Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Kind And Splendid Country You Never Got To Know.

BALKH, AFGHANISTAN - Sher Khan, 7, is the serious-looking fellow, second from the left. In the crumbling remains of what was a grand school long ago, Sher Khan took me into his care and served as my guide, with instructions and gestures I couldn't comprehend. The other kids were tending a flock of goats nearby and joined in.

Nowadays, Balkh is a sleepy village of farmers, shepherds and orchardists. Merchants move their wares by donkey cart down lanes that wind through groves of pistachio and apple and cherry orchards. There is nothing much to tell you that Balkh is one of the great reliquaries of human civilization, that the melancholy ruins that rise out of the fields and forests here are the remnants of one of the world's oldest cities. Balkh was thriving when Babylon and Nineveh were provincial backwaters.

Families gather for the midday meals of naan and melons and almonds in copses of great-crowned chenar trees and in the shade of overgrown tombs, and when you pass by they will straightaway notice you are from some faraway place, and they will wave and smile, salaam.

The Persians say the first king of the world established his empire here. Something happened here that lit the spark for all the Indo-Aryan civilizations down through time. Zoroastrians who built their fire temples atop old Bhuddist stupas say Zarathustra himself lived and died here, perhaps 3,000 years ago. Balkh was the capital of the Bactrian civilization, which flourished for centuries before Alexander the Great annexed it into the Macedonian Empire. Later, Aurangzeb, the Conqueror of the World, made Balkh the centre of his dynasty.

The ruins of the school I visited with those shepherd kids was destroyed by Ghengis Khan's invading Mongols eight centuries ago. It was the very school where children gathered for instruction at the feet of Mawlana Jalaluddin Balkhi, known to most of the world as Rumi, the Sufi mystic, the greatest poet in the history of Islam.

Here's the point of all this.

The Omid-e-mirmun orphanage is hidden away behind high walls and a sturdy metal gate down a dusty back street in the Koshalkhan district of Kabul. When you arrive for a visit, you are ushered into a courtyard and up the stairs. A flock of girls will hurry to greet you at the door. . .

That's the beginning of an essay of mine that appears today in the Calgary Herald. It ends with this tagline: "Calgary Herald reporter, Michelle Lang, who was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb last year, had planned to visit this orphanage."

All this is to say, this one's for you, Michelle. You would have loved the kids here, and they would have loved you back. So sleep soundly. And you, too, Marty. We won't be breaking faith with either of you, any time soon.

The people will win.


Blogger Kaffir_Kanuck said...

Hello Terry,

Thanks for the nod to Sgt. Goudreault. I’ve personally known only two comrades in the CF who’ve died on tour, but none on Op Athena. In the past year, I’ve gone out of my way to mention some members who’ve lost their lives in a few of my posts, but I didn’t know them. Circumstantially, sometimes because of the emotion, I mentioned them, and in the case of Marty, I read the same intent.

There was a eulogy given by a missionary who was the brother of a friend who died back in the late eighties. He came to the funeral from his mission in Africa, and gave one of the most stirring speeches I’ve ever heard. His message was that regardless of how someone is lost to this world, most forget about who is mostly affected by the loss. Not their Country, not their comrades, and not their spouse and friends, but their mother. Throughout the world, in all the violence that occurs, most often the one who grieves the most is the mother.

The Mother gave birth. The Mother gave life. The Mother through keeping the child alive gives love and feels it in no other way that can be felt or interpreted by anyone else in the family. In Canada, we often forget of this important bond. In the third world, especially Africa, it is the Mother who feels the pain the most, it is the Mother who feels the loss, because to the last of her days, her children shall always be of her body.

I don’t know if in Afghanistan the tribal women under Sharia feel the same of their offspring, but I can only assume that maternal instincts and its related protectionism are the same there also, as they are genetically inspired on the entire planet. However, unless such instincts have been perverted by an ideological rendition of the woman’s role in society, where their worth is weighted in their ability to reproduce, and predetermined to be worth less because of their sex, as it is under Sharia, perhaps this has also lent a diminished worth to the value of a human life, and therefore making it socially acceptable to die through violence to force change rather than bring change through non-violence, and therefore live.

As a hedge on their biological ability, that they are worth only half as that of a man, and keeping such social practice alive, why should a Mother be encouraged to feel the loss of her sons? After all, their only worth is to reproduce and provide more flesh for the cannon fodder of the cause, whether it be for the clan, the tribe or Islam. It is the Afghan men who matter as they are the warriors, the only ones allowed to be in the Jirgas, and they are the deciders of matters and the givers of punishment. Do the women of Afghanistan express pride at their sons dying as martyrs to kill the infidel, or do they morn their loss? Do they feel the same pain in Afghanistan for the loss of their sons as the Canadian Mothers do for their children who have died in Afghanistan?

Is the pain of loss of the same value when a Mother in Afghanistan loses a son or a daughter, who has survived the one in four infant mortality rate, worth the same as anywhere else in the world, or let alone, in those nations who have committed to bring democracy and stability to Afghanistan?

You may write your reports from Afghanistan about orphans and prey upon our heart strings by mentioning our fallen comrades. It is good literary form. We know what Marty was worth to us. I wonder if the Afghans do too.

“We won't be breaking faith with either of you, any time soon. The people will win.”

Too bad the promise you invoked won’t be kept as Karzai, the Pakistanis and the UN sell us out and hand Afghanistan back to the Taliban.

Keep safe.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Here's "good literary form," Kaffir: Afghan Taliban = 6 per cent. Afghans worth fighting for: 94 per cent.

7:32 PM  

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