Old Chinese Proverb: May you live in interesting times.
My father has often quoted me this passage and though not avidly pursued, I often find myself in such circumstances. These are indeed interesting times in Kabul.
Recently, our cook, Faroh, was married and the crew and myself were invited to the wedding. There was food and drink, music and dancing. I hear next time they might invite women.
Indeed, I can say with certainty, that I have never been to a wedding where there was no bride. You know, the girl usually dressed in white and all smiles? Well, in Afghanistan, the groom was dressed in all white, smiled a lot and had glitter in his hair as he made his way to thank everyone in attendance. All the while, a cameraman was following his every move to capture the moment for posterity. Maybe he’ll show it to his wife one day.
Faroh’s wedding was small by Afghan standards with just over 200 men in attendance. In all honesty, there were an equal number of women in the building, and I was told even the bride was there. I never knew as there was an 8’ partition separating the sexes in the large ballroom. A band had a lead singer wearing a gold chain and his shirt half buttoned. Who he was trying to impress with the unbuttoned shirt became evident as the night wore on. He played the latest Afghan Top 40 including: “Hey Joe, where you going with that AK-47 in your hand” & “Pretty Woman…In a Burka”
Following a traditional meal of mutton, rice, salad vegetables and fresh fruit, the dancing began. Like most wedding’s it took a few songs to get folks going, but, with the exception of select Massachusetts weddings…again, men and boys only.
In the interest of brevity, let me say that since the wedding was on a Monday, it had been four days since most partygoers had taken a bath. After several songs, the few western patrons were brought into the fray and there was a noticeable level of excitement amongst the locals as the evening wore on. There was later a stick dance, which in older days, was used with swords as a demonstration of battlefield prowess. Still, following the end of the evening, there was uneasiness among the flight crew and myself. Each of us had been approached by total strangers who had gotten worked up in the music and asked our cell numbers and immediate plans for the week. It was defiantly weird, but given the extreme separation of gender in this culture, we were prepared and gave polite excuses. Two days later, Faroh returned to work with a very large grin on his face. Apparently he had passed the consummation ceremony attended by the two mothers. I think we’ll discuss that one at another date. Still, it was an opportunity to witness how another culture approaches one of the basic ceremonies of mankind, albeit, in a most strange manner.
A week later, I was counting the days towards my return to America when we were dispatched on a Med-Evac’ flight from Jalalabad. A mine had hit someone and that was all I knew. I was training a new pilot and this was not on the “1st Day” agenda. The flight was actually a scheduled one and after we loaded the four passengers, we added the stretcher and doctor. Unfortunately, the patient was covered in Mylar, his face under an O2 mask and there was a lot of blood. Before he could be stabilized, he entered cardiac arrest and adrenalin needed to be administered. The French medics did a good job and I made the fastest trip I could to Kabul, complete with a perfect landing and quick shutdown in front of the ambulance. As the engine spooled down, I could hear the heart monitor stream a steady hum. CPR was administered but there was nothing that could be done. The whole situation bothered me the rest of the day.
I am sad to report that which many of you know and have cautioned me. Kabul is becoming more dangerous with the advent of out-of-country suicide bombers and attacks. There have been several in the past week and tensions are getting high. The UN no loner sends a car to pick up Air Serv pilots and the US Embassy was closed Tuesday for security reasons, a first since my arrival. Even my young friend Omar insisted I not come to the City Center to conclude our business. After all the work done here, there is a lot more to go.
Still, Sunday night I was hosted by the Fizi family for a farewell dinner and last night, by the Afghanistan National Track & Field Team. The Afghan people are among the most hospitable I have ever met. Unfortunately, there has been a culture of war that has endured long before and after the end of the Soviet invasion of 1979. The story’s end is not yet complete.
But it is for me.
I am writing these final words of my 13 month long journey from a modern coffee shop in Dubai, UAE. I will arrive in the United States tomorrow at 3:31pm. A time and date long marked on my calendar and I will even have someone waiting for me at the terminal. There is icing on my cake.
I want to thank Jim Durham & Joey Schultz for making www.thelukenfiles.com happen and marketed in South Africa. I only wish my mind could put into words everything that has happened this past year, though I have tried my best to do so. I hope this was entertaining and didn’t scare those who occasionally worry about my well being.