My luggage arrived in Houston like a cheap three-piece suit, and I landed so totally blinged out in shalwar kameez, pakool & shaggy overgrown beard that my father almost didn’t recognize me. Naturally, neither customs nor immigration batted an eye, lest they be accused of ethnic profiling. I was grateful that I did not have to defend the purchase price of my brother’s carpet–which was so low even I could hardly believe it–but scary enough I’ve received more questioning walking into a mall in Israel than I did gallivanting back into the US.
At the thought of Israel I sat back and thought about how unlikely this summer has been. It started with a trip to Israel to celebrate my Jewish identity and ended with a two-month stay in a Muslim country where I could not tell a soul who I really am. But what I don’t get, what I am still struggling to figure out, is how I felt more myself than I ever have before. I have never felt so alive and so free as I did in Afghanistan.
I’m reminded of an Argentian movie I once saw called Kamchatka. In it, a father and son play the Argentine rip-off of Risk (it’s called TEG, and quite an improvement over the original if you ask me) for hours on end, but the father always wins. One day, in a kind of coming-of-age story, the son starts to win. They battle all day until he has his father cornered in Kamchatka, the easternmost province of Siberia. But try as he might, he cannot win. They play all night long yet somehow his father manages to hang on, and the game ends in a draw. From that point forward, the son finds the place in his heart called Kamchatka, a place of fierce resistance that will fight to survive no matter the odds.
When I went to hug my friends after not seeing them for two months–and having risked never being able to again–I felt like they were cats and I was water. “This is not an Afghan hug,” I thought to myself.
I miss Afghan hugs. I miss the lack of personal space. Of course I don’t miss the squalor, mosque loudspeakers waking me up at 3:45am, or the danger (well, maybe a little), but that is not my Afghanistan. For me Afghanistan is no longer a place but a part of who I am. It is the greatest place I have ever been, and although I cannot show you where it is on a map, I will hold your hand and take you there.
yak roz dIdI dOst, dEga roz dIdi brAdar*,
* The first day you see a stranger, the next day we are brothers.