Travelogue

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Traveling to your homeland country for the very first time ever must be a thrilling joy and an unparalleled adventure. To see for yourself the things you have heard about from your parents and grandparents is surely an eye opening experience. You feel as if you already know all these places you have never been to and it is like reliving a nostalgic past; one you have never actually had. You go to see the sights and smell the scents that have filled all the bedtime stories you have heard from your elders. But what if you are an Afghani expatriate? Born in a war-imposed exile, the narrator travels to his beloved country only to find the stark contrast between the realities of his war-torn country and those of fabled Afghanistan. His pen friend is gunned down by black water. The relatives he had never had a chance to meet are now blown up in an explosion. His country has no resemblance to what he has pictured in his mind. The Streets of Kabul are nothing but shabby semblance of what once they used to be. Decade long war and US occupation coupled with the rule of Taliban has left his country in ruins and his fellow countrymen scarred, maimed, or dead.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: I had dreamed of my homeland. Grandma used to tell me the story of a beautiful river which was sometimes full of water,of the uncongested streetsof the people who were kind to one another and lived together happilythe story of the people who worked together and receiving their daily wages at sunset, turned their smiling faces to the sky to see another sign or a drop of rain.Listening to grandma’s stories, my eyes would feel heavy and perhaps, grandma would change her pace and tone, speaking slowly, more slowly, and I would fall asleep. In my sweet dreams, I would travel across my home-town, touring the streets and stores full of colorful foods, and enjoying the freshness of the lovely gardens till the morning when I would wake up. I grew up out of my homeland. When I was old enough to make my own decisions, I decided to travel to my country. I did so at a time when most people tended to leave the country. With no tour guide, I took a small camera and began my tour by myself. I set off aiming to record all sights I would see and to write stories which I would years later tell my children. I started my unplanned tour and this is it. This is my travelogue to my homeland which I hadn’t ever seen before.

Eventually, after years of dreaming, I was in Kabul; after years of hearing and reading about it. The color of the land and the sky of our neighborhood was quite different to that which I had heard of in grandma’s stories. There was no relative or familiar face. The neighborhood was full of strangers and small homes. It seemed like the plain in whose dream grandma had brought me up, had been sold to the strangers and they had divided it into hundreds of small pieces.

I Kabul, I went to my internet friends. Raeb was one of them. I had never seen him but we had been online friends for four years. Throughout these years, he had told me about Kabul and I had told him about migration. After four years, our connection suddenly broke. At first, I thought I may have upset him. But soon I realized that I had been wrong.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: I went to his parents’ home and visited his father. Raeb had never told me that his father had lost oen of his legs. Later I learned that in Kabul, it is usual to see men with lost legs and few people would notice. Raeb’s home was located in a long narrow alley. I had seen this through Raeb’s webcam before.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: I am Mohammad, son of Ghows Mohammad, from district 9 of Kabul. Currently, I live in Yekkeh Toot area. I had a son named Mohammad Raeb. Raeb worked for the American disciplinary forces.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: One evening I was at Hotel Continental. We were 35 guests there, and after dinner, we left the hotel for home at about 08:00.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: My son had got home at sunset which he seldom did. That night, I wasn’t home. I was at work at M.O.M. His mom says that Raeb had come home from work at sunset and left for mosque without eating anything for dinner.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: That night, we left the mosque together. As we had scheduled before, every night we went to our home to study together after the night prayer. But that night, the electricity had been cut off.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: Since my son had left the mosque early, his friend had suggested that they would first go to for a walk and then go home. Raeb had accepted and with a dog, they had gone for a walk.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: Along with our dog, we went to the public road. On our way back home, we heard a loud crash.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: When I got out of the house, I saw my uncle running to the street. I asked, “What’s up?” He said, “I think my son has had a fight with someone.” When I set off for the street, the people in front of the bakery said they had heard a shot too.””

