Monday, July 9, 2007

No.5: To kill a goat

Mistakenly, I assumed this young man from Kandahar who had been in Canada for sixteen cold winters was someone who had decided to stay. “I want to go back. There is a lot to fix. If there is a hole in the road we will build a new road and go around the hole.” There is determination in his voice, he has reflected on his past long enough and he has been waiting for me to give his thoughts a rest.

“So you’ve seen death”, I say imagining the worst. “Yes, of course," he said. “So tell me. Tell me what happened," I prod, thinking what is it like to be this man? “When?” he asks, meaning there were many deaths to tell about and I had not been explicit enough with my request. “You people here don’t know," he criticizes knowing Canadian life well enough to be right. He began to describe many days and nights in Kandahar, “Everyone was in the house. The windows are closed up and covered in mud. The bullets don’t go through the mud. They stop. The army was coming. The Russian soldiers march along the trucks and tanks down my street.”

“Were you afraid? If there were soldiers and tanks coming down this street in Toronto right now I would be very afraid," I admit. “You people are afraid if I kill a goat. You don’t sleep for a week. I kill a goat once a week. There were six men on the roof. I could see through a little hole. I watch.” His observations were correct again, but his proposition was unsettling. “How old were you?” “Eleven”, he replied.

He continued, “The men on the roofs threw hand grenades onto the soldiers. The soldiers leave. The men were gone. I was first to come out on the street. There was blood. There was blood.” He is amused by my disbelief. He knows how foreign this experience is for me; nevertheless he continues his casual walk through the bloody aftermath. “I can’t believe you were not afraid. You must feel something. Where were the bodies?” I persisted.

“The men throwing grenades from the roof were gone. They sat down and drink tea with their brothers. They ask, where did the men go? They didn’t know. This is why the Americans do not know. They know technology but it is no good in Afghanistan," he laughs. He cannot conceal the pride in his premonition, “This is why the Americans will get tired just like the Russians.”

“What about the leader?” I ask, attempting to find order and reason on his bloodied street. “Nobody likes him”, he reacts quickly. “ How will you get rid of him? How will you get him out?” I questioned, knowing he would have an answer. “When the Americans go, then we will have a clear shot”, he laughs again. I was growing increasingly more disturbed by him, as I thought of him as that eleven year old who has carried indelible stains for many years, now a grown man who thinks and laughs as he light-heartedly describes death with chilling clarity, loss and more death with a sarcasm-filled vengeance.

“Didn’t you feel anything?” I ask again. “You are in communications. If you talk in front of people maybe you are not afraid. I would be afraid. This is easy for you. That is war. I am used to it,” and I continue to fail. Desperate to hold onto the difference between the insanity of one and the adaptive skill of the other, the fears are not the same for me.

“One time an old man, a neighbour was shot. I was sad for him. That is different. He was shot in front of my house. We moved his body to another place. If we didn’t move him, they would say we did something.” In this moment I finally hear a glimmer of attachment, a sense that the blood came from a body and the body was once living, a trace of injustice before the hate could turn into a more insidious thing.

“Another man was taken from his house. He was taken to justice and they bring him back to his house outside and tied him to the front. I see them cut his throat.” I realize there is finality in his stories, a focus on the moment of death with very little reflection on what it looked like, who he was and what these people meant to him, distance and endings. I needed to know for sure, “You must have been shocked to see a man’s throat cut.” “No. This is war. I am used to it,” he smiles. “He was a man who tortured other people. He was a traitor”

“Maybe it’s no good to get used to war. Maybe we should be afraid”, I venture to challenge this man who smiles and laughs as we talk about death.

Befitting the end of our brief conversation I detect a prophetic quality in his soft defiance, his fearlessness, his pride in Afghanistan and I am overcome by a disquieting sadness. “Americans are not afraid. They don’t see the bombs. They just push a button. I have seen the bombs. And sometimes the bomb doesn’t explode. If the bomb makes a hole the children swim in it like a swimming pool.” And then I realized, we are not so different.

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