I spent the night outside the Donner Pass town of Truckee. After 12 days on the California coast, it was surprising to see there was still plenty of snow in late June. I took the sharp right north on I-80 into Nevada—past Reno, Fernley, and landed in God-forsaken Winnemucca, where I stayed in one of the hemisphere’s ugliest RV parks. After dinner at possibly the greasiest Mexican restaurant ever, I walked through downtown, which had the saddest little strip of casinos in the (...)
A new essay from exiled writer/filmmaker Amin Wahidi
My latest trip back to Kabul
Sunday 17 February 2008, by
Wake up, wake up Amin! Opening my eyes, I cannot believe that I am in Kabul! I see Assad holding a handycam in one hand and shaking me with the other while laughing at me and recording all the moments while I wake up. He follows me to the toilet door, then when I come out and walk towards the sink to wash my hands and face he keeps recording and keeps saying,
“Hurry up, hurry up, we’re going out to see what’s happening in Kabul today and film it. It snowed last night. It is too late, not good to sleep this late.”
Actually I stay up very late these nights, doing a lot of work; not specific work, but reading, writing and searching in the internet, the only things I am able to do.
I have a quick breakfast and then we both go out. While telling me I have put chains on the tires, he gets into the car and drives it out of the gate. Then I close the gate, jump into the front seat beside him, and he takes off. Everything is white.
“Oh it has snowed lot!” he says, and I say yes, “it is good that next year we will have more water so our people will have a good harvest. It is almighty Allah’s mercy this year that there is enough snow so we can grow wheat and grain instead poppies.”
Assad laughs, “oh don’t start again.”
Assad wants to steer the car with one hand while recording with the other but I say “no, let’s talk about what we’ll film, and then we’ll have the whole day to do it.” I take the camera from him and turn it off.
The roads are very slippery and the brakes don’t work well. Assad enjoys driving fast, as always, which I don’t let him do now, when it is so dangerous with so many people walking on the narrow roads of Dasht e Barchi. Some carry snow-shovels to sell. Some have bought them and shout, “Snow shoveling, snow shoveling!”
We see children playing in the snow, and throwing snow balls; some children make a snowman. What nice scenery there is when it snows; the trees are covered as if they are wearing white suits, and anything, even a small thing on the snow is visible like a black spot on a white sheet. Assad and I recorded all we saw.
At my insistence, we reach Masoud’s house. He is a colleague of mine from the Ariana TV Network, and my classmate in Kabul University’s Fine Arts School. We will take him with us and head to the center of town. Oh, I forgot to introduce Assad. He is my mother’s brother; one year older than me and my best friend.
Assad parks the car on the street and records with the camera. I knock on the gate of Masoud’s house and hear a voice— “who is it?” Soon Masoud’s young sister comes to the gate and says Masoud is still sleeping, Assad still records as we enter and go directly towards Masoud’s bedroom. I pick up a glass of water and pour some on his sleepy face. He jumps up, shouting oh! What is it? Who is this?! Then while Assad is still recording we both burst out laughing. Masoud’s sister laughs with us.
Masoud quickly gets out of bed and washes his face, and without having breakfast he joins us as planned. The three of us get into the car and while Assad drives, I take the camera and start recording.
The sharp white light that snow reflects teases my eyes, and I am not wearing glasses either but still I am willing to do it. Rewinding the recorded video I ask Assad, “what have you recorded? Unprofessional! Totally unprofessional!” Masoud tells me, ok, now you record professionally.
I try not to keep recording everything like Assad did, and my eyes look for something special— special images that give me and the others a sense, a meaning, and a feeling!
I begin to see new and more serious images through the view finder. Sometimes I wish I were not a filmmaker so that I would not focus on some of the things I see around me. Here is a poor porter, pulling a cart with a heavy load of wood, dripping with sweat, and there is no one to help him out and push cart from the rear. I tell Assad to park the car on a side and they two get out to help the poor cart- puller. I keep recording the scene.
A car is parked on the other side of the road and it won’t start. According to Assad, the driver looks very jealous that we could start our car. Many people stand in the snow, waiting for a bus.
A handicapped man is walking with the help of crutches in the heavy snow. On the other side of the road, I tell Assad to drive more slowly, so that I can tape all that I see. Masoud keeps shouting, oh look at that! Look here! Look there! He just confuses me and I am not sure what really I have to record from this big world with this small handycam.
Further along, we see a crowd. A big truck is parked on the other side of the road where there is a little more space. Many people surround it, and while they make a lot of noise, we are not sure what they are talking about. We see men pulling sacks out of the truck and others taking them with wheelbarrows. The snow is black and the people carrying the sacks are dirty. Oh, now we realize that it is coal for heating, and people are buying it, as we ourselves used to do.
We record these moments, then move on slowly. We see a middle-aged woman carrying a basket on her head full of loaves of Naan e Garm (the hot Afghan bread) which leaves a delicious smell in the air.
As we reach Chauk e Shahed Mazari (Shahed Mazari Square) in Pol e Sokhta, we see there are more crowds; we see beggars coming up to the cars, asking for money.
