March 07, 2013

Name: Ross Magee
Stationed in: Afghanistan

There are glimpses of spring. 

We pulled into the compound and through the windshield wipers saw a man with a Gandalf-like beard standing in the garden and turning the soil with an ancient spade. A simple shalwar kameez, a woolen waistcoat and an enormous white turban were all that protected him against the cold. None of his clothes appeared as warm as his beard, which hung long, tapered and white, reaching well below the second button of his shirt like an enormous coarsely-woven scarf. Our breath smoked as we exchanged greetings. I stood on the pavement in a suit and polished shoes and he stood in the freshly turned gardens, wearing traditional dress and clogs. We were from different worlds. 

“Che mekonee?” (What are you doing?) I asked.

“Man sport zariet mekonem,” (I’m gardening) he replied with a smile that increased the depth of his wrinkles more than I thought would have been possible. 

I smiled as I considered his choice of words. “Sport” roughly translates as “to exercise” and, had I been in his position, I would probably have used “kar” which is the verb for “to work.” Words matter and perhaps I was guilty of overthinking the situation, but his response told me that he was enjoying what he was doing and did not consider it toilsome.  

We shook hands and he held mine for a long time looking at me and I thought he might have been reading my fate as he stared into my eyes. It would not surprise me to learn that this man had that ability. He exuded a learned confidence in all things human and an indifference to things beyond his control. I have seen him weekly for the last six months; always present, always outside, always tending his garden.  

“Fikr mekonem ke bahar mesha,” (I think that spring is coming) I offered hopefully.

He wrapped his hands around the hand-planed sapling that served as the handle to his spade and looked skyward into the leaking grey dome that encased Kabul. Rain gathered on his beard and beaded up like it was falling on a waterproof tarpaulin. He was unconvinced by my prediction but instead of disagreeing with me, he simply offered “Mumkin ast” (It is possible) and returned his gaze to me.

“Wachte gul nazdeek ast,” (The time for flowers is near) I said, gesturing to the plastic-draped greenhouse that stood behind the garden.

His face illuminated and I knew my words had touched the right spot in his heart. His weathered hand grasped my wrist and I followed only enough of the rolling Dari to know his plans. He was nursing small flowers that he planned to plant in neat rows among the roses before they would begin to bud.

His roses stood in a deep garden, sculpted and bermed by simple geometric designs carved into the earth, yielding a pattern to match any Central Asian carpet. His plot was small, but it was obviously important to him and he took great pride in tending it. That the garden also brought him joy was simply implied. In a city of dust and smog, this garden would soon be a welcome sight to all who would visit the compound.

When I first met him, summer was fading and the flowers that remained were in their final days.  The roses lasted into the fall and, within the walled space along the river, they emitted a sweet musk that could be smelled over the diesel and dust that overwhelms much of the city. Then one day the roses too were gone, pruned back almost to the ground so that they might rest through the winter, restored and ready to bring life and color back after the snow had revived the earth.

A few weeks later the roses were completely submerged in snow, hibernating through Kabul’s winter. They now stood small and brown, bristling with brittle thorns in the tilled and muddy garden. 

Hours later when we left the compound the gardener was pushing a wheelbarrow across the garden. We “Sallamed” as we passed him and left the compound wondering what the gardens might look like on our next visit. Going home I noticed that the snow had disappeared from all but the deepest shaded corners of the city. Soldiers shovelled the snow and ice out from around their guard shacks into the street where it was warmed by the sun and crushed by passing cars and carts pulled by donkeys before trickling into gutters and eventually making its way to the river like everything in Kabul does. As we passed over the Pull-e-Kisthi Bridge the river flowed strongly, washing with it the trash and waste accumulated along its banks through the dry fall and cold winter.  The mountains once blanketed in snow were now streaked with black, their sides showing like bare ribs as the sun burned them dry. 

I caught sight of a splash of color in an alley. Outside of a shop, on a muddy street crowded with people, kites hung lifelessly from an awning. They dangled like gems, turning gently in the shade waiting for small hands and strong winds to carry them aloft over the city.

The cycle has not yet come full circle. The roses are still sleeping, though I believe they have begun to stir with the turning of the soil. The gardener is gently waking them; he and the roses already know what I can only hope is true. Spring is coming and soon there will be flowers in the garden.


you do so well at noting the beauty in such a harsh place.
thank you

I'm a poet, and so I love, “Wachte gul nazdeek ast,” (The time for flowers is near) I said, . . . ".

Thank you for your service. and thank you for being such an understanding person. I very much enjoy reading your blogs. keep up the good work.

I would like to mail this man a care package perhaps garden tools.
Is there an address I can use to mail it. Also, if there's anything you or your buddies would like from home, please let me know.

Thank you,


Please email me at [email protected]. Thanks!


David Stanford, Duty Officer
Doonesbury Town Hall

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