Tears, honor, horror and prayers

It is finally hitting me; the anxious anticipation of going home is now being balanced by the sadness of saying goodbye to people who have become very dear to me. The goodbye at MSH was festive with a meal cooked by the combined household staff of our guesthouses and the office. It was a massive operation prepared for 250 people in a place that an American caterer would not consider fit for cooking for even a small gathering.

Giant pots sitting on gas burners and with burning charcoal on their covers, heat coming from two sides – a kebab man busy fanning the skewers with the tastiest kebabs, spiced just right, enormous platters of rice, with meat hidden underneath, eggplant smothered in yogurt, roasted chicken, naan (bread) and more. It was a feast for the eye and the stomach.

I had worked hard on a speech in Dari which most people, except those sitting close to me, could not really hear (assuming they did understand it), as I was drowned out by the call to prayer from the mosque across the street, the giant generator that makes up for the lack of city power and a noisy crowd dispersed far and wide across our large compound. S and M had helped me in perfecting my speech – I help them with English and they help me with Dari, a perfect win-win.

Later in the day SOLA hosted a goodbye party where we welcomed the new crop of girls and said goodbye to those leaving either to get their visas or go to their new school like F who is accompanied to England by Ted and Connie. F is a girl who had, until two weeks ago, never been on a plane and then found herself in quick succession off to Delhi and now to London. She’s the girl who was rejected twice by the US consulate. She will come back in a few years speaking British English rather than Connecticut English. It is America’s loss and England’s gain.

N. is also off to England, to a prestigious school. N. got hit by shrapnel in Helmand, collateral damage to a senseless war. His brother got killed. A journalist saved him. N. gave a moving speech saying that he could have been yet another mechanic in dirty clothes preoccupied with scraping together a meager living in Helmand Provinced (“the worst place in the world!”) rather than making Afghanistan a better place – which is what he will do when he comes back – the first kid in his family ever to get past a few grades, let alone to study at a fancy school in the UK.

F. also spoke, choking up many times and getting all of us to reach for the Kleenex. She has become a stronger woman than she ever imagined. After her first visa rejection by a consular officer she felt like giving up on education. Now, just weeks after her rejection she is off to a private school in England with a full scholarship including room and board – all this arranged by a lot of helping hands in two weeks flat, including the visa.

There were many tears, of joy mostly but also tears of parting – it is then that it hit me that I am leaving – that I am going to miss these kids at SOLA so much, that I had so many more lessons in my plans, that I was going to watch The Breakfast Club with them and talk about parental expectations.

Earlier in the day Fazil came by to drop off my Nigerien earrings he fixed for me. We had tea and talked about his having violated his parental expectations in unspeakable ways by picking his own mate for life. As a result he is being ousted out of his family. He has breached the Pashtoon honor code by making his own choices rather than let his dad and uncles make them for him.

His parents wanted him to marry an illiterate village girl but he wants none of that (what, me at work all day and leave my kids with a woman who cannot read or write?). His insubordination is met with death threats from the male members of his family – these he says are not empty threats as his family comes from a rather wild place. They confiscated his savings he had given to his mom for safekeeping and scratched him off the list of family members – he is all but dead for them and, if given the chance, they would complete the job. The young man is only 25 – what a tragedy – Afghanistan at war with itself.

I listened to this tale of family honor and horror and was reminded about the honor code that the Bulgers lived by in South Boston– a book on tape that accompanies my daily workout. The tight Irish community of the 1940s was in so many ways not all that different from this Afghan family. I encouraged Fazil by saying that every new generation has to have its rebels and people who break with tradition – and it was his good or bad luck to be among them. It is good or bad as we don’t know yet how the story ends.

Tomorrow at 7:30 AM Kabul time Wali and Hila will go to the US consulate for their visas, Wali for his second time. I would like to harness all that is good in the universe, prayers, mantras, positive thoughts, really, anything to get them through this, for them, terrifying ordeal and produce the desired outcome.

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September 2011
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