“The most impressive thing is how willing Afghans are to learn,” says Mina, tucking into a full plate of breakfast. She is 30ish, perfectly made up, with distinctive Afghan features and a North American (Canadian) accent. “With Americans, they hated listening to me. I was treated like a child. Afghans go into training workshops and they are so perceptive.”
Mina takes another bite. “This is really good food. Oh man, I should have taken the eggs too. Too late.”
I offer to share a serving, solving her problem. “I’m here for you. During the Taliban years, were the scouts considered some bourgeois western Christian thing?”
We are at the PARSA camp, home of Afghanistan’s decades-old Boy and Girl Scouts program. Extraordinary photos on the walls of old troops from days gone by, it’s a beautiful place, complete with animal sanctuary.
“It was stopped before the Taliban,” she continues. “During the Russian years, because they were using them as tools.”
“Like Young Pioneers.” Every Soviet bloc country had one. The Pioneers was started by Lenin’s wife after White Russian scouting organizations fought against the revolution, and it seemed fit to create a competitive organization. “A ready made platform for the distribution of ideology.”
Our group is a little sleepy from a late night. Farshid banged on my door this morning and asked how long I needed to get ready. I estimated ten minutes. “Let’s get it done!” he declared in his executive voice.
Mina refused to talk about the Lycée suicide bombing at Farshid’s gathering last night. It’s a common practice. Don’t let it in.
“I was more upset about the bombing when I got home,” she says to the group. “I know the school program very well, they are little children learning classical Afghan music. The Taliban is messaging…it’s music…but this is Afghan music, here long before them. Those fuckers.”
The group argues about an annoying commenter on a Kabul Facebook page. Mina lets him have it. “He would be MAYBE a manager at McDonald’s if he was back home. Probably back-kitchen.”
After graduating university, she told her family that she was coming back home to Afghanistan. She’s been here ten years, a perfect blend of Afghan urban patriot and western educated sophisticate, with a cutting wit.
“Members of my family went to that school. Hold it, my father went to that school. What are they against? Everything? It’s literally, just, it has to be controlled by our guys or you’re wrong. It’s Pakistanis that want to make Afghanistan look so bad.”
The group discusses local housing economics. The dynamics of sharing, sub-letting, meeting budgets. Then, back to the Lycée Es
teqlal bombing. I walked by the school last week, and was shooed away by the guard after I took pictures of the signage and Massoud billboard. The ‘Lion of Panjshir’ attended the Lycée as a young man, as did many aspiring Afghans.
“Have you seen the videos, one was after the fact and one was a person filming the show. Some people thought it was part of the show. It’s only a few seconds. It’s really gross.”
Someone suggests that the explosives had to be small enough to get through. A current theory is that the sixteen-year old kid hid them in his underwear. They knew he was sixteen because his head was intact after the blast. “Even the kids’ violins get checked.”
Mina finds the video and plays it. There is an explosion and a flash then horrified audience gasps.
The group, stunned, plays it over and over.
“Oh my God.”
“Don’t play it anymore,” says Mina. “I don’t want to ruin the Scout spirit.” We polish off our shared eggs. “I heard it was from the hallway. Have you been there? You know, the lobby?”
Time for dessert.
Mina greets people as they come in. Her work for the event is done, so she can relax and enjoy her Afghan and expat colleagues. She greets and chats up yet more late arrivals. “It’s already had, like 50,000 views. I’ll share it. No, I won’t share it. I’ll tweet it.
“Afghans abroad say, that’s so sad. It’s their passive behavior that’s part of the problem. Oh, poor us. That’s not the way to get past these things. Who cares about your pity?”
Farshid was driving by after it happened. “I thought it was a fight. I passed it and there were people gathered.”
They discuss the mystery of what gets attacked and what doesn’t. Examples of little to no security. “Why go for Serena when you can go for 100 at once.” Reasons for the Taverna attack and the subsequent Swedish reporter killing are debated.
Farshid has to go so we walk out to see the animals. Much of the contingent is citified, failing to see the glamor in walking through cow shit and seeing animals. But the conversation is lively and warm.
Attempts are made, mostly successful, to mount the stirrup-less pony.
The main event is inside, and it’s wonderful. I sit up front to get photos. There are prayers offered, speeches in Dari, real pride and comradery. I shot some video of the slide presentation and speakers.
Courtney Body, a highly respected American journalist and member of Kabul’s expat community approaches to tell me, we should go. I think I am disrespecting the dignitaries by sitting up front, but what she means is, her car is here and I get a free ride back home. I’m already late for my interview with Mohammed, fondly called Kabul’s ‘white hat hacker,’ so I pick up my things and we talk all the way back about terrorism, the future of Afghanistan and how an expat decides it’s time to go.
Days later, the #Kabul Twitter feed suggests the Haqqani network is behind the bombing. The Taliban claim the event was ‘propaganda’ against principles of jihad and Islam. Another tweet, also from Ali Latifi, quotes the Taliban as saying the bombing was against ‘cultural occupation’ and warns others against attending similar events.
As I post this, news posted by Courtney of a Taliban attack on a Peshawar, Pakistan school, killing over one hundred twenty people, most children. She retweets this from @AliaChugtai:
“This is not just Peshawar’s tragedy, this is the nation’s shame, our shame for harboring terrorism for 35 years #PeshawarAttack.
More interviews and video from the event will be posted. Our thoughts with the Peshawar victims.