August 12th, a Friday, our day off. Last night a terrific thunderstorm rolled into Kabul from over the mountain tops. Dr. Sam and I watched it from the villa patio. He bubbled away on his hookah—or huqqo, arguila, chillim, hitboo, guduguda—words I had googled earlier, as he inhaled tobacco, sweet-scented and carefully coaled, his one known vice. The sky was electric: lightning in splinters seeking the shoots of sprites, the occasional moon, almost full, poking its face out from time to time behind green clouds. The bricks of the villa (now a compound) shone back silver and flashes. The wind picked up, humming through barbed wire. Later, after bed, it rattled the windows and bent the cypress trees nearly in half, like the sandstorm in Mazar, the wind of 120 days. I awoke at 4:30 a.m. to a dog fight somewhere.
These 12 days—the first 12 of Ramadan—could not have been fuller, closer to the heart of the mysterious “it.” Six days ago, I saw Afghans and ISAF forces alike grieve the lost helicopter, the Navy Seals, Special Ops, the Afghan translators, the newest wound in the west. That day, upstairs in the compound, the Chief of Party smashed a glass table, then threw the steel frame off a balcony. They were his friends. The compound held its breath, counting in the math of his after-silence. Outside, such heat: the sunflowers, roses, and morning glories drooped in the pale dust.
I do the work I have come for, observing the teachers and hearing the laughter of diplomats looking at me as they form their precarious sentences: He escapes. He escaped. He escaped in the red car. He escaped in the white Toyota Celica. He escaped to America. He escaped with Dr. Amy. He loves rice. He loves rice with almonds. In the name of Allah, the most merciful, the most compassionate, my name is ___________, my father’s name is ______________________, I am from ________________, I graduated from _____________________, I live in_______________________. Now spell “merciful.” Now spell “compassionate.” They are preparing for the Bonn Conference.
Each day different, something new. The tiniest critters and pets of Kabul visit our immune systems often. When one colleague came down with Karzai’s revenge, Dr. Sam went to check him and came back shaking his head. “I’m not taking him to the prom.” Most of the men around me have killed professionally, but they are the ones who take the guards food at dusk after a day of fasting and play with the kids who gather at the compound gates. They speak Dari. They run through minefields to keep the big donkey from beating up on the little donkey (He was a right bastard. It just wasn’t fair). They cry when their dogs die.
I am almost half-way through this contract. I am here exactly during Ramadan, beginning to end. I’ve learned to fast; I’ve learned twenty words in Dari. Tonight lights will hang in the garden, stars and crescents. Sitara. Mah. Tareek.