Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Interpreter II

I had changed my name from Shabir Khan to Bahir Khan. But Mullah Dozakhwal hadn't changed anything. After he had killed and beheaded my interpreter friend Ehsan, I didn't want to kill him with my gun, I wanted to kick him, punch him in the face, jump in the air and throw a back kick in his head. I wanted to punch and kick him so much that he would be bleeding to death. Every time I heard his name, it felt like my vessels would burst in my face from anger. And sadly I did a job in a place that I heard his name every day. Sometimes, by hearing his name, I felt sad to the point of shedding tears. Every day he killed the innocent people of Helmand. I didn't want to hear his name and his ruthlessness every day. I wanted to hear that he was dead. We received reports about his activities from the local people. But we hadn't been able yet to put an end to his name along with his killings of the men, women and children of Helmand.

Mullah Dozakhwal had killed Ehsan a long time ago, but the revenge was alive in my heart. Ehsan was not the first interpreter he had killed, but he had beheaded many young interpreters and government employees.

I had changed my name from Shabir Khan to Bahir Khan. But Mullah Dozakhwal hadn't changed anything. After he had killed and beheaded my interpreter friend Ehsan, I didn't want to kill him with my gun, I wanted to kick him, punch him in the face, jump in the air and throw a back kick in his head. I wanted to punch and kick him so much that he would be bleeding to death. Every time I heard his name, it felt like my vessels would burst in my face from anger. And sadly I did a job in a place that I heard his name every day. Sometimes, by hearing his name, I felt sad to the point of shedding tears. Every day he killed the innocent people of Helmand. I didn't want to hear his name and his ruthlessness every day. I wanted to hear that he was dead. We received reports about his activities from the local people. But we hadn't been able yet to put an end to his name along with his killings of the men, women and children of Helmand.

Mullah Dozakhwal had killed Ehsan a long time ago, but the revenge was alive in my heart. Ehsan was not the first interpreter he had killed, he had beheaded many young interpreters and government employees. Dozakhwal thought the interpreters were the infidels who had had a hand in the slaughter of his father Mullah Dozakhi, which was the truth. Sami had fired the first bullet at a-running-away Mullah Dozakhi in a night operation along with their American and Afghan units, when Dozakhi had gone to the village of his birth to marry a girl by force.

I would get up early mornings with the anger in my heart, revenge on my mind, and hope in my eyes to train. I hadn't lost my black dress from the old days in Kabul to wear. I would kick and punch in the air, with my black dress moving around in the dust. I would train as hard as my anger and revenge would melt with my sweat in the dusty and hot environment of the camp. The soldiers would watch, standing around, marvelling my fighting skills. I fought with the dust.

The soldiers took pictures and showed them to me. I seemed to be dumped in the air. My face and hear were blurred. They showed my reality from inside out. I stood in a corner lost in the dust of the realities. It was like I wanted to fight the devil.

I had returned to Helmand with a different name and, of course, working with a different American unit. Did I want Dozakhwal to know that I had returned? No! Dozakhwal had lost his brother in our operations. He would lose his men every now and then. I had him on my mind every day. I didn't want it to be matched by him doing the same. He thought I was gone after his father injured me by sending a suicide bomber. I wanted to be his nightmares.

When I came face to face with him, the bullets would be exchanged. I wanted him dead any way, but I wanted to see the fear of death in his eyes. They fired from their hiding places and we did from our humvees. The anger and revenge in me would be never met. I sat in the humvee and waited until it finished, which sometimes lasted for days. I didn't have the permission to take part in the fighting.

The closest I got to him was when I heard his chatter over the ICOM radio I was carrying. I imagined him standing in front of me. After a minute he was gone, as I didn't hear his voice any longer. As he had ordered his men, they fired their guns and machine guns at us. I moved to the side a little, sitting in the Mastive vehicle, as the driver charged ahead. That day we fought Dozakhwal throughout the night until the next day. In the morning, we entered the village after the Taliban left. The soldiers clreared the houses the Taliban had entered to take shelter.

