When I heard about Yar's death,
I wish I could say it
was devastating, but, rather, it was more like another
strand breaking...another strand of a rope holding me
over some abyss the darkness of which holds some
unknown destination that I don't yet wish to visit.
One strand broke when the father and the son stepped
on a mine while out for a nice walk, I saw them come
in - the son was writhing, the father looked resigned,
apparently in possession of more of the facts, knowing
that it was hopeless to writhe against inevitability...there
is no living to be made for a legless man in a society
that survives on manual labour. Another strand broke
the day Burt was shot in the leg, at first it looked like
he might lose it, but instead he'll just have a permanent
limp and be unfit for further service in the field. He
was from the Alabama Group and he had a cool accent -
although my family is from the same part of the country,
I moved around so much I don't really sound like it -
I looked up to him very much and thought, incorrectly,
that he was bullet-proof. So, one strand after another
breaks, and although I know there isn't a limitless supply,
to be honest I can't really see things very well from here
and I don't know how many strands are actually left.
Yar was from Panjshir, the valley of the five lions, which
is the part of Afghanistan populated by incidental cousins
of John Wayne, where they all talk slow and are tough as nails.
We spent a short time together, but I liked him very much and
became fast friends with him - we smoked the "chelam"
(hookah) many times together and talked of many things. He
tried to convert me in the cloddish way of one that has never
had their faith tested - "Why don't you become a Moslem?
Why don't you say the verse?" I have had my faith tested
and told him, nicely, that I had not the slightest belief in the
ways of his namesake, but that I certainly loved Moslems...
then we swapped adventure stories and talked of the ones we
did love, he was soon to be wed to "a beautiful woman from
Parwan." Yar got it just outside Ghazni, and it isn't even clear
whether it was simply by some bandits, or the head-bobbing
graduates of some Pakistani Madrahseh that can't grasp the
fact Afghans don't want "liberation" from a shot at prosperity
and peace. When it comes, death isn't noble or grand, bullets
tear apart a recipient's chest and face, and, like Madam Bovary
discovered (or didn't), vile fluids bubble up through the mouth,
eyes bulge and with a breathless gasp, the body shudders.
When he died, Yar had been wed a little over a month, and
I enquired after his wife, knowing the market for a twenty
year old woman with no hymen is a bit limited here, and
not wanting Yar's wife to end up a beggar or worse. Between
Yar's family and her brother, I was told, she would be "well"
taken care of. Someone said they "cried like a baby" when
they heard about Yar, and someone else put forth "he gave
his life for his country", but that is the luxury of new-comers
to all of this. For me, although I wish it were a tragedy and I
could cry like a baby, just another strand broke and I was very
glad that it wasn't me. The realisation of that hurts me more
than his death itself, for which I feel another strand fraying.
I don't know how many strands are left, I can't see very well
from here, and I don't know if I fall where I'll end up - home
(where I don't really fit in any more), or here (where I have
never fit in), or someplace else entirely. The telling of something
always becomes a story, and telling about something using words,
based on ones limited prism of understanding, makes it an invention.
The reporters that told, briefly, of Yar's death got the story wrong -
if only people could see these "seekers of the truth" in action, they
would know how frequently, due to laziness, lack of intuition and
simple hang-over, this happens - they said "four soldiers were
killed in action near Ghazni in an early morning ambush". The
real story is, "Yar wasn't a "soldier", he was just another young
guy that got killed doing his job...just like I am", and the invention
is, "this is uncommonly tragic, therefore, it can't happen to me..."
-- by Steve McKennon, September, 19 2003
**For Yar Mohammed, Panjshiri, killed Sept. 2, 2003