Monday, June 15, 2009

Free-write bits and pieces for book: Why I like Afghans

I find I feel a certain attraction to these people, as savage as life can be where the government doesn't hold sway and even some places where it does. How to put it? These are the last men on Earth who have a zero-tolerance don't-fuck-with-me level. None. The rest of the world has learned to tolerate some of it in the New World Order, even Americans now sheepishly acknowledge that their government has a right to enter their huts and homes or what have you, to snoop around and make sure you're not doing anything wrong. An Afghan would as soon tolerate that as tolerate being spit on. Afghans are what Americans used to be, when telling folks you have the right to send them to jail forever, with no trial, would get you a parade of torches marching to the state house at night and a noose slung around your neck, or tarred and feathered. Think of Afghans as Minutemen with rocket launchers.

The downside of this is that the don't-fuck-with-me can get a little out of hand when it is your neighbor the next valley over, and he has stolen some of your goats. Najim says, and I have noticed it, Afghans are very slow to anger, and try very hard to avoid a fight. That's because they know that if it starts, it's going to last 100 years, and be passed down to your sons.

There isn't a guy my age here who hasn't been a commander of some sort, Taliban or Mujihadeen or both, since I tend to hang around the the smart guys. They are young, but they are contractors and businessmen. Everyone knows what a firefight is, and can handle himself in one, kind of hard to fathom when you are all just goofballing around town looking for lamb kebab driving down Kabul's dusty streets and singing current Afghan love songs, like Fasool does. I love this place. This is what America was when the flag said Don't Tread on Me.

I believe Afghans have a remarkable future, and will take the world by storm in all fields, sports, science, culture. There's nothing much cooler than to be an Afghan, if you think of it. The last unconquered people on Earth. And they know it. Because Western decadence has not set in, as in too much of everything, especially food, all Afghan men are in pretty much perfect physical condition. You only see flat bellies, even on old men. They have discovered weight-lifting, so the young men are buff. I saw a young man with black jeans, a tight black tee-shirt that he set off like a walnut-colored James Dean, and a traditional style, black Pashto hat. Silver studded leather belt, black boots. Modern, but the badge of his Afghan-ness on his head. I'm Afghan. I'm cool. Don't fuck with me. It is a rare and special pleasure to be in the company of such men, and to have them consider you their friend. The honor does not get any higher in this world, and I'll trade you all the stuffed suits in the world for one of these men, if he has crossed that tough Afghan line and called you his friend, for loyalty, friendship, and having your back in a pinch.

At Najim's apartment building I saw a couple of boys, maybe eight or nine, laughing and throwing a sock stuffed with sand or something, all you can afford for a ball, at each other. Their arms were great, and they were winging that thing 70, 80 feet and nailing each other, just fooling around, and any little league coach would have drafted them. Afghan is a mountain country, and everyone has the balance, coordination, and endurance of a mountain goat. After 9/11 when fighting was going on Special Forces reported Taliban fighters hopping from rock to rock barefoot in the snow. They are all like that. I saw an old man take a two-foot hop onto a wall like it was a low curb. When these people pick up baseball bats and gymnastic equipment, and start getting proper nutrition, they may be the only ones who can give the Chinese a run for their money in the agility sports at the Olympics. I can't wait to see when Afghans get tall and start playing basketball. That will be something.

The bottom line is, these people have been pre-selected by the most brutal selection process of all: thirty years of war. If they aren't tough, mentally and physically, on the ball and fast thinking on their feet, chances are they are not here, surviving. It's harsh, but it's the truth. Hot summers, harsh winters, high altitude, and little food have made the system of the modern Afghan an immunological marvel. But it's not just that, it's the attitude toward fitness and excellence I see taking hold among the youth. There is a high hilltop in Kabul which is kind of a recreation area, a broad, open parking space where people bring their children to get away from the pressure cooker of the city streets where 4 million people are crammed in a city built for 700,000. There is an internal displacement that no one in the foreign press talks about but which is almost on par with the external displacement to Iran and Pakistan. If you drive to the very outskirts of Kabul, you will see a sea of tents in one quarter, heading toward Kargha District with its beautiful, high lake and food vendors. People flooded to the city to get away from the Taliban, when life got a little too uncertain be it from men with beards and guns or American jets dropping bombs, sometimes on weddings.

On this high hilltop, from which you can see the National Stadium below where the Taliban conducted its cutting off of hands of alleged thieves and mass hangings of alleged criminals, you can take a ride on a horse for a buck or just enjoy the view of the old city below ringed by snow-capped peaks, even in June, a minor branch of the Himalaya range. On the winding road up, you will inevitably see groups of boys, maybe ten to fifteen of them in a club, aged anywhere from eight or nine to maybe twelve. These are clubs that they form on their own, wearing the same colored shorts and tee-shirts. They are jogging up the winding road, or doing wheelbarrows on the way down, boys in pairs with one holding up the other's feet as that one walks down on his arms, really sweating it, sometimes obviously struggling, but sticking to it. It is not school sponsored, or organized by any adult or group. They are just doing it on their own, these young boys, to insure they are growing up big and strong. There are over 200 makeshift gyms in the city, many using car parts tied to rope and pulleys as equipment, and no boy is turned away for the lack of the maybe $4 a month membership. Yes, when peace comes, it will be interesting to see what Afghanistan does in athletics.

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