Bicycles and Zaranj Rickshaws pass by and traffic jams the square. On one side there are carts parked and selling fruit and vegetables. On the other side, where the bus stops for Dasht e Barchi, we see people selling things from small stools: bananas, shor nakhod (Special Afghan peas), garam lablabo (hot beets) and peanuts. It is noisy as car and bus horns sound. We see a group of boys walking and two of them fall down slipping on banana peels, every one laughs at them.
As we move towards Kot e Sangi, our ears still hear the voices of vendors and fruit sellers yelling: ( Ala Garam, garam shor nakhod, alla kella bobaren kella! Khal dar kella! Maza dar kella! Lablabo! Garm o dagh, sherin o shaker lablabo bobarin ke khalas shod)…
We cross Pol e Sokhta and see the new additional bridge, that has been under construction for almost a year, is still not completed. We are now between Golaye Dawakhana and Kote Sangi where we see other crowds of people. There are many hotels, restaurants, and dormitories in this area for the people who come from or who want to go towards Hazarajat.
People sit near the hotel doors and some walk around the hotels and restaurants but none seem to understand it’s winter, since they are not wearing warm jackets, coats or hats. I wonder why. I tell Assad to park the car so we can go film these strangely dressed people. We get out of the car and move toward them. Assad says “Salam qauma!” the traditional greeting.
“Walekom Salam,”one of them answers, and I keep recording as Masoud stands beside me watching the LCD screen of the camera. I ask the man if it is okay to film him. He smiles at first and says nothing, but he answers,
“Yes, take my picture. The others took my life. Now you take my picture. This is the only thing I can give to you, yes record me, take my picture. But show it to the world, show it to people and ask them if this is Islam and Brotherhood? Is this human care for refugees? Amadinejaad has taken my everything. Just my breath and nothing else is left for me!”
His anger confuses me and I think he might be insane or crazy but still I record.
“You see I have nothing to wear for this cold winter?” the man continues. “Do you think I am crazy? Or I am giving a fashion show with these summer clothes?” I now realized what he meant.
“We were deported by force from Iran. My family was deported, but I don’t know where they are now or if they have winter clothes, because I was at work when the Iranian police arrested and deported me. While my family members were looking for me, they were all, men and women, deported. I am not sure where they are. Record me and show it on all the channels of the world, Show it on BBC, on Tolo Television on Aljazeera!
The man continued, “Show it to Ahmadineejad, show it to the government of Iran who claim to be Muslims! Where is it written in Islam to deport refugees in the heavy snow of the cold winter?!”
Hearing his voice the other deportees also come nearer and joined him. One says,
“Tell me who is responsible?”
Another says, “Yes record us and show it to Hamid Karzai, show it to Wazir e Kharija and Wazir e Mohajerin!” (Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Refugees Affairs).
As it gets more crowded it is more difficult to control the small handycam and I try to get more distance between them and myself.
From a further away, an old man yells, “Marg bar Ahmadinejaad!” And the others repeat it, “Marg bar Ahmadinejat! Marg bar Ahmadinejaad!”
We see women and children, also deported, also knowing nothing about their fathers and brothers, and husbands. Some children cry, some play. One women, while carrying her sleeping child, cries that the child is very sick and she doesn’t have either money or medicine. No one hears her voice, but she shows me the face of the child and tells me to record it, to show it to Masoolin e Daulati (the governmental officials) and asks,why we are like this? “If my child dies, Ahmadinejaad and Karzai are responsible,” she says.
After this last scene, I am about cry, I want to shout, I want to yell and wail, “Why are our people are like this? How long will they suffer?”
I am almost losing control as Masoud takes the camera from me and Assad tells me to go towards the car.
While getting into the car, we are still hear the people shouting, “Murda bad Ahmadinijad, marg bar Iran! Ahmadinejat musulamaan nest! ”
These scenes really made us sad so that we wanted to end our trip. We drove back home, wondering how we could help these people. The only thing I can do for them is to write about them, and through that, maybe others could hear their voices.
This day, the three of us decide not to sleep long hours anymore, but to wake up early every morning and do lots of work because our land still needs a lot of work to be done, and we must do our share.
Eventually, I sigh and open my eyes, and find myself still on my bed in the room where I sleep in Milan Italy. I wondered if this was only a dream, and look around like a crazy person. I see nothing at all of what I told to you, as if every thing was blown away by the wind or I told you lies. Was it a dream, an illusion, a daydream, or a very close hearted - relationship with my dearest ones back in Afghanistan? It must be that, because I miss Assad and Masoud a lot, as I miss my other family members and friends.
So, I only imagined all these things. I was up very late the night before, reading about the heavy snows in Afghanistan, that have caused so many problems for people in rural areas.
Many sick children died, because they did not have access to doctors. Also, a few days ago I heard that Afghans had been deported from Iran in the winter cold, when costs of food and heating fuel are getting higher day by day in Afghanistan. This was my latest trip to Kabul, an imaginary trip back to my Kabul.
Written by Amin Wahidi
Edited by Robert Maier
Photo by Fardin Waezi
Amin Wahidi, age 25 is a noted writer, TV producer, filmmaker and media activist who lives in exile in Italy after receiving serious death threats from extremists who object to his work.
Hazara filmmaker and blogger in exile (Milan – Italy)