From the Ruins

Scorched debris crackled beneath my feet. My sole remaining connection to the land of my ancestors was scraps of jagged rust and chunks of bricks, half-buried in the smouldering dust.

Here in the Kunar Valley where East meets West, men, women and children rushed by in a scurried frenzy. Hands cut from glass wrapped in makeshift bandages rummaged through the mounds of debris searching for signs of life as hopelessness filled their eyes. Teams of men heaved people from under the rubble, brick by brick gently so they did not cave anything in. Victims hauled out from underneath had cuts and lacerations marring them like a zebra striped red. Some of them looked no better than the dead.

The camera crew followed as I slalomed my way around the obstacle course of corrugated iron, frozen in gnarled twists. I could taste the metallic tang of blood and tears, and the bitter fear that tore through the air and earth. During the attack, bricks had been stripped off the houses and hot glass shot from the window like the venom of a spitting cobra. The blast left nothing but gaping windows and internal walls, naked and unprotected from the elements.


Immediately, two men separated from a nearby group and rushed to investigate. I kept my head down but observed them through the grill of my burqa. Both men wore torn jeans and simple tattered polo shirts, a rare sight nowadays with the Taliban around. Their muscles were twitching from the cramps of exhaustion. They began shouting to the old man, telling him to keep talking as a beacon to his location. They found him. He lay on a bed of dirt and stone. He was squashed between a serrated sheet of knife-like iron roofing and lumps of bricks. The space was so tight it squeezed the breath out of. The two persistently clawed at the rubble, brick by brick and stone by stone. It grated the skin from their hands and split nails into a tortured mess but they continued. The feeble man sputtered, his taqiyah balancing precariously on the top of his head and tipping with each cough. Powdered concrete dusted his perahan tunban and his already ashen face to the texture of his chapped lips. The whizzing sensations of adrenaline finally receded and he collapsed like a marionette cut loose. The two men lifted and carried him over to medical aid with careful, practised strides.

A shriek pierced the air. Amongst the ruins, a woman was clutching a little boy no older than six or seven to her chest. She clutched him so tightly, they melded into one sanguine entity. It just stays there, still as a statue.

The clear blue skies seemed out of place in such a tragic scene. Maybe Nature was so used to the sight by now it didn't even affect her moods anymore.

I tripped over a stump but didn't recover a secure footing, causing me to tumble over. The lone stump lay mangled in the middle of the dirt path. Shreds of its trunk and half-wilted flowers scattered with the blend of scraps into an infinite number of splinters. It was the mimosa tree my brother and I used to shade under when we visited for our uncle's wedding some fifteen years ago. We used to watch as the pink, pompom like flowers bobbed with the breeze. People danced and sung, enjoying the festivities as the melodious notes lifted the atmosphere like balloons. It was so much livelier back then.

I remembered a time when all the children would splash in the Kunar River as it wove through the terrain, the town and pastures. Sometimes a few goats would be there too, bumbling through the water and spitting at you if you got too close. There used to be a market nearby too. The fragrance of spices and bread would waft through the air. It would mingle with the familiar sounds of farmers and peddlers advertising their goods with a persistent tongue, their colourful crops and goods out in woven baskets or blankets like mosaic exhibitions.

The tug-of-war between the East and West for Asmar was fraying the rope. Towns can be rebuilt and knots could be retied, but once a rope snaps there is no restore it.

I put my emotions on a halt before I was absorbed by my insignificance; the insignificance of human lives. I shut down and fulfilled my original purpose of coming here.

"At least 16 are dead and 40 are injured after a NATO airstrike on the city of Asmar, Afghanistan."