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: “On their way back home, they had faced the American troops riding Blackwater vehicles on the asphalt road to Yakkeh Toot.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: “Raeb said: “let’s go and see what’s going on there.” That night, the American troops were drunk. We realized that the next morning. The voices shouting out “Stop! Stop!” did not sound normal. They wanted to block the road.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: “I was really scared. I thought, “Oh, God! Something must have happened! Before long, I found myself next to my wounded brother, Farid, in a car.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: “We were about 150 meters away from the scene when we returned. Suddenly, a car sped past us.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: “My cousins were in the car. They told me to get in. I asked, “What’s up?” They said, “Just get in.” I said, “What about uncle?” They said, “Just get in the car.” I did so and when we were near the power transformer sight, I found my brother and cousin wounded in a car.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: “They had killed one and wounded a couple of others. My son, Raeb, had been wounded. The bullet had hit him in the crown of his head.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: “I lifted his head and called him, Raeb, raeb, but he didn’t reply. I waved at a passing car to get us to the hospital, but it didn’t stop. I ran to Pol-e Charkhi road to get a car for help.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: “I was at the office when my son, Ramin, called and asked where I was. I answered I was at work. He told me to hurry to Vazir Akbarkhan Hospital as fast as possible because his brother had been shot by the Americans. It was 09:00 pm and it took me about an hour and a half to get a car to take me to the hospital. I got to Vazir Akbarkhan Hospital and asked about my son but said he had been taken to 400-Bastar Hospital. I rushed there to find Dr. Saebi taking my son to the operation room. I found my son in comma with his head covered in blood. I was really grieved.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: “He says, “About 15 minutes after he was taken to the hospital, I noticed his lips moving and saying something. “Suddenly”, he says, “He gripped my hand.””

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: “I asked the doctor when my son was going to regain consciousness. He said, “After a week.” After a week, my son was still unconscious and I asked the doctor about it. He said my son would be conscious after 9-10 days. After 7 days, the Blackwater authorities requested that we go there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: “I thought I would be able to set up my own store with that money and thus satisfy my family’s demands and bring them some comfort.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Brother of Raeb: “We got our passports issued and went to the U.S. embassy. They took us to the USA and there was trial and the two who had shot their guns in the night of the incident were being tried. Six months after the trial, they called us to say it had not yielded any results and the case was going to trial again. Again, we had to go to the USA.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad: “We went to Virginia. There, they only paid us $100 daily for our expenses which we spent on food to eat. They didn’t pay us anything upon our return. All they did was to cause us misery since we were away from home and work all that time. I didn’t have anything to do with America and Americans. I just went there because of my son who had been working with them until he was killed by them. The outcome of our travels to the USA is that people in Yekkeh Toot think of us as spies. I don’t know what the fate of me, my four sons, and their disabled mom will be.”

Narration: It was difficult, but I had to find out what had happened to my friend. The streets of Kabul are still full of American Hummers and other huge vehicles which have sure not been made to be passing by civilians. Raeb’s story is repeatable every day. I left Kabul for my father’s hometown; Bagram in Parvan Province. I longed to see the home and farmlands which once used to belong to my family and now counted as my personal property. I had heard of an American airfield in the area and close to our lands and I was happy about it because it would cause our lands to boom. After all, some day I would have to return to my homeland. I don’t know the worth of land in this area. Which is more economical, to keep it or sell it? I had a lot of questions which I didn’t dare ask anyone. People knew my father and grandfather but didn’t know about the worth of our family land. They didn’t even know the exact location and dimensions of our land. My family land is now the runway for US planes and I don’t know how long I should wait to see it.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident of Kabul: “You see? There is no garden and no creek. There is no job for us. Nobody helps us. It’s nearly 8 years they have taken away what belongs to people and do not return it. People are jobless and poor. All our gardens have dried up.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident of Kabul: “We won’t ask money of Karzay or others. We will ask God for it since He is Great and has a big treasury. Why should we ask others for it? It is our personal property. We have the title deeds in our names. They should either return it to us or pay us the price so that we can invest it somewhere. For the 1st and 2nd year and for the first half of this year, they paid us. They treated us well and we gave them our lands. Since then, they haven’t paid us anything.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident of Kabul: “From this area up to the end of the square, there were people’s gardens. People ruined it all. Now the institute helps people but they haven’t given me anything. Our people had about three million vines. None is alive now. We went to Pakistan. When we returned to Afghanistan, Karzay was elected president. Some went to Kabul. We did too. These people took away the doors and logs of our homes. They destroyed our homes because we were Afghan and they thought we were supporters of the Taliban. Being among the poorest in this village, I used to have about 3000 vines while today I don’t even have some raisins to eat! They dried our vines and destroyed our homes.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident of Kabul:Because we were Afghan, they dried our stream. Now, we don’t have water either. In the first year, the Americans took away 14000 hectares of our lands and promised us payment and employment in compensation, but they didn’t do either.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Baran Khan , Chief of Ghal’eh Gol village chief: “I am Baran, the chief of Ghal’eh Gol village chief. We have lived here for generations. I don’t know exactly how many generations of us have lived here. The Americans rented our lands at 1000 Afghanis per hectare for a three-year term. They paid us the rent for the 1st year but haven’t paid us anything since then. This is our problem. We are talking about 14000 hectares of land and that’s no joke. We have taken the case to many relevant authorities. They say they have paid us for the first year and our own government is supposed to pay the rest. But when we refer to our government and the minister of defense, they say they are not responsible for that and Americans should pay us since they have rented the lands. Neither takes the responsibility. The loser here is us. A hundred of us went to Karzay and he promised to pay us the rent for the other two years but so far he hasn’t done it.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident of Kabul: “Our problem is that the Americans have not only destroyed our farmlands and farming but also installed power pylons on our lands to carry electricity to Kapisa province. This is despite our own need for electricity. When we refer to the authorities, they tell us to keep waiting. But till when? We have no electricity. I hope the respectable Ministry of Power will hear us and do something about it. They say charity begins at home. The people of Bagram may not stand to lose both their lands and vines, and to have their farm products ruined by the dust spread by their cars. They wouldn’t stand to sit in the dark and watch the power pylons carry electricity to and light the houses of people in other areas.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident of Kabul: “People from all tribes protested about their farmlands and the unpaid rents. We got the permit for such a protest from the Ministry of the Interior. The people of Ghal’eh Beshi joined us in that protest. The line of protesters crossed our lands to their village. They have been in Bagram for ten years now, and we have been in conflict with them all the time. Sometimes, we stage a protest, and sometimes we take the case to the government and in this way, we bring the problem to their attention every now and then. At that time, they said they would employ some of us. We prepared a list of the unemployed based on their birth certificates but no one was employed. Only those who had contacts got employed. They also prepared a list for employment another time but haven’t employed anyone yet.”