We chatted with the locals who had been forced to shelter the Taliban and feed them. I translated between the commanding officer and the locals who didn't know what to talk about first. They said a few words each and left to take care of their terrified children who had left their houses to take shelter outside the village. By looking at the children, I knew why I went back to Helmand. I wanted to be their and feel their pain by listening to them. Where did those children take the night as the shelling continued till the morning? What did they eat? How did they feel? Cold? Hungry? Terrified? How long did they have to wait now until they would be allowed to enter their houses? Maybe another day?

After a few hours the officer ordered his men to leave the village and let the people to get to their homes. My compassion followed the children, leaving me for the anger to take over. It did. I thought the blood vessels in my face would burst open. I knew I was angry. Anger, revenge and love of the children had filled my heart and mind. I needed to be in my room in the camp to lie down and give my thoughts, feelings, and body a rest.

I would return to my room with different feelings, sometimes sad, sometimes happy. Sad, to see the children getting killed in the cross fire or to see them suffering. Happy, to see them going to school or to chat with us in their villages. Even their smiles would tell you about their pain inside. They would laugh for you because you treated them with a few chocolates, but the tone in their laughter would sound sad. They would learn to be happy that much, laughing out a mixture of pain and pleasure.

The camp itself would bring back a lot of different memories from the past. A site located in a remote area, away from everything and everybody, in the middle of a dessert. From my room it would take me one minute to go to the toilets or to the kitchen tent, and about two minutes to walk through the yard. The sight of the mud walls around and the containers would be depressing, but necessary. The walls formed the camp and the containers kept the ammunition inside or the baths and toilets.

Before going to sleep, I remembered what the officer had said about a Swiss journalist coming to visit the camp. The officer had seen her before. She worked in Kabul and wanted to interview the officer and a few soldiers. Did he like her? She would be a lucky woman to be with a likable, well mannered and charming man like him. She would enjoy the campany of a caring young officer who did his job with passion. He loved his job and his men. The way he described the reporter suggested that he liked her. At one point he said he wondered how she would smell like. He smiled, which reminded me of a Hollywood actor who worked in the old cowboy films, who I wouldn't know his name. When he laughed, he would bend his slim body to the front and back a little. He respected his higher ranks and lower ranks than himself. His men talked about him with delight. I liked him and it delighted me every time I saw him or went out on duty with him. He treated his Afghan partners with professionalism and respect, that everyone noticed and enjoyed. I thought such officers would make a difference and he proved that he did. The Taliban feared him, as I heard them over the ICOM mentioning his name with dissatisfaction. They would swear at his name. I smiled thinking about the officer's and the reporter's meeting. I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

I grabbed my black karate dress and held it my hands, thinking you wouldn't be able to flee from your past. I hadn't worn it after leaving kabul to come to Helmand for the first time, many years back. It reminded me of a black day in my life, when I had knocked down Mullah Dozakhi, the father of Dozakhwal, wearing this dress. He laid unconscious on the floor of our club, with a mixture of saliva and blood coming out of his mouth. His broken tooth had flown a few metres away by the last back kick in his cheek. My life wouldn't be the same after that day. Black would suit my days and nights after that day. But life would take us to where we want to be. That day might not have come if I had kept quiet and ignored Dozakhi who beat my master for teacing us a sport that was unislamic.

After giving a last glance at Hasib's bed, I came out the room. The soldiers who were passing by greated me and I did the same. They knew it was time for my training, so they didn't stop to chat longer. As I started the training, I saw the officer walking along with a woman who I thought was the Swiss reporter. That made me curious, so kept an eye on them while training, to see their body languages. But nothing. By now the air around me had turned dusty from kicking the dust in the air. Others who had seen me before every day, would turn their heads to see and go. But those who came to the camp to visit, would come close, standing behind the dust line, to watch. As usual, the loose tips of my sleeves and black belt flew from punching and kicking, looking like the black pegions that flew in the air from the hands of their owners. Mornings would be the favourite time for me, because a morning was the time that would make the rest of my day.

