Daily Archives: 12 August 2007

Two Schoolgirls in Kabul, 1992

From A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead Books, 2007), pp. 159-161:

IN JUNE OF THAT YEAR, 1992, there was heavy fighting in West Kabul between the Pashtun forces of the warlord Sayyaf and the Hazaras of the Wahdat faction. The shelling knocked down power lines, pulverized entire blocks of shops and homes. Laila heard that Pashtun militiamen were attacking Hazara households, breaking in and shooting entire families, execution style, and that Hazaras were retaliating by abducting Pashtun civilians, raping Pashtun girls, shelling Pashtun neighborhoods, and killing indiscriminately. Every day, bodies were found tied to trees, sometimes burned beyond recognition. Often, they’d been shot in the head, had had their eyes gouged out, their tongues cut out.

Babi tried again to convince Mammy to leave Kabul. “They’ll work it out,” Mammy said. “This fighting is temporary. They’ll sit down and figure something out.””Fariba, all these people know is war,” said Babi. “They learned to walk with a milk bottle in one hand and a gun in the other.”

“Who are you to say?” Mammy shot back. “Did you fight jihad? Did you abandon everything you had and risk your life? If not for the Mujahideen, we’d still be the Soviets’ servants, remember. And now you’d have us betray them!”

“We aren’t the ones doing the betraying, Fariba.”

“You go, then. Take your daughter and run away. Send me a postcard. But peace is coming, and I, for one, am going to wait for it.”

The streets became so unsafe that Babi did an unthinkable thing: He had Laila drop out of school.

He took over the teaching duties himself. Laila went into his study every day after sundown, and, as Hekmatyar launched his rockets at Massoud from the southern outskirts of the city, Babi and she discussed the ghazals of Hafez and the works of the beloved Afghan poet Ustad Khalilullah Khalili. Babi taught her to derive the quadratic equation, showed her how to factor polynomials and plot parametric curves. When he was teaching, Babi was transformed. In his element, amid his books, he looked taller to Laila. His voice seemed to rise from a calmer, deeper place, and he didn’t blink nearly as much. Laila pictured him as he must have been once, erasing his blackboard with graceful swipes, looking over a student’s shoulder, fatherly and attentive….

ONE DAY THAT same month of June, Giti was walking home from school with two classmates. Only three blocks from Giti’s house, a stray rocket struck the girls. Later that terrible day, Laila learned that Nila, Giti’s mother, had run up and down the street where Giti was killed, collecting pieces ofher daughter’s flesh in an apron, screech- ing hysterically. Giti’s decomposing right foot, still in its nylon sock and purple sneaker, would be found on a rooftop two weeks later.

At Giti’s fatiha, the day after the killings, Laila sat stunned in a roomful of weeping women. This was the first time that someone whom Laila had known, been close to, loved, had died. She couldn’t get around the unfathomable reality that Giti wasn’t alive anymore. Giti, with whom Laila had exchanged secret notes in class, whose fingernails she had polished, whose chin hair she had plucked with tweezers. Giti, who was going to marry Sabir the goalkeeper. Giti was dead. Dead. Blown to pieces. At last, Laila began to weep for her friend. And all the tears that she hadn’t been able to shed at her [Mujahideen] brothers’ funeral came pouring down.

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A Tale of Two Baptist Churches in Romania, 1984

During our year in Romania on a Fulbright linguistics research grant during 1983–84, the Far Outliers were able to attend a few Baptist church services, thanks to one of our colleagues who had both family ties to Baptists in Georgia, where she was from, and relatives in Romania, where her parents were from. I’m not sure whether she also had ties to the Bible smugglers active at the time. (When we first crossed the border into Romania, the customs officers who came through the train asked if we had any Bibles, guns, or typewriters—three signature items of subversion forbidden to private citizens at the time.)

One Sunday evening, our friend led us to a small church far out on the outskirts of Bucharest where we attended a pleasant two-hour service that mostly featured singing and mandolin-playing. There were a lot young people in the congregation, all of whom knew each other and who were very friendly and welcoming toward us.

Another Sunday morning, our friend led us to an unofficial house church in a suburb of Bucharest, but it was so overflowing with people that we couldn’t even get in the door. So we turned around and headed for an officially recognized church where we found a seat in the balcony of a fairly large sanctuary. Before an audience of several hundred that included both casual visitors and regular informers, the pastor chose his words carefully. After recounting various afflictions of war and famine elsewhere in the world—in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iran and Iraq, Nicaragua and El Salvador—he was careful to add that Romania was better off than ever before. The congregation was mostly middle-aged and elderly, with very few young people.

We made one more visit to the small church on the outskirts to hear a visiting evangelist from Florida preach. Two more resident American couples joined us. The American evangelist was accustomed to preaching in Spanish as well as English, and he would sometimes forget that his audience on this occasion understood Romanian, but not Spanish. His interpreter was the Romanian pastor’s son, who spoke excellent English and hoped to go abroad for seminary training. He did a spectacular job, translating not just the words, but mimicking every gesture and change in voice quality. I have never seen the like of it, before or since, even though I had witnessed as a missionary kid in Japan more than a few bilingual sermons, translated sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph from one language to the other, usually in manner that was stultifying in either language.

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