought it was the Afghan way of saying thumbs up and this guy was giving me a general affirmation and his tone didn’t match the sentiment, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Ok, I’ll admit it. I actually gave him the thumbs up sign. At that point, he face seemed to ask: are you serious bro? He tapped the window to the side where I realized there was a little machine with outlines of fingers… it was a fingerprint machine.
“Right thumb”, he said again… ahhh. Right. Got it. As this guy is taking my fingerprints I feel like I’m back in a precinct uptown. Why do I get the feeling the Americans had something to do with this? And that’s that. Customs, check. I walk right out the door into the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. A few tired looking taxi drivers are looking at me unimpressed. Salaam Alaikum, I say. Without a thought they instinctively respond, solidifying an important connection where one hadn’t existed seconds before, “Walaykum Asalaam.” Good to be back in a land where that works. A few hundred yards away on the other side of a couple parking lots, my welcome party awaits.
* * *
There was someone there waiting for me. They just weren’t sure who I was. I stood there for a few minutes and then I noticed three guys wearing matching blue scarfs. Ahh yes, the color of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. I met eyes with one of the young men. He raised his eyebrows, took a step forward and said, “Luke?” Yes. My peoples. It turned out they saw the website and something in the communication at some point made them think that out of the five Peace Poets, there we’re expecting the big dark skinned one with locks.
So when I rolled through the parking lot, not even my bright Bolivian guitar case was enough of a reason for them to assume I might be the peace poet. But, eye contact and instincts are lifesavers. So Dr. Hakim, an amazing peace activist and medical doctor who lives and works with the community of Afghan youth, flashed his brilliant smile and it was big hugs all around. Abdulhai and Raz Mohammed were the youth from the community who had made the early morning trip to the airport with Hakim to pick me up. Good to be together, we hop in a cab and into the streets of Kabul.
* * *
Taxi Drivers should be News Reporters
The streets of Afghanistan’s capital are tore up and full of dust. We bounce around the back seat of the cab. As for my first taxi driver, I gotta say this: Taxi drivers should really be news reporters. They carry the wounds of the wars and the weights of daily lives, interviewing people all day who rush around with a world of problems and joys. These guys know the deal. They should at least have a section in the paper.
If my first taxi driver in Kabul had a section, he would have one article about how over 70 percent of Afghans have psychological disorders from the stress of all these years of war. Facts. And that’s why he makes wrong turns sometimes. Right. And he’d definitely report on having been run up on in his village by armed groups who simply offered him and his friends different options for being killed, axe, blade, or club. No bullets to be wasted on him. Why?
He had no idea who they were or what they wanted. But still they were going to kill him. He was beaten badly. His friend died. He lifts his pant leg as he drives and unveils a scar. Of course, we’re a little crazy he nods. And then he smiles. I’m in the back seat still tripping over having to choose the weapon of your own order murder. But he wakes me back up, his radiant eyes bunched up, his chest bellowing laughter. Breaking News: joy survives the impossible and is as stunning as ever amidst the early morning Kabul traffic. You seen that in the Times? Welcome to Afghanistan.
* * *
I walk into the humble home of the Afghan Peace Volunteers to a gentle barrage of hugs and warm smiles. I put my bag down and was breaking bread and drinking tea within 30 seconds. It goods to sit down on the other side of the world and realize you’ve made it home.
* * *
12 YEARS OF WAR
(spoken word piece)
While in New York they cut Head Start to feed our hungry children breakfast
They spend billions as Afghan kids see heads cut off and learn to expect this,
I need to see a politician repent this,
Hang his head and cry that this many people have died
In 12 years of war
While the people of Des Moines, Iowa don’t even know there is a drone command center being put there that will tear brothers and sisters to pieces with chemicals that char the body turning everything black and exploding the head off the body… Raz tells me how it looks and shudders in unbearable disgust.
Remembering 12 years of war,
The streets of Kabul beg in the dust,
Distrust and revenge a city, a country, a people condemned
After 12 years of war, some estimate 78% of Afghans have psychological disorders, the taxi driver says its more, says we Afghans can’t think right anymore, he shows us scars on his knees from the day he almost died, he sighs, ‘so many stories of pain…
But who are we to say we’re sane? When we remain entrenched after 12 years of war? I dare you to come here and still say you want more?
Another day, another year, then leaving 9 military bases here,
America has smashed the windows of people’s sanity,
People are demanding we leave, nobody wants to hear Obama make a pretty speech
In Kabul I’ve see anger rise like armies
in young men’s eyes that say you have harmed me and my family for the last time,
I wanna know what will be the last crime committed in the name of freedom,
more marines relieving themselves on corpses of murdered kids,
12 years of blood that did not have to get spilled,
12 years of mothers gone mad from mourning, what have we become?
Afghanistan is a nation of American made guns and American made widows,
Hearts crumbling like bombed out windowsills
Wondering where they’ll find the will to teach their son not to kill
When inflicting death is the lesson they’ve best learned from us,
12 years of dust on boots and the truth being covered in mud,
But what will we do now…
Are we hoping a nation of 30 million will forgive and forget? Would you let it go if an occupying army broke into your house killed your father and didn’t even say sorry, or admit it was a mistake, how many more years will it take Americans to wake up and say I will not live in debt while my government pays millions of dollars a day to make people hate me for my passport, want to cut my life short for my birth country’s flag, 12 years of war and not enough body bags to hold the soldiers, not enough words to say the funeral masses, not enough mass graves to hold the lives that 12 years of wartime has taken, and when I ask a young Afghan woman named Zuhal, why she wants an end to the occupation,
She says, “12 years of war is too many, it’s time for the soldiers to go home to their families. They must miss them.”
* Luke Nephew is Co-Founder and Artist Educator of thepeacepoets.com and is writing from Kabul where he is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. He travelled there on behalf of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. This first appeared in counterpunch.org