Hasib stood in front of our room, chatting with a few soldiers. He had joined the American unit, before me. He had studied English language literature in the Kabul university. A smart boy with high quality manners. Such a delight to work with. He would keep quiet and listen for as long as you spoke, and then he would express his mind. His father was a professor of English in the faculty of Literature, English department. Well educated, well mannered and a handsome young man. One would wonder why he worked in such a dangerous place for about one thousand dollars a month. But Hasib had a good reason for that. He worked for the same parents who had made their day and night the same to raise him and his siblings, take them to school and help Hasib study in the university. Now his father a dissabled man and his mum sitting at home to look after his dissabled father and siblings. An average way of living in Afghanistan. Either the father or the brother in a house would be earning the living for the rest of the family. Mums would be the housewives. And girls would be helping along with their mums until being wedded at an early age. Hasib thought he was lucky to be working there. He had gone to Kabul a few days ago to ask after his family, who were well, but worried for his safety. His father had asked a friend in the ministry of Foreign Affairs to find a job for his talented I grabbed my black karate dress, thinking you wouldn't be able to flee from your past. I hadn't worn it after leaving kabul to come to Helmand for the first time, many years back. It reminded me of a black day in my life, when I had knocked down Mullah Dozakhi, the father of Dozakhwal, wearing this dress. He laid unconscious on the floor of our club, with a mixture of saliva and blood coming out of his mouth. His broken tooth had flown a few metres away by the last back kick in his cheek. My life wouldn't be the same after that day. Black would suit my days and nights after that day. But life would take us to where we want to be. That day might not have come if I had kept quiet and ignored Dozakhi beating my master for teacing us a sport that was unislamic.

After giving a last glance at Hasib's bed, I came out the room. The soldiers who were passing by greated me and I did the same. They knew it was time for my training, so they didn't stop to chat longer. As I started the training, I saw the officer walking along a woman who I thought was the Swiss reporter. That made me curious, so kept an eye on them while training, to see their body languages. But nothing. By now the air around me had turned dusty from kicking the dust in the air. Others who had seen me before every day, would turn their heads to see and go. But those who came to the camp to visit, would come close, standing behind the dust line, to watch. As usual, the loose tips of my sleeves and black belt flew from punching and kicking, looking like the black pegions that flew in the air from the hands of their owners. Mornings would be the favourite time for me, because a morning was the time that would make the rest of my day.

Hasib stood in front of our room, chatting with a few soldiers. He had joined the American unit, before me. He had studied English language literature in the Kabul university. A smart boy with high quality manners. Such a delight to work with. He would keep quiet and listen for as long as you spoke, and then he would express his mind. His father was a professor of English in the faculty of Literature, English department. Well educated, well mannered and a handsome young man. One would wonder why he worked in such a dangerous place for about one thousand dollars a month. But Hasib had a good reason for that. He worked for the same parents who had made their day and night the same to raise him and his siblings, take them to school and help Hasib study in the university. Now his father a dissabled man and his mum sitting at home to look after his dissabled father and siblings. An average way of living in Afghanistan. Either the father or the brother in a house would be earning the living for the rest of the family. Mums would be the housewives. And girls would be helping along with their mums until being wedded at an early age. Hasib thought he was lucky to be working there. He had gone to Kabul a few days ago to ask after his family, who were well, but worried for his safety. His father had asked a friend in the ministry of Foreign Affairs to find a job for his talented and educated son, but after a few months now there wasn't any news.

Hasib raised his hand to greet me, which made me feel I had a good friend living with me in the same room. That would make a difference for both of us living in that camp. We both felt taken care of by a friend who cared, something that worked the same for everyone in the camp. We needed each other more than everyone else. Living there would feel lonely, but going outside would be an ongoing drama. People would need one another in the time of difficulty and happyness. But we needed each other because of the first one. In such a place, you would be able to smile, but you wouldn't be happy.

The difference between our day and night and the people who lived a normal life was that they would go out to enjoy themselves on a Saturday or they would stay at home watching a film all together or cook food to eat together. But Hasib prepared himself to go out on this day on day patrol, along with the Platoon commander and his men. He needed to do his breakfast before mounting the Mastive to take him to the nearby villages. He rushed out the kitchen running towards the vehicles that were ready to go. The officer, Alan, helped him get in the back of the Mastive that he was going to sit in the front. After checking with his men to see their radios worked, he went into the front seat. The doors closed. The gunners on top of each vehicle stayed vigilant from that moment. And they left.

