by David Smith-Ferri
Editor’s Note: American peace activists Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents and David Smith-Ferri are part of a 3 person delegation currently travelling in Afghanistan. Find more entries from their travelogues on PULSE.
Again and again in this isolated Afghan province, when visiting Afghan people in their homes or when talking with members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), we have heard this message: “We want to know the people of the world, and we want the world to know that we are human beings, not animals.”
On our first night in Bamiyan, we joined the AYPV at a restaurant on the main street in town. The restaurant, unlike those I am accustomed to visiting, served groups of customers in separate, rooms. So we walked down an alley, around the back of the restaurant, up a steep flight of metal stairs to a narrow landing which opened onto several small, windowless rooms. Inside one of them we arranged ourselves as comfortably as possible on the floor and along the walls, eleven Afghan youth and three Americans.
At the outset of the conversation, fourteen-year-old Ali asked us, “How do Americans know we are bad?” The question burst out of him, without preamble, as though he’d been carrying it for years, waiting for this opportunity. He followed it with a statement: “We want Americans to know we are not animals.” Later, while he held my arm and walked me home in the dark, I asked Ali about this belief regarding American perceptions of Afghan people. “Why else would they bomb us?” he said. There wasn’t anything more to say.
Today, two days later, we again gathered for a shared meal, this time in twenty-year-old Moh’d (short for Mohammad) Jan’s home, in a village outside Bamiyan. We piled into a van, and drove out over rocky, pitted, unpaved mountain roads, following the fickle course of a narrow river. High, red-rock cliffs loomed above us, and wherever there was flat land, it was cultivated. “Would you like to leave the car here and walk to my home along the river?” Moh’d Jan asked. We readily agreed.
Stenciled on nearby rocks in the Dari language were words warning people that the hills above are laced with landmines. We left the road and followed a creek lined with willow and cottonwood trees, along the edge of cultivated plots – apple orchards, potato fields being harvested, swaths of thickly-sown, bright green pea plants – the autumn sun pouring into the valley with sweet abundance, as though time had stopped and it would always be like this.
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