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

Narration: I had heard the story of a village whose people had got thousands of liters of free fuel overnight. In Afghanistan, fuel is expensive. This lucky event happened in a small village in Ghunduz Province on a Ramadan night. It was like somebody had sent these people a gift; thousands of liters of fuel; thousands of liters of free fuel; after the incident, military experts had come to the area to console and soothe the people. They had even promised to compensate the damages. But later, they had forgotten everything. Time heals all wounds. They know it well.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident of Kabul: “At about 08:20, we were offering prayer when the Taliban turned up. They took the Oil tanker away and it was stuck in the sea.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “The Taliban came here around 03:00 p.m. and stayed until night. It was Ramadan.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “It was the 15th of Ramadan when the Taliban took the two oil tankers away, but they were stuck in the middle of the river. That night, we had gone to the mosque to offer prayer. While praying, we could hear people struggling out there near our home. The Taliban wanted to take our tractor and that of our neighbor to tow the tankers out. My sons were struggling with them and trying to stop them taking our tractors away. Meanwhile, their planes were flying over the area.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “They took our tractors away and asked us to go and help them tow the tractors out.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “But the tankers were too heavy to be towed out. So they opened the tank valves and oil began to drain away into the water. Seeing this, people took their oil containers and ran up to the tankers to fill their containers and save the water from pollution with oil. If they had gone on like that until 11:00 p.m., nothing would have remained.”

Narration: After the incident, military experts had come to the area to console and soothe the people. They had even promised to compensate the damages. But later, they had forgotten everything. Time heals all wounds. They know it well.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “Everybody came out here. Molavi Saheb told us to offer our prayer and then go the scene. We did so and when we got to the scene, it was terrible and shocking. The martyrs’ bodies could be seen all over the area, some of them with no head, some with no legs, and some others cut in half. We could also see body pieces everywhere. The plane was flying over the area. We began to put the body pieces into bags. The dead bodies couldn’t be identified.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “After the bombing, there were the bodies of the martyrs everywhere. About 10,000 people had come to help with the collection of the dead bodies early next morning. We put the bodies into bags and this couldn’t be done by hand. It was really agonizing and dolorous. Nobody has ever seen or heard of such an extremely bitter and painful incident. It happened just for an oil tanker. It happened because a couple of people had reported that the Taliban were around. But then, it was just the innocent people around the tanker trying to collect some oil from the draining tanker. In fact, they were stealing the tankers and it led to the perishing of the people.”