After talking to a few soldiers for a minute or so, I went back to my room, which didn't look that lonely after Hasib was back the night before, after a week of staying with his family in Kabul. Hasib had become my family now. There we lived for each other. Our families lived away. We shared that room for long enough now that we could call it home. Me and Hasib would be the family members in that home. We shared a lot together like two family members. How would it be like living there on your own, without someone speaking your language and share the same culture as you. Our room would have that warm feeling of a family home when we were both there chatting, cooking or resting. Everything we did would bring back memories from when I had worked with the other interpreters in my first time work in Helmand. How I had recovered from that suicide attack that had left me with cuts and injuries all over my body, would be a relief to talk about with Hasib. Something that I hadn't done with Ehsan and others, as I left soon after I recovered. I had experienced something that not one in a million would experience in a lifetime. Now I had the chance to share it with the right person in the right place. No one else would understand the moments you struggle between life and death, that you witness for a moment. You would die to share that moment that you had experienced. You wouldn't be able to draw that moment or write it on a piece of paper for someone to see or read. That moment needed to be felt by putting yourself in that place, where I and Hasib were, not in a pub or a teahouse.

"Hello Bahir", the officer said, standing at the door, as I was waiting for Hasib to come back.
"Hello," I said. "Come in."
"No thanks, I am waiting for a call."
"Is everything ok?"
"Just wanted to say hello."

What did the officer want to say that he didn't get the time to do so? Later I would find out that the Taliban had attacked the convoy that had gone out in the morning. Hasib arrived back at around midnight. Hasib had intercepted Dozakhwal's chatter with his men before attacking their convoy. The fighting had lasted from morning till midnight. The Taliban had fired from behind some mud walls. The soldiers had taken cover around their Mastives and fired back. Hasib had lied down to the ground holding the ICOM radio to hear what Dozakhwal would say. Dozakhwal had tried to order his men by using their codes. Machine gun and gun fires had been exchanged throughout the day.

Hasib had seen many of such fighting, but every one of them was new to him, as if he had never seen it before. Was it not because he felt differently every time he experienced that? Having to feed his siblings and send them to school, scared him one time and terrified him another time. What if he died? He loved his mum and dad. But every time he saw himself in the war with the Taliban, he thought that would be the end. Hasib thought about it every time he laid down helpless towards the barrages of light and heavy artillery. When Hasib arrived at around midnight, he thought I was asleep, but how could I sleep? He smiled by seeing me sitting at the table waiting for him. I knew what he needed after that long day. He took off his military uniform and sat in front of me.

"How was the patrol?" I asked. I imagined how it was like, but I wanted to make him take out a little of his tiredness by saying a few words out, before going to sleep.

I and Hasib talked for about an hour before going to sleep. I made us a tea and drunk while talking. It felt nice to see him forgetting about the day. It was not the death that scared him, but it was the different feelings that were the real killers. What would his family do without him? His only chance was to get a job in the ministry of the Foreign Affairs, but by now Hasib had lost hope. I looked at Hasib's bed. He had gone to sleep now. I didn't mind crying and shedding some tears. I would do everything for him. We covered each other when one of us was not there. We cooked for each other. We had proved what the friendship meant to us. We valued the time we pass with one another. He wanted me to visit his family in Kabul, but that had to wait. One of us would have to stay behind when the other one was away. I closed my eyes to sleep, thinking of the day ahead tomorrow.

In a few days Hasib would leave for Kabul to see his family. But I would lose him for a week, the only family that I had there. The officer had a different thing on his mind, though, knowing how much I wanted to go to Kabul to see Hasib's family. He would bring two of their reserved interpreters from the main camp in Lashkargah, and let us go to Kabul. I and Hasib wouldn't fit in our dresses from happiness. Such a marvellous idea, we thought. I thought, I would be able to wear my civilian clothes after a long time, which hung there wasted in the hungers. Hasib felt himself over the moon to take me home with him. We looked forward to a week of doing different things in the city, surrounded by people and a new atmosphere. In other words to go to Kabul and do nothing.

Hasib and I packed up our clothes for Kabul as the day arrived. Three Mastives would take us to Lashkargah. In Lashkargah, we would take a Helicopter that would go to Bagram airport, along with a few military personnel. As we arrived in Lashkargah, we went in to main camp. The Mastives left back for Nadali.

