Saturday, November 26, 2016

Love is really at the heart of life, no matter the location!

This is one of the very first books the Borders Book Club read. 
It is one of my favorite books ever...and particularly of those I've read set in Afghanistan. 
While working at Borders I often recommended it as an alternative to The Kite Runner
I particularly appreciate the fact that BUaMS presents a much more diverse 
group of characters, and thereby, I believe, 
is more approachable for many readers than TKR might be. 
One of my favorite first sentences in any book appears here:
My name is Fawad, and my mother tells me I was born under the shadow of the Taliban. (3)
Immediately followed by
Because she said no more, I imagined her stepping out of the sunshine and into the dark,
crouching in a corner to protect the stomach that was hiding me, 
while a man with a stick watched over us, ready to beat me into the world. (3)
Yikes! I guess that sounds about right, given what I've read of the Taliban... In speaking of his friends, Spandi, Jahid, and Jamilla:
...all of us were born during the time of the Taliban, but I only heard my mother talk of them as men making shadows, so I guess if she'd ever learned to write she might have been a poet. 
Instead, and as Allah willed it, she swept the floors of the rich for a handful of afs 
that she hid in her clothes and guarded through the night. (3)

In discussing his friend, Jahid's age:
We don't celebrate birthdays in Afghanistan; we only remember victories and death. (4)
Ah. Life is truly a challenge for so many people in this world. Those of us who have no direct knowledge of such challenges to survival are truly lucky and should be appreciative of our opportunities. Of Jahid, Fawad's mother admonishes him to "keep away"...from that "dirty little thief." 
How my mother actually thought I could keep away from Jahid was anyone's guess.
But this is a common problem with adults: they ask for the impossible 
and then make your life a misery when you can't obey them. 
The fact is I lived under the same roof as Jahid, along with his fat cow of a mother, 
his donkey of a father, and two more of their dirty-faced children, Wahid and Obaidullah. (5)
Ooohhh...I can only guess that Fawad is repeating that which his mother has stated to him regarding the descriptions of his relatives. Her family had lost everything once the Taliban gained rule over the country. 
I was no expert, but it was pretty clear my mother was depressed. (6)
And who wouldn't be? Going from owning your own home to being dependent upon the generosity of your sister and her husband for food and shelter for you and your son, and to have lost your other child, your only daughter. 

It is obvious that respect for others and using respectful language is not the norm for Afghans. At one point Fawad and Jahid are fighting about money and their respective mothers, and Fawad is cruel...
My country can be a tough place to live in if you're poor, but it's even tougher if you're poor 
and ugly. And now Jahid was like stone, a stone that knows he will never find a woman 
who will willingly marry him, but whose father might agree for the right price. (9)
Therefore, Jahid was saving money to purchase a wife as an adult. Though Fawad understood his goal, he still blamed Jahid for not turning over more money to his family to help meet living expenses. How horrifying to realize as a child that the money you collect is vital to your family's survival. Their is no true childhood for these young ones; adult responsibility is thrust upon them very early. And being poor and ugly? Unfortunately, that combination is a huge challenge in any culture/society. 

Fawad describes how vendors would setup tents to sell goods to tourists at a higher price than could be found in the local bazaar.
...if they walked twenty minutes into the heaving mess of Kabul's river bazaar, 
they would find all these items for half the price, but the foreigners were either 
too scared or too lazy to make the journey--and too rich to care about the extra dollars 
that would feed most of our families for a Jahid noted, 
their laziness was good for business. (10)
It is not long before Fawad's mom lands a job as a housekeeper and cook for a group of foreigners living in a house in a 'better,' more protected part of the city, behind barbed wire fencing with armed guards. 

In this house are three foreigners: Georgie, James, and May. Each of them is very different from the other and none of them is Muslim. This is a culture shock to Fawad and his mother, who have never lived with non-believers. Needless to say, Fawad is exposed to way more than he would otherwise have experienced if not living in this particular house. He spends his nights spying on them by creeping throughout the house. One night James allows him to drink beer and he gets drunk, vomiting all over himself, leaving him with a vicious hangover the next day. Consuming alcohol is an Islamic sin, so his mother makes Fawad take a job in Pir "the Madman" Hederi's shop. Per is blind and very old, though wise in his own ways as he talks to Fawad and eventually Jamilla, whom he also hires at Fawad's request. 
Despite Pir's crazy old-man ways,...there was always something a little real to his words. (195)

Fawad falls in love with Georgie at first sight and is quite annoyed at the way Khalid treats her, not calling for days and weeks, then just showing up unexpectedly and unannounced. 
His voice was deep and low, and it suited his face, which was strong and 
framed by thick black hair, a trim black beard, and heavy eyebrows. 
He looked like an Afghan film star, and I hated him for it. (44)
Ah, yes, definitely a bit of jealousy there. Fawad has a love/hate relationship with Haji Khalid Khan throughout most of the book, until he learns that he is NOT a drug runner and completely innocent of the most vile gossip circulating about him. And...that he truly does love Georgie and finally 'does right by her.' 