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “Except for a few, the martyrs couldn’t be identified. We buried these few identifiable dead bodies separately. There was a person seriously wounded who was transferred to Kabul and after a 5 days, he was also martyred. His dead body was returned and buried here. This cemetery is 2000 meters long. We used our tractors to dig a mass grave and bury the other unidentifiable dead bodies and body parts. I asked the people to bury my son separately and they did so. That’s my cousin’s grave who was martyred after 5 days in hospital with a 90 percent burn.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “There are 3 boys and 5 girls left to the family of this martyr. We know that they don’t even have a hectare of land of their own. We are neighbors and relatives. They are poor and miserable. They don’t go to school. These minors work in people’s houses from morning to night to get something to eat. This is the way they make a living.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “The government didn’t even ask why it happened. One hundred and thirty people were killed. The government didn’t ask anyone about the reason.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “The government doesn’t even give us oil which is a trivial thing to them. They haven’t even asked about our conditions since that bombing. We have been miserable. You see these poor minors? We are in fact asking for help because of them. They are the ones to be helped.”

Narration: But the people of this village cannot forget their loved ones whom they lost. They cannot forget those who someday lived with them, talked with them, and breathed with them; the kids, parents, brothers and sisters… Only forgetting can heal missing them. I liked to finish my tour by visiting the lovely gardens of Jalalabad and the beautiful road to Pishavar. Perhaps I could also pay a short visit to Durand border to see the strangest political geography of my country after I had heard all those sad stories about it. Finally, I chose to stay in Miagan village of Jalalabad. I wanted to stay at a relative’s garden and rest for a few days. This village too, had a story to hear; the story of a little girl who, unaware of politics, war, and peace, had been playing cheerfully in his father’s garden; the story of a father whose heart broke for ever and who left his home so that he would forget the memory of his little daughter.

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “It was 01:00 a.m. when the Americans came to our homes and arrested and seated us here with our hands tied. When they knock on the door, I opened it and saw the Americans in front, on top, and around the building. They tied our hands behind our backs, and stood us facing the wall. They asked me whether I knew someone by that name and I said I didn’t. I told them the truth. He repeated his question a couple of times and I gave him the same answer. As he was forcing me forward, he asked me whether I knew those people. My answer was negative and he asked how come I didn’t know them while I had been living here for such a long time. I answered, “Well, it’s our home here and our lands are here too.” They pushed me and my nephew ahead with our hands tied behind our backs being hit with Kalashnikov butt. They brought us here. We thought somebody had spied on somebody else and they had come to arrest him. The Corolla was parked there and the American troops were on top of the houses.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “It was midnight. We had offered our Isha prayer and eaten dinner. We were going to sleep when we heard the women in the other room shouting and screaming. We went there to see what had happened. They knocked me down here. The Americans went to the roofs. They knocked my nephew down over there. Then, they knocked on this door but nobody opened it. The door wasn’t opened so they threw a hand grenade in and broke the door. My wife asked me why I was going out. She said it wouldn’t be safe out there because the neighboring houses were being robbed and the robbers could shoot me. I went out and found everything okay. Suddenly, I heard an explosion.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: This man ran over here because he had left his pistol here. He thought there was a robbery going on. Suddenly, they fired a shot at him. All glass windows broke. They threw a hand grenade here and destroyed the door. Then, they threw another grenade over there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “We could hear the Americans speaking. We were on the way home when there was an explosion. The glass window broke and the door of our house was destroyed. It was 01:00 a.m. when they were taking the arrested people blindfold with them and until 5 a.m., they couldn’t be traced.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “They attacked us at night. They threw 5 hand grenades. One of us who was a security guard was killed over there. My 12-year-old daughter was killed and her bracelets were stolen. A sum of 11000 Afghanis and another sum of 150,000 Afghanis were stolen. They caused us abject misery. We were innocent. You can ask anyone about me. You can ask anyone whether I have been involved in any criminal activity. Ask anyone whether I have ever kept cigarettes, daggers, guns etc. What happened to us was unfair and should be investigated. We should be compensated. There was a girl here. She was shocked and ran away. When she ran out of the door, she was shot.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “All of us were done injustice. They threw hand grenades on all houses. You can ask the people in the village about it. This is one of them and another one is the house of Golboddin. Look at these. What can I say? Look at my poor children.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local resident: “He had caught me by the back of my head pushing me forward using me as a shield against possible shots. They had gathered the women here and some others in the other room. They stood me here and my brothers over there. They told me to go and take to them the girl they had shot. They stood her here.”

Narration: And what a futile effort! Forgetting is a gift that is just given to the men of war and weapon; those who powerfully and proudly order “fire”; order to fire missiles and drop bombs; those who perhaps, feel proud of their bravery and gallantry in their privacy more than other times. My trip to my father’s homeland wasn’t over. It remained unfinished without any results and without any decision to stay or leave or a return. I left Afghanistan with a load of bewilderment. To go back there, I will need more powerful eyes, a stronger heart, and more pitiless ears, or perhaps a new logic to base my views of human being on.  

   

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