Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
I slowly open up my eyes as the pilot announces through the intercom, "Fifteen minutes until arrival at Kabul International Airport." Struggling to keep my eyelids open, I look down through my window to be awakened by beautiful green valleys and intimidating dark mountains topped with patches of radiant white snow. I glance behind to see the contentment in my parents' faces as they rejoice in their return to the place that in the '80s they abandoned as refugees. The plane drops the landing gear, and I keep a firm grip on my armrest as we land on the runway. I have no idea what to expect after seeing the terrifying images about this place all over news stations and hearing my parents' many stories of their lives here.
My father, Hamid, was a helicopter pilot for the Soviet-led Afghan Air Force before the U.S.S.R's invasion in 1979. After he learned about the true agenda of the Soviets and witnessed many atrocities, including seeing his close friends blown into pieces, he left the Air Force and joined the Mujahedeen. He spent two years in the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan fighting against the Communist intervention before he and my mother brought our family to the United States. Once here, they did not forget where they came from or let me forget. At night my father used to read to me about the stories of the prophets from the Quran, teaching me about the qualities of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad. I felt very much inspired about how they lived their lives and how they led the greatest movements ever known. While other children my age were reading about Captain Underpants, I was reading about Prophet Mohammad's passion to save his people from ignorance-about how he abolished the practice of killing baby daughters at birth, advocated for harmony, and strove to unify Arabic peoples regardless of their wealth, race, tribe, or language. I looked up to men like him and not the professional buffoons all over the TV screens and radios. Now, I am here to see for myself the culture and the country I have heard about all my life.
I take my first steps off the airplane with mixed emotions. I'm eager to see my birthplace, and I have always wanted to know what the other half of my family looked like. I can't get over the fact that I'm stepping into a war zone with an American passport. I keep walking with my mother's enormous duffle bag in my hand, filled up with all the nonsense she could find back in the States. I'm battling a very cold, whispering wind while snowflakes are gently tapping my shoulder. We find a taxi to escape the harsh weather. The taxi driver, probably in his mid-40s, has an intimidatingly strong beard, shiny black hair, and a very deep voice. He turns out to be a very pleasant and welcoming person, who doesn't even accept the fare once he finds out that we are visiting there after almost ten years.
My grandparents' house is in a small district of the capital city, called "Shar-e-Now," which translates to "New City." It most certainly doesn't live up to its name, because the whole area is an old broken down slum. I easily observe the scars left behind in the area when I see the homes, made from mud and bricks and marked with bullet and mortar holes from the constant decades of war. The sewer system runs along the roads with no cover. The roads have no concrete whatsoever, and the snow leaves a mud-covered mess. I step out of the taxi to be welcomed by a sweet winter aroma, from a mix of wood burning and the food being prepared.
My first week in Afghanistan becomes the most nerve-wracking week of my life. Instead of the normal toilet that I have been accustomed to, I have to do my business in a hole on the ground. To drink water I can't just turn on the faucet; I have to walk out to the backyard, drop a basket into a well, and pull it out. On my third night, it's 2 a.m. and I'm still recovering from jetlag when all of a sudden a thunderous explosion from nearby shakes the house, followed by a complementary full round of rapid machinegun fire. My mother and I jump up in complete disarray. We start running around the house in hysteria until my uncles and aunts show up with a lantern. They all start laughing about the petrified looks on our faces. They inform us that random shootings and explosions are nothing out of the ordinary.
After my jetlag subsides, I decide to step outside. The remnants of snow are now gone, and the dark grey clouds have opened up to the bright sun, lighting the face of the city. I put on a black beanie and a gray sweater, with my favorite winter boots. I stroll down a couple of blocks until I see an area full of tents. I wonder, why tents in the middle of winter? The hundreds of tents in that area are occupied by families of the less fortunate. The families live in extreme poverty; they suffer from malnutrition, lack of proper clothing, and diseases. A small child has his hands extended towards me and is asking for money.
I nervously approach the child and start a conversation with him. I try to make sense about the condition he is living in. He says his name is Khalid. He tells me he is a ten-year-old orphan, whose mother died during his birth. He never had a chance to attend school, and he is selling chewing gum in order to provide for himself. His father was a heroin addict, who gave up on life two years ago. His older sister, who happened to be sixteen at the time, was left to take care of him and his two younger siblings. Here I am a kid from the inner cities of America face to face with a war child in Afghanistan. I realize this kid could've easily been me if I wasn't given the chance to prosper. I frantically take off my beanie, sweater, and boots and hand them all over to the kid. The smile on his face makes him look like he had been awarded the whole Earth.
This journey to the other side of the world had a dramatic effect on shaping the person I am today. I set off on my journey with fear and contempt. I returned with an understanding about the other side of reality. Witnessing hungry, orphaned children on the streets with nothing on their feet, houses full of bullet and mortar holes, and the sounds of gunfire on given nights changed my perception of life. I have a comfortable home, where in the summer time I can turn on the air conditioner, and in the wintertime I can turn on the heater. I wear clothes that keep me warm with no rips or holes in them. My refrigerator is full of food, and I don't have to worry about going to sleep with an empty stomach. I live in a place where there is an opportunity to reach for the stars. I realized that we Americans, who have it all, are too often ungrateful and do not take advantage of all the endless opportunities available to us. This is the main force that drives me to never give up in my quest to establish something for myself and perhaps something I can leave behind for others such as Khalid.