Taxi to Kandahar
I remember a young man in one of my research groups describing chat radio after 10pm as ‘train wreck’ broadcasting.
As I sat into a taxi last night, a major pile-up was in progress over the car’s airwaves. Why my driver, with a name from South Asia, might like this kind of radio made me wonder. But not enough to care.
‘I hate late night chat radio. Would you mind turning it off?’, I said. With this opening salvo, which did not show me in my best light, I began the first chat I’ve ever had with a man from Afghanistan.
He paused before he told me his homeland. As if I would disapprove, or maybe be afraid, or simply not know where the hell that was.
I know of that city for all of the wrong reasons. Bin Laden. Taliban. All round craziness.
He was planning his last visit to his native city, and was due to make the trip in January 2016.
‘My father is moving to Australia. There will be no reason for me to return.’
I wondered if his living in, and arriving from, Dublin would make him vulnerable on the Kandahari streets. A target of sorts.
‘I’ll wear traditional dress. Two weeks before I go, I’ll grow a beard. Short hair attracts attention in Kandahar’.
I was interested in what the city was like. What kind of day-to-day existence the people have there…
‘There’s no middle class. Most of the wealth comes from opium. We make the best opium in the world’.
He then vented for quite some time about the USA, and how its campaign in Afghanistan has ravaged his country and his people. How the children are now born with deformities. How American interests in being there were about geopolitics, and self-interest.
His tone was balanced. Angry, but without foment.
I chose not to offer a counter argument. A man whose home has been directly affected by the violence of an invading nation has the right to say whatever he wants. Anyway, it seemed to me he was most likely right.
‘I want Trump to win’, he said, bitterly. ‘If Trump wins, America will tear herself apart. Then, they might understand…’
As the car moved through the wet night, I thought about the two dimensional associations I have with Afghanistan. How I saw The Kyber Pass as some part of a movie title. And the Mujahideen as a romantic set of warriors fighting those pesky Russians. And how I conjured Kandahar itself in my mind as part-magic carpet, part-Taliban stronghold, all wrapped up in a name that probably featured in a 70s power ballad.
‘This country has given me everything’, he said. He was speaking about Ireland.
‘It allows me to do what I want. I have a group of taxis. I can progress. I learnt English here and I’ve lived here for 15 years.’
This went some way to explain the late night talk radio.
‘Some people are afraid to say it. Too proud. But I say it to everyone. This country has given me everything’.
I reflected on what he had said. How he also had given something of value to us. I thought about how a man of such different cultural roots could so fully feel a connection with my home. And how the critical gift he was given amounted to opportunity, and little else.
As I left his taxi he turned around to say goodbye, and I saw his face for the first time. He was no more than 32 years old. His youth surprised me, changing the meaning of all he had said. Making it more profound, somehow.
‘Goodnight’, I said. ‘And good luck on your last visit home’.
It was not the smartest choice of words, perhaps. Where is ‘home’ for him? When everything is destroyed, and everyone has left, surely home itself is a train wreck of an idea.