The Taliban cede control of Afghanistan and the new conquerors are welcomed by the citizens who share their food and wares with the soldiers. However, as Per tells the children, the Taliban were also similarly welcomed "like saviors."
Your mother was right: when they first arrived everybody more or less loved them. 
The country was being bombed to hell by warlords who worked only to fill their own pockets,   
and the people were scared and tired of being scared. 
Suddenly this group of fighters emerged from Kandahar promising order, preaching Islam, 
and hanging child rapists. Who wouldn't welcome them? (47)
The Taliban proved to be "bastards" whose leaders were even illiterate, but they learned to rule through fear, and therefore succeeded in controlling the country. 
God, Afghanistan, and the Taliban were complicated subjects when put together, 
and difficult to make sense of, especially when you were only a boy, because the bottom line 
was this: a good Muslim should never question the ways of the Almighty. 
A good Muslim would trust in God to provide, no matter what, and even if He didn't provide, 
a good Muslim would trust that the hunger, death, fighting, and disease that came to visit 
his door were all part of God's plan. And given that knowledge, the Taliban planning minister 
must have been right and his regime must also have been part of God's plan for Afghanistan. 
And that's quite an argument when you're taking over a country. (49)
And, in my humble opinion, that is one of the dangers of "organized religion": believing that you have absolutely no control or impact upon your own life...that some deity "will provide." Dangerous ground...rife for manipulation.

When a leader tells illiterate people what their 'holy book' says, how can they argue? They cannot since they can neither read nor write. 
...that's why the best weapon the Afghan people have against the Taliban or any other terrible power that may choose to put itself in Afghanistan is education. (50)
Exactly! Otherwise you are sheep willing to be led to the slaughter! As Ismerai, Khalid's uncle says,
Education is the key to Afghanistan's successful future...because it fights ignorance and intolerance and brings the blessing of opportunity. 
When a man has knowledge he has power--the power to make informed decisions; 
the power to distinguish truth from lies, 
and the power to shape his own destiny in accordance with God's will. (50)
I admit to wondering what just happened here in the US! Our country has just "elected" (well, per the electoral college system, anyway) a man who is quite ignorant and simply power-hungry...but I digress. :(

Jahid states it fairly succinctly as he and Fawad consider whether Khalid is into drugs:
Jahid shrugged. Show me a rich man in Afghanistan who isn't mixed up in drugs.
It doesn't make him a bad man, does it? This 'stoop growing poppy' shit is the West's problem,
not ours. It's all their people who are injecting the stuff and contracting AIDS off each other. We're just trying to get by. (68)
I do believe that until Afghans are provided with a decent alternative to growing poppies this agricultural crop will continue to be grown and processed. Although ongoing efforts have and are being made to this end, I'm sure there is much more progress needed. Isn't there always? And what of the 'end users'? He is correct. If 'the West' didn't purchase and use it, there would be little to no market for poppies as a cash crop. I agree with his analysis.

Fawad reflects upon his first Christmas spent with the foreigners...
As I lay in my room, I looked back on the day with all of its color and surprises--
a day when the rich sat with the poor, the Godless with the believers, 
the foreigners with Afghans, the men with women, and the children with adults. 
It was how a perfect world might be if people didn't keep strangling one another 
in rules and laws and fear. Were we really so different from one another? (83-84)
Fawad is wise beyond his years. No, we are not really so different, but we allow ourselves to be convinced that we are...and why do we keep allowing that to occur? I truly believe we have enough people to make a significant difference among humanity that believe we are very much more similar than dissimilar, but we allow political leaders to divide us. The recent US presidential campaign is, sadly, a demonstration of a significant minority even in the United States who are easily manipulated into believing they want to remain isolated as a homogenous group with little to no diversity.

Immediately following this one beautiful day, Fawad's mother becomes ill with cholera. Although this disease acts very quickly and the fatality rate is overwhelmingly high, May and Georgie are able to treat her systems and keep her hydrated so that she is able to survive and fully recover. It is at this time that Fawad learns of May's preference for women and her plans to adopt a baby if she wishes to have a family in the future. He learns it is possible in the US for same-sex couples to marry and make a life together just as any heterosexual couple. This conversation shocks Fawad who decides
I always knew the West was filled with crazy ideas, like scientists 
believing we all come from monkeys, but this was just incredible. 
I decided...I'd write to President Karzai to warn him. 
There could be such a thing as too much democracy, 
and he should be made aware of that fact. (92)
Oh, I had to laugh at this realization! I could easily understand how shocking such revelations might be to a boy of about 10 years of age who had led a very sheltered life, living only among those who believed and behaved as he was being raised to do. 😮

Fawad must remain in the house while his mother convalesces at a neighbor's house until she has regained her strength and can return. During this time, Fawad defends May's honor, realizes that one of the guards at the house loves his mother, and forms closer relationships with all three of the foreigners, particularly with Georgie. And then...tragedy really does strike, in the form of a bomb set off in the market place and shots being fired at Haji Khan. Fawad learns about the death of one friend and the near death of another friend, and the power of love. Fawad comes to the realization that
I could see that away from the politicians and their arguments, 
away from the suicide bombers and their murders, 
and away from the soldiers and their guns, people were good. 
Afghan people were good... I knew I had to try to hold on to at least that truth. (208)
Truer words were never spoken or written. 
Though not just Afghan people, ALL people the world over...are good.
We must not allow anyone to override this one truth. 
We all fight the same battles to survive and thrive.
Each of us must overcome challenges to do so.
We are definitely much more similar than dissimilar.
We are one, in the end.

I am so very glad to have revisited this wonderful book as part of 
Bex's Re-Readathon #4 this past summer!

I can hardly wait for my interview with Andrea Busfield!

I will also re-read her second book, 

And I am so anxious to read 
her newest release, 

What is one of your favorite books
set in Afghanistan?

Happy reading

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