If only all goodbyes could be said with a gif.
There was this girl up on the wall, and they were drinking to her. Cheers, toasts, salut, and all that. I wanted to be that girl.
An afternoon nap led to a strange dream. I was in someone’s house, cooking spicy spareribs. I’ve never been in that kitchen before, but I seemed familiar with it, it looked like a combination of all the kitchens in all the houses I’ve lived in through the years.
The spareribs were done, and I was sitting on the counter with the laptop typing away, when my ex suddenly came in. Don’t ask which ex, I’m not telling. He went straight to the pan of spareribs on the stove, lifting the lid and sniffing with his eyes closed. Then he turns to me and says’ “Why are you not sharing this with me?” I was silent. He glares at me, then pouts. He goes to the counter, takes out a plate and a fork and helps himself to the spareribs. In between bites he keeps muttering, “It’s so good, so good!”
This is when I woke up from the dream, disoriented to find myself in bed instead of the kitchen. It felt strangely erotic. And now I am hungry.
Yesterday evening, I shared a hotel limo with a Palestinian woman and her 7 year old son, Omar. There were no taxis available at the hotel that night because it was Iftar, when the Muslims break the day long fast, and everyone was busy feasting.
The lady said she and her son were passing thru Dubai from a trip to Palestine, on their way back home to California. She was dressed in an abaya, but her face was not covered, only her hair. Her son was dressed in western clothes, and spoke only English, as far as I could tell. We got to talking in the hotel lobby after she asked me if it was my first time to come to Dubai. I told her I was passing thru as well, and that Dubai is my hub for travel coming from Afghanistan. She couldn’t quite believe that I worked there.
She and her son had an easy, loving banter — Omar was very well behaved, not once did she have to scold or raise her voice at him. He shook my hand graciously when I introduced myself to him and asked his name. He had very beautiful brown eyes, with long, sooty lashes.
I asked them to share the limo with me as we were all going to the mall anyway. The lady was glad to have company and readily accepted. They wanted to see the Aquarium, so I decided to go to Dubai Mall as well. On the drive over the lady would point out landmarks and buildings to her son. At night, the Burj Khalifa was lit up, a silver sword rising from the vast, twinkling desert. Omar said, “It looks awesome, mom!”
As we sped by the traffic-less streets, Omar looked out the window, mouth open at the sights. It gave me a new appreciation for this city that I would pass by so often, seeing it now through this boy’s eyes. It made me miss my sons, made me instantly fond of this dark eyed little boy.
Passing by yet another skyscraper, Omar pointed to it and said, “Mom, I wanna go up there, can I go up there?
His mom laughed and said, “Oh sweetie, you can go wherever you want.” She turned to me and gave me a smile, her dark eyes sparkling. I knew exactly what she meant, and I smiled back.
A few lines to mark the Lenten season.
The Sudden Death of Stars
the sudden death of stars
light breaks up, dissipates
and darkness moves in
to become what is missing.
I realise that the sky,
with this one void is not left empty,
other stars blink their brightness
tawdry as whores in sequins
all hours of the day.
death is as cheap, my love.
we shuffle bodies as we utter promises,
and each night we look to the skies
to whisper wishes to the stars
but only the darkness hears.
I tell no one, but it’s been two, no — three months now — that I haven’t been sleeping straight through the night. My sleep is haunted by random thoughts and images, flashing memories that I can’t seem to control.
It’s better when I am at work, because work, mundane though it be, requires a focus that serves to rein in the random thoughts. But at night, the controls fall away and my consciousness becomes a dark, swirling current that sweeps me, helpless and drowning in the flood of memories. Sometimes I’m not even sure if the memories are real, or if they are only imagined, a trick of the light, the cunning creations of a mind that wants a different ending to the story that was.
Trick of the light or true, I just wish I could stop the thoughts, it would be such a welcome rest.
Guns are every day objects here, this being a war zone and all. I see them all day, slung across the chests our Gurkha guards, dangling from belts, holstered at the waist, clasped in hand by men walking along the hallways. It’s inevitable of course, that I will have one put into my hands, eventually.
