The Taliban Shuffle
Strange Days in Afghanistan and PakistanBook - 2011
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"I was not a brave child. I was convinced that death lurked behind every corner, perhaps the most unlikely future foreign correspondent ever born, the most improbable person to contend with suicide bombs and the real threat of nuclear war. I was scared of the dark, of my dreams, of nuclear weapons, of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who reminded me of Darth Vader. I was a neurotic, everything-o-phobic child, always convinced that any health problem was the dreaded cancer, always worried about stranger-danger. The peppercorns in cotto salami, and particularly the bluish meat surrounding them, I deemed poisonous and excised with a sharp knife. Halloween candy -- a deadly mix of sugar, poison, and razor blades, to be tested first on my brother or our dog. Mushrooms -- off-limits, ever since the elephant king in the Babar cartoon died from eating a bad one. Brown pop -- it could kill me, even though I had no idea where that thought came from, maybe the Mormon on my softball team."
"Afghanistan was the so-called Graveyard of Empires, a pitiless mass of hard mountains and desert almost the size of Texas that had successfully repelled invaders like the Brits and the Soviets and seemed amenable only to the unforgiving people born to it. Men learned to fight like they learned to breathe, without even thinking. They fought dogs, they fought cocks. They fought tiny delicate birds that fit in a human hand and lived in a human coat pocket, and they bet on the results. They fought wars for decades until no one seemed to remember quite what they were fighting for. The national sport was essentially a fight, on horseback, over a headless calf or goat. Over the years, whenever Afghan men would tell me that they were tired of fighting, looking weary and creased, I would have only one response: Sure you are."
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