EID AL-ADHA IN KABUL |
November 07, 2012
I woke early to the sound of the duck and cover alarm going off. It was silenced almost as soon as it began and was followed by an unsatisfying “All Clear.” It was Eid, one of the holy days in Islam that marks the end of the Hajj and celebrates Abraham’s obedience and willingness to sacrifice for God. The town was quiet and so was the camp. I had a short errand to run and since it was a holiday the roads would be empty. My buddy and I made a quick stop at the chow hall for a cup of coffee and then headed towards the vehicle yard.
We cut through the Macedonian motor pool where lumbering armored vehicles sat in neat rows. As we walked past the mosque I caught a glimpse of something that took me a minute to process. Gathered outside the camp mosque, about two dozen Afghans stood barefoot on small carpets lined up for prayer. They stood shoulder to shoulder, equals in the eyes of their God, most with hands folded across their stomachs but a few with hands relaxed and at their sides. It was this small difference in their posture that caught my eye.
In the gravel parking lot outside of the small mosque, Sunnis and Shias stood side by side for prayer and I thought for a moment, “That’s what Afghanistan could look like.” This snapshot confirmed what I already knew; there are many Afghans who display tolerance and respect for those of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. There are those willing to settle for peace.
We checked out our truck and headed across town. The streets were empty and you couldn’t help but notice that it felt like a holiday. We saw groups of men in fresh white shalwar kameez walking along the side of the road. Often new clothes are bought and given as gifts on special days, and people dress up for prayer in their new outfits. The cars that we did pass were packed with generations of men, women and children; entire families heading to prayer or to the houses of relatives for the holiday.
Driving across Kabul was like looking at a flip book. Each block, every turn, revealing a new scene in the unfolding play. Boys swinging long sticks herded goats and cows down the roads. On another block, sheep stood rummaging through mounds of debris on the side of the road. I saw a goat tethered to the front door of a shop, standing idly on the sidewalk. I caught a glimpse of something bright; a young boy maybe 10 or 12 stood awkwardly amongst a group of older men with a long butcher knife in his hand. And then we turned the corner.
On the sidewalk adjacent to a main road in Kabul a group of men knelt in a circle around the body of a small cow. Its blood ran bright red into the dust and then turned dark and grey as it dropped off the curb and into the street. Nearby, freshly skinned sheep hung under the eaves of a butcher shop.
A kid started across the road in front of us and then stepped back. His hand held a bright and shiny toy pistol and his eyes watched our trucks pass. He sprinted across the road behind us to join his friends on the other side of the street who all held their new Eid gifts as well — small scale replicas of the weapons that have torn this country apart. I thought back to when I was a kid and the countless afternoons I spent playing “army” and running around my yard with a plastic gun in my hand. That seemed innocent enough in my mind and I wondered if it had to be any different here.
The day passed quiet and uneventful in Kabul, but it was not so everywhere in Afghanistan. In Faryab a suicide bomber ripped through a mosque killing over 40 Afghans, many of which were policemen and soldiers gathered with civilians for Eid prayers.
That evening I sat in an enclosed garden in Kabul with a group of friends and co-workers. We ate a fantastic meal and then sat around a fire stoked with hardwood from the mountains. We drank scalding cups of green tea and smoked hookah pipes while we talked about our thoughts on the future of this country. Sunnis and Shias praying together. Suicide bombers at mosques. Midwife training programs. Corruption. Elections. Misapplied foreign aid. Changing goals. The ending of the ISAF mission. Beyond 2014.
It was a clear night and as the fire burned down the stars competed with a nearly full moon for space in the sky. A large plane rumbled overhead and all of our eyes turned skyward. Then, as if on cue, an enormous shooting star arced across the sky. It was white, then green, then blue, and then it was gone. Someone said “make a wish.” I made a wish for Kabul.
We all sat quiet for a moment and then returned to our conversation buoyed by the simple joy of a holiday, friends and a shooting star.