Monday, May 01, 2006
Afghan Images, Afghan Memories
There's one incident from my trip to Afghanistan back in May of 2005 that I love sharing. I went out on a patrol along the Pech River to survey an IED site. The battalion's executive officer was making his rounds of the various FOBs (forward operating bases) the previous week when his vehicle was destroyed by an IED set in the road that parallels the river. Miraculously, other than busted ear drums, no one was seriously hurt. One of the drawings with this posting is of the XO's driver.
This road, if you can even call it that, ran between Asadabad and Jalalabad. The narrow valley that the Pech River had carved over the millenia was deep and rugged. All along our way we were greeted by families coming out of their rustic stone homes, ragtag gangs of boys in baggy pants dashing up from swimming holes and farmers busy in their terraced wheat fields. The smells of dust, freshly sythed wheat, water from the spring melt boiling in the river, and Humvee engine exhaust filled the air like some exotic curry dish. I was standing braced in the rear of an open back vehicle holding on for dear life. This road was so rough that kidney stones were being passed, dental fillings loosened and major vehicle components dislodged and discarded by the roadside.....and we could only go 20 mph max! Village after village came out to wave and stare.
Just below one of these villages, from my vantage point standing high up in the back of the HUMVEE, I saw what I soon learned to be a new school house. What drew my attention, in this landscape of golden fields, rock walls and churning water, was a flood of blue and white pouring out of the school. Banging down a river valley at 10 to 20 mph gives folks a lot of time to stop what they're doing and see what the ruckus is all about. What greeted us as we slowly passed the school house were several hundred Afghan girls in uniforms of sky blue cerulean topped with snow white hajibs. They were waving as if waving was an Olympic event. They stood in windows, leaned over the courtyard wall and jammed the entrance way jockeying for position. Here's the best part, the part I tear up every time I re-live this moment; they were shouting in English "Thank You!"