The crew of the Helicopter greeted and guided us in. I and Hasib sat next to each other. The other people who we didn't know, a few of them wearing civilian clothes and the rest military, sat in different seats next and in front if us. We all shook heads to each other to great. As the Helicopter was taking off, it made a loud noise, so nobody was able to talk. Soon that sound subsided and everyone engaged in talking with the person next to him. With the sound of the Helicopter engine in the background, that would be the most one could shout to speak. The rest of us wouldn't hear the person who didn't talk to us. I and Hasib talked to each other throughout the flight untill we arrived in Bagram airport. The crew guided everyone out.

We would be flying back to Helmand with the same Helicopter in a week. We felt safe for the first time outside the camp. Although, we carried our W. Smith guns, but we didn't think about carrying it much. Our guns would remain in our pockets untouched throughout the week, we hoped. No one knew about us in Kabul apart from our family, relatives and a few friends. We hadn't said to anybody about our visit to Kabul. Besides, Kabul was a different place, safer and far away from the Taliban bases. That was the truth. But as soon as we left the airport, it felt like we had left the camp. I thought of my gun. Hasib took his hand to touch it in his pocket. A flashbak of the past struck me when I and Ehsan encountered a Taliban checkpoint on the way back from my visit to Ehsan and Sami in another area of Helmand. The day that I injured Mullah Dozakhi who had joined the fight to capture us alive, then behead us in front of his men and upload the vedio on YouTube.

He wouldn't capture us to behead that day, but I also killed his man who tried to run towards us and shoot. Dozakhi never walked straight after that day as I had hit his leg with a bullet. In other words he died that day as he lost his pride by losing his way of walk in the hands if an interpreter. That broken leg doomed his life in a way until he died in an ambush when he was trying to flee with that leg. Everybody knew he was lame. Sami had seen him in that encouter, so no way he could have pretended to be a local. He died that day when he tried to marry his next wife in his birthplace. That day Dozakhwal promised to kill every interpreter and their families. The first interpreter he killed was Ehsan. Sami would be the next if hadn't left Helmand.

Hasib and I knew that the feeling was back. It wouldn't leave us alone. As we were waiting for a taxi, we kept our hands close to our guns. Hasib looked at me and smiled, which meant we wouldn't feel safe nowhere in our own homeland, so we had better be prepared. We accepted the fact and jumped into the taxi, with a different feeling. We wanted to enjoy staying in Kabul, but we would be aware of who we were and what we did.

Sitting in the Taxi along with Hasib, reminded me of the day when Sami wanted to take me back to Sangin. Everything was repeating itself. Nothing was different. As Sami and I arrived somewhere midway to Sangin, we encoutered a Taliban checkpoint, where the hell broke free. The Taliban wanted to capture us alive, but I had a different thing on my mind. After I saw Dozakhi ordering his men like a mad man to capture us alive, I forgot about the fighting, about Sami and myself. I thought of Dozakhi, which would save our life. Hadn't Dozakhi been hit, his men would be closing on us in one more push, but the bad news broke their hearts and stopped them. After I killed the other man, that destroyed them. When the forces reached us from the camp, they fled.

The thoughts of the past had blinded my eyes to see the nature. The scenery on each side of the road that I knew from when I was a child. The series of the mountains on each side, the grape fields and greenary around were as familiar to me as something of my own. Hasib felt the same by looking around from the windows of the taxi. We both knew the feeling of being there. It was love towards something that we had grown up with. But for the moment a distraction from the other side of our past life. That nature had been in and out of the war for decades. It was as malnourished as our nature. It hadn't known anything but being passed from one destructive hands to another. It grew in the middle of the fire.

