Six Syllables: Searching for Home, and the Post-9/11 Metaphor, in Kabul
In Kabul, we napped every afternoon, a two-hour siesta that made up for the fact that we had risen before dawn with the mosque loudspeaker’s first call to prayer. As with most things in Afghanistan, naps were easy to enter, difficult to get out of. The soft breathing of the women next to me, their headscarves neatly folded next to them as their black hair tumbled over their pillows, washed over me, quenching the raw thirst of that gritty, dusty city. The slide into sleep was liquid, unknowable.
Waking was another matter. The women tried to rouse me gently: a soft nudge on the shoulder. My name, in Pashto-accented English, as if murmured through cotton batting. It never felt right, like I had gotten either too little or too much sleep. A dizzying chemical taste in my dry, gummy mouth reminded me that I was on malaria pills. Worst of all, I always forgot where I was. Was I really in Afghanistan? Or at home? Where was “home,” exactly?
For me, coming out of naptime in Kabul always started with a minute or so of freefall, of feeling utterly alone in the world because I did not feel of it. In my work as a newspaper journalist in Portland, Oregon, I dutifully reported on candlelight vigils and anti-Muslim hate crimes. But, I wondered, how could I, the citizen, light a candle for a nation that was turning against its own? I wrote about the Portland’s chapter of Japanese American Citizens League reaching out to local Muslims and Arabs–but what did the mere need for the gesture, more than half a century after World War II, say? I watched, helpless, as the America around me nursed a rapidly growing hunger for retaliation while President Bush threatened to bomb Afghanistan “back to the Stone Ages.” Commentators and comedians retorted that the war- and famine-ravaged nation didn’t have far to go. The War on Terror was about to begin.