For many years I have been intrigued with Afghanistan’s history. My interest in the country began in Lahaina, Maui, in 1968 when I first met fellow cruising sailors, Julie and Homer Parrish. Julie, Homer and their daughter Kathy, had just completed a circumnavigation and were headed for Honolulu, as were we. Once there, Julie and I became close friends and have remained so ever since.
It was she who first told me about Afghanistan and their attempt to see the Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley, constructed in 507 CE. While they made it to Afghanistan, the Parrish’s fell ill, were unable to travel, and never saw them. Since she told me the story, I’ve read some fascinating books about the country, and have also studied Buddhism. Like many others I was appalled when the statues were blown up by the Taliban, in March, 2001.
The Taliban have destroyed many things, from the Buddhas to my friend Said’s former life in Kabul.
I first met Said when he came into the writing center at Whatcom Community College (WCC), in Bellingham, Washington, where I worked as a student peer tutor. He wanted to improve his English so that he could take his citizenship test and become an American citizen. The first day he came into the center he stood uneasily off to one side of the room, waiting for someone to help him. I approached him and he nervously explained, in broken English, what he wanted–– help with his ESL (English as a Second Language) homework, some English conversational practice––and help memorizing the answers to the citizenship test. We worked on his homework that day, and he said he would return at the same time next day. Immediately after he left I went to the Internet and printed out the test; I knew I wouldn’t know all the answers to the one hundred civic’s questions on the test.
At first, Said was reserved and hesitant, but he returned day after day and we became good friends. He brought me Afghani pink tea and cookies he had baked himself, and we enjoyed tea parties, studies, and conversation. It wasn’t a normal tutoring session by any means, but our weekly training meetings had trained us to improvise, so I did. Later, as we got to know one another, he confided in me that he’d had prostate cancer and could no longer do heavy work. He also wanted to learn English to get a better job.
One day he told me the story of how he came to America, and it goes like this:
In Kabul, he had been a certified electrician. It was a good job, and he owned his own home. One day on his way to work a stranger approached him and asked if he spoke English. Said replied something like “yes, a little” and they began chatting. Then the stranger asked him if he liked the Communists and Said said emphatically, “no!”
Before long, the Taliban were pounding on his door and he was dragged off to jail to undergo a brutal interrogation by a particularly oppressive official. Said kept asking “why am I here, what have I done?” And after lengthy questioning, not without torture, the official told him he was free to go if he would give him one million Afghani’s. Better yet, he could go right away if he would give the official his first born daughter.
Said chose jail.
So the Taliban official went to his house to talk to Said’s wife. He lied to her, saying that Said had agreed to give him their oldest daughter, and he was there to get her. His wife was beside herself, and if not for the intercession of a neighbor who helped pay the Afghanis, the outcome would have been vastly different.
Said was released from jail and the family fled to Pakistan, planning to return later to get their possessions. But when they returned everything was gone, or destroyed––just like the Bamiyan statues.
Were it not for the fact that Said’s oldest daughter lived in America, the outcome might have been very different. But she was able to sponsor the family to the United States, and just like Afghanistan, their history is now changed forever.
I left the writing center in spring to attend Western Washington University, and I haven’t seen Said since, but one of these days I’m going to go back and check on him, to make sure he’s still studying to take his citizenship test. Or maybe he’s already passed it…