This is the only job I’ve had where it is a requirement to be familiar with guns. They give us classes on guns. We have Safety Day activities that demonstrate weapons handling, unloading, and dry-firing. The first class I had on weapons familiarization was taught by our lead gunner, a huge guy with a shiny bald head. He taught us how to dismantle, load/unload, and aim guns. I have broken down and put back together again an M4 and an M9, whatever good that skill will do me. My dad was thrilled to hear about the experience though, so it makes for an interesting story. I remember that class, I was the only female there and we were fumbling around with a pistol and a rifle. Those things are heavy, what can I say. There was a point in the class where we were told to get your rifles and lie down on the floor.
Of course I was the only one that asked, “Why?” The instructor explained that we should learn how to fire from a prone position. I couldn’t resist teasing him, I said, “But the floor is dirty, I don’t want to get myself all dusty.” He went red in the face, trying not to laugh and not to show any reaction. He said that we were all required to do it, the standard answer to everything. One of the guys in the class, my friend since high school who knew what trouble I could be, pleaded with me, “Just get down on the floor, please.” I did, after all, I’ve had my bit of fun.
They all do take their guns seriously here, I must point that out. As they should, these things take away life at the pull of a trigger.
There was a break-in once at the camp, a raggedly band of Taliban launched a rocket that hit right next door to us, rattling my office windows with such force the blinds shook off most of their dust. A few insurgents were able to breach the wall and the ground attack alarm was sounded. We all went into the bunkers to wait it out in relative safety. In a ground attack of such close proximity, everyone on camp that was authorized to carry a gun had to go into the armory to get one. Gunners and medics were patrolling the camp grounds constantly, most everyone had a weapon. Some of the guys that I am friends with dropped by my bunker to see how I was, telling me to stay inside. All of them had weapons, the glint of the metal reflecting the same glint in their eyes. I thought it was excitement, and it disturbed me somewhat.
My radio, in crackling bursts of static, sent out the announcement from the FOB manager that if anyone breached our camp gates and if that person was not recognized as one of us, they were to shoot on sight. Shoot on sight.
I listened to it, I listened as the message was repeated and I sat still, just sat there looking at the radio. That was the moment when it really became real to me that this is a place where people actually get killed, that a gun here was not just for show, it means death to those at the opposite end of the barrel. Most of all, I realized that here, those who hold a gun are ready to kill.
Deprivation does strange things to people. Case in point: all the Pinoys here on camp who, plied with DIFAC (dining facility) food day in and day out, crave collectively for uga or dried fish. Yes, dilis and danggit, those humble little bits of dried fish that stink when fried, but are salty-crunchy good. Dried fish hits the spot for us Pinoys after months of greasy, under-seasoned American-style food.
I don’t eat dried fish that often at home, but when I do, I usually have dilis, those small anchovies. I stir-fry them briefly with a little brown sugar and chilli powder, then serve the dilis as a side dish to compliment beef nilaga (beef in a clear soup). Yum.
But here in Kabul, where the taste buds are much deprived, uga saves the day. Chow hall food tends to lean aggressively towards the bland. Most days it’s either a medley of meat drowned in unrecognizable sauces or fried everything. Fried potatoes with breaded fried fish, fried pork, fried chicken. For variety there’s extra dry turkey breasts with equally wilted broccoli and carrots. The salad bar has all the same stuff I remember seeing there from two years ago. The exact same kind of lettuce, cut exactly the same way. All the same ingredients laid out in exactly the same spot, the handiwork of an obsessive-compulsive chef, probably.
On some days the food offerings are just depressing, so what do we Pinoys do? We turn to uga. One of the guys goes out to that hidden spot behind the water treatment plant to fry up the smuggled dried stuff, fresh from the checked-in luggage of whoever recently came back from break in the PI. We pilfer those little pats of butter from the chow hall and use that to fry the dried fish in. Butter-fried uga, the humble ingredient elevated to lofty invented cuisine. Depending on the variety of our stash, we also usually have dried squid, and sometimes salted red egg to go with it all. You could say we overkill it a little with the salt. But we gobble up the salty, stinky stuff like it’s foe gras.
Deprivation, it does strange things to you.