A memoir by Ahmad Murtaza
The author is currently writing a memoir about growing up in Afghanistan. This is an excerpt from that work which will be published at a later date.
The situation was unstable in Afghanistan. Every other hour we heard gunfire coming from unknown positions. One sunny day, while I played with my brothers and friends near the river, one of our neighbors, Sayed Qasim, ran towards the Dihbori bridge carrying his PK machine gun in his arms, shouting and yelling. We were playing not far from the bridge and ran towards it too, wondering what he was doing. Qasim began firing his gun across the bridge as if there were enemies there but we didn’t see any. His gun was too heavy for him and his bullets mostly went into the dirt near his feet. We were afraid and wanted to hide ourselves but we didn’t know how.
When he stopped firing his gun, Qasim hobbled towards the river and we could see that his legs were bleeding. He had accidentally shot himself. Everyone ran in different directions. Our mothers screamed to us to come home. When we entered the yard, the door opened and my father appeared holding his gun. He ordered us to go quickly and stay in the corner room.
The sound of distant gunfire became more intense and closer. My mother ran out of the room, looking worried and told us to stay put. I obeyed her until she got the ladder and moved onto the roof. I followed her. When I reached her, she got angry and asked me where I thought I was going. I could not answer. I just took her finger and stood by her looking out at the bridge. Suddenly, I saw my father targeting a car containing men with guns. They could not move because, they were surrounded by the people of the area. They raised their hands and slowly emerged from the car. My father and some other people went and took their guns. When they searched the car they found some golden earrings, rings and necklaces. They discussed what they should do with the gunmen. A tall, thin, angry man said to kill them, which would be a lesson for other people like them. But, the majority wanted to take them into the mosque and let the clergy decide what should be done with them. After questioning the gunmen, the clergy said that they must be released because they belonged to a strong group of Mujahidin. They were released without their guns.
After that, the situation in Kabul became even more horrifying. Different groups of gunmen entered people’s homes, stole their belongings and in some cases, raped the women and girls. The people of our area gathered in the mosque and decided to make bunkers along the roads and at night take turns staying awake, patrolling and guarding the neighborhood. One night when it was my father’s turn to do his duty, I insisted that I had to go with him. My father said “no” and I was about to cry when my grandfather said that he would take me and bring me back with him. My father agreed.
My father wore his military jacket and took his gun on his shoulder then, the three of us went out. We reached the place where my father was posted for the night. After some minutes my father started chanting the word, which others were repeating, Bakhabar O, which means stay alert. He had a flashlight and pointed with it to the next bunker and whoever was there returned the signal and passed it on. The signals had a special meaning that I did not quite understand.
Several weeks later, different gunmen came to our neighborhood and asked the men to join their jihadist political party or leave the bunkers. There were many men under this group’s command and they were strong and well armed. My father discussed these options with the other men of our neighborhood. My father and some of the other men left the party that had been in power and joined this new jihadist group, hoping for peace. The situation was a bit safer after that, but people held onto a kind of self-guarded awareness because they did not trust this new group either.
One day a panzer tank belonging to another military group rumbled into our neighborhood and stopped in front of the Dihbori bridge and asked the new jihadist party’s members to surrender. These two parties could not accept each other or reach an agreement so they began fighting. It was the first time I heard the horrible sound of a rocket. I fell down. My father called to us to stay in the yard and not move for a while because shrapnel could hit us. The two groups fought for hours and eventually we hid in the corner room, which was surrounded by thick walls.
The next day we heard that the commander who had promised to keep our area safe was killed in that battle. He ordered one of his soldiers to shoot the panzer with a rocket launcher but then stood too close behind the soldier and was burned into a piece of coal when he gave the command for the soldier to fire.
About the author: Ahmad Murtaza Ahmadi is an Afghan currently living in Kabul. He started studying anthropology and politics when he was in the 5th class at Marefat Private High School and gradually became more eager to study. He graduated from Kateb University with a degree in Political Science in 2011. He has been working in the Ministry of Higher Education since 2012 and teaches English at Star Educational Society part time.