By reaching the Khairkhana pass, we got the first glance of the city. The city where I and Hasib had grown up. We didn't have to drive long as Hasib's family lived in Bagh Bala, Karte Parwan district, somewhere under the Kabul continental hotel. We paid the taxi driver and he left. What a familiar feeling? The streets, the people and the houses. Everything and everybody seemed to talk to me, something that I missed. Some of the houses still had the marks of the bullets on them from when the Mujahin had fought each other in Kabul. Many years gone, but the people hadn't recovered from those days. Not only the houses but the people themselves showed the marks of tiredness on their faces. They looked confused about their life. A few of them greeted us and passed by. People walked around showing the walk of a new life, but things were gloomy. Lack of jobs, uncertainty, and instability had marked every family's life in a dark kind of way, which was obvious in Hasib's family life. Hasib lived away from family and worked in a place that could kill him any day. His father dissabled sitting at home without any hope for the future, his brother and sisters went to school in an environment full of uncertainty. Hasib worried that his work might affect his family's life, especially his brothers and sisters who went to school. That was the real picture of life in that street. Life went on despite all the blockades on its way. Hasib's family knew were coming, so his brothers and sisters had lined up in front of the main door waiting for us. Hasib's two brothers and two siters welcomed his brother and me as soon we reached them. They stood there in a line shaking hands with me and hugging their brother. One of the two sisters walked me into their home, the rest walked in with their brother. She looked at me twice on the way, which showed how much they wanted to see me. His father, professor Karim Anwary, waited there in his wheelchair, unable to walk after suffering from a long time backaces which left him disabled in the end. I read in his eyes how much he wanted to see me along with his son. Hasibs's mum who also thought Dari language in the local primary school, gave up her job to be there for his husband and children. She shook my hand and took me to sit on the sofa in their living room, asking Sita, Hasib's sister to fill my cup with tea. All kind of nuts and Afghan sweets were on the table, a typical Afghan way of welcoming a guest. The atmosphere was getting warmer from one minute to another as they started talking to. I found them a welcoming warm family. Among them I had forgotten about outside world, especially mine and Hasib's. How much I wanted to live a life like that, in a house with my family. But we know how soon it goes by when you are happy. A week was gone in Kabul living with Hasib's family, but the memories would stay for as long as I see them again. They behaved all the same, although they were different individual with different way of thinking. Every one of them had built a version of the same characteristics, which reminded of a 'say' which said, 'If a river is not muddy from the source, it wouldn't be untill the end'.

We didn't go out to see the city. We felt happy and safe at home. We didn't get a break from Hasib's family life to do anything else. In a way that was what everybody wanted. They wanted me and Hasib for themselves as their family and we wanted the same. Sometimes, we looked out the windows to see outside. Baghe Bala is located in an elevated part, so it provided a view of some parts of the city. From one window we looked at the continental hotel and the greenary down the hill surrounding the hotel. And from another window we saw the buildings, hills and roads.

On the way back to Bagram airport, I relived the time I passed with Hasib's family. That first day appeared in front my eyes, then when we went inside. The food I ate and the attention I received was special to that family. They treated me no less than Hasib. They knew my family lived away and I didn't have the chance to meet them. And who knew when I would be able meet them. By Hasib sitting by my side, the memories of the past week would be livelier, warmer. They demonstrated the life of a modern Afghan family. The house Hasib's family lived was huge. It had a living room, a kitchen and a bath in the first floor and one room for each of the family members in the second floor. We stayed in Hasib's room having late nights talking about everything. We drunk black tea and talked, something that we both loved. He played Afghan music on his tape recorder for us to enjoy. His mum made sure we had enough nuts and raisins to consume with tea. Her mum told us about how she enjoyed teaching her students, but those days were gone and wouldnt happen again. His dad talked about politics and he would like to see the country governed. He valued education and considered it to be the basis of every government's policy. His mum shared the same view. His dad described how his backaches started and got worse untile it crippled him in his legs. The doctors thought that it might have started with his excessive standing to teach the students, which he also agreed. It was his love and passion towards teaching that put him in a wheelchair, which he didn't regret. He had brought up his children to be educated and polite. His two daughters and sons went through their teenage time, which was mostly spent on education. He would sit on his wheelchair all day remembering the old days at the university, or talking to his family. What else did he want? Once he got a job for Hasib in Kabul, then he would live at peace.

As soon as we drove down the Khairkhana pass towards Bagram, the quiet and dry environment reminded of Helmand. It felt like we were in Helmand; it felt like we needed our guns. Hasib felt the same. The taxi driver was looking at us from the mirror. It felt like were in a another country unaware of anything, like an stranger. Hasib kept looking at me and I did the same, which meant were checking to see that we were both on the same track of our mind. Yes we did, which reminded me of him talking about us going back to work. He didn't want to leave home. He wanted to find a job in Kabul and stay there. We arrived in Bagram before noon. The weather was nice with a sunny and windy day, typical for those parts if the country. We grabbed our bags and went inside the airport, which was under the control of the Americans, with newly built facilities for their army personnel to use and a prison to keep the Taliban detainees. After passing by those facilities, we arrived where we had landed. The Helicopter was ready, and so were the people who wanted to go to Helmand.

"Hello," it said. The sound I heard came from nowhere. I didn't expect anybody. And That sound took my surprise.
"Hello," I said back to the sound, before seeing the person.
"I am Helen,"she said.
"I am sorry, I didnt realise."
"No, don't worry I didn't expect you to."
"My name is Bahir and this is Hasib."
"I knew your names. The officer told me that you were here."
"The officer?"
"Yes, your officer from Helmand."

We hadn't finished that the blades in Helicopter started turning and a loud noise followed. Time to fly back to Helmand I thought. We mounted and sat in our seats. The woman sat in a seat in front of us.

"Do you know her?" Hasib asked.
"Yes now that she has taken her scarf off her head."
"Who is she?"
"She came to interview the officer and a few soldiers. She is a Swiss reporter."
"You didn't recognise her?"
"No, we didn't talk. I saw her walking with the officer far from me. I noticed her curly blond hair."
Hasib looked at her and said, "I wonder what she is thinking right now," which reminded me of when the officer had said "he wondered how she would smell like". I laughed.

As we arrived back in the camp, the officer wanted to tell us somethig. But he needed to confirm it before telling us the results. We went back to our room and wondered. Hasib thought it was something to do with the interviews of the Swiss reporter. Maybe she wanted to interview an Afghan official and we needed to be there. But I didn't know what it was. We had been to Kabul and back, taking a week off work. Maybe, now it was the time to pay back. I thought we might have to go on a clearance operation, but that was our job. It would be clear today or tomorrow whatever it was.

Now we had learned what that news was, which gave me and Hasib a mixed feeling. The officer had mentioned it to one of the reserved interpreters, Rafih Herawi, who would be working in our camp from now on. I had seen Rafih a couple times before, whose English was basic. He was born in Herat and worked as an interpreter for many years. Not a bad man, but a little passive and insecure. I thought maybe it was his English skills to blame for his insecurity. Why would I mind someone who would be working with me. Hasib kept looking at me and him without saying anything. Rafih left for the main camp to get his staff and come back tomorrow. I unpacked my bag and hung my clothes in the hungers. Hasib didn't. He didn't know what to say and what to do. The news had shocked us both. We needed to wait until the officer confirmed it.

The day after Rafih came and Hasib left. The officer had confirmed with their embassy in Kabul to transfer Hasib within twenty four hours for a salary of three times more than now.

Hasib would be working as a translator for the Embassy, joining the embassdor in the official meetings with his Afghan counterparts. I used to think that Hasib shouldn't be working in the camp. Now that he was leaving, I was not sure if I wanted him to leave. It would be hard to be without him for a few weeks, but I would get used to it, realising that that was what he deserved. He deserved to leave this camp and be close to his family. That was what the officer thought about him. He fitted that job, and the officer wouldn't hesitate to get him in there. I and Hasib didn't believe our ears after hearing that news. We both thought of the few months we had spent together rather as a family than a colleague. Hasib thought that after his departure I would be taking the burden of the work on my own. With Hasib being around, I felt supported and covered. Now it would be different.

Hasib packed his staff and waited until the officer came to take him. I escorted him till the gate. Everybody gathered there to say goodbye. Hasib mounted the vehicle that would take him to Lashkargah. We said goodbye one more time before he left.

We arrived at the camp at around midnight after a four days of clearance operation along the Helmand river. Many of Mullah Dozakhwal men died or were captured with the help the Afghan army, police and the locals who were tired of having to feed, shelter and give money to Dozakhwal. The Afghan officers called it a successful operation and thanked our unit and the units that had joined from the other parts of Helmand, especially for the close air support of the American airforce. The Afghan police took care of the captured Taliban, and the Afghan army spearheaded the operation, entering the vilages and the suspected houses first before the American units went in to deal with any further threats. The police asked the locals about the Taliban whereabouts and hiding outs before the army went and did the action. After the operation, the police remained in the area to further help with the security and to take care of any backlashes.

We went into many suspected houses and captured the Taliban who hid there to disrupt the normal life of the locals by attacking the local police or army, to place the roadside bombs or to ask people for food and money. We found many weapon cashes from investigating the captured Taliban by the Afghan police, which contained RPGs, materials for making boms, Many kinds of light and heavy machine guns and guns. The police asked our units to help with transferring the weapons to the Afghan police base in Lashkargah. Our units provided them with the right vehicles to transfer them. I and Rafih helped along with listening to Dozakhwal chatter with his men and passed them to the commanding officer. Also in connecting the locals to our unit officers and soldiers our roles proved to be essential, as without our existence lots of things would have been misinterpreted between the local people and the American unit which would cause backlashes in between. We played the fundamental role of calming things down in a time of a sensitive operation, which would cause displacement of the locals, casualties and death. People demanded answers for our actions against the Taliban. We explained the importance of the operation in bringing a long lasting security to the area. Some of them sweared and shouted at us after their cattle being killed or their houses being damaged or we walked over their lands. We answered them in their own language and apologised, promising to compensate them for their losses.

We had gone through a four days of a day and night operation, which had left us with no energy to do anything else. I and Rafih went to our room to rest, but we wouldn't. We lied down with our minds playing its recordings of the last four days, from the first till the last, second by second and minute by minute.

Rafih thought about what he had witnessed and I did about mine, as we had taken two different routes along the bank of the river. Two different routes with many different scenarios and happenings. Other interpreters with the other units would have their own experiences. Cold dark nights and long tiring days with lots of searchings, talking, waiting. The hardest of all to enter the houses to find out about the residents, Taliban or not. Many houses we entered during the night would come out to be normal locals without anybody to do anything with the Taliban. Terrified women and children who would cringe in fear by seeing the overloaded solders with their guns pointed at the men in the house. Searching the men the getting the women separated in a room with the help of the Afghan army and police proved to be a daunting job. We took part in connecting the locals with our officers or the Afghan army and police. So hard to concentrate as many people would talk at one time and everyone of them wanted their messages to be heard.

Four days before the operation, the night before the officer came to inform me and Rafih that we would be going out the day after. In the early morning, the officer came to fitch us, making sure we jad not fallen asleep. We followed him to where the vehicles were. The officers and soldiers stood their around a model of the area they would be clearing. He explained how the operation would be conducted and who else would be taking part. The officer warned his men about the challenges ahead, especially in dealing with the civilians who would be part of the operation every minute of the way. Their houses, lands and cattle would have to be taken care of, as they didn't want the locals to turn against them by making these mistakes. He mentioned about the Afghan police and army role by leading the operation. He pointed at each officer who would be working along with an Afghan counterpart from the Afghan army. The plan would be to clear the vilages along the river bank from the existence if the Taliban. He asked his men to engage with the locals and with the help of me and Rafih to extract the right information from them or listen to their concerns. The local would be the best source of information, as they were awere of what was going there. The officer named the villages they were going to clear. In the he asked his men to ask him their questions.

"What do we do with the injured Taliban?"
"We treat them like our own casualties. The Afghan police and army casualties are also our responsibility as they don't have the right resources."
"Do we enter the houses we search, or is it the Afghans' job, we just stay out to provide security?"
"We have to do our own assessments of the situation, so a few of us will go inside. But we will ask the Afghan partners before doing that. I am sure they will need our help."
"How would the locals react to our presence in their villages? I am worried that we might get into trouble with them."
"Don't do anything without the help of the Afghan police and army or our interpreters. They will have to take the lead, not us."
"What do we do if we suspect someone as Taliban?"
"The question is how do we suspect someone. All the locals look like the Taliban. This is a sensitive question. And has to be dealt with in a sensitive manner. We cannot lose the support of the locals. The Afghan partners will have to step up in that regard. Our role would be to support them."

After the briefing, everybody turned to their respective vehicles to mount them. On our way to merge with the Afghan army and police before entering the area of operation, I talked with the soldiers in the back of the Mastive about the Taliban and the local people. They asked a few questions about the Afghan army and police, which I answered. After that a silence followed throughout the way, nothing said nobody. The officer in the front seat talked on his radio with his men. The soldiers remained pensive contemplating on the task ahead or remembering their families like I did in such situations. They remained cold and rigid like they didn't exist there. Did they take the operation that hard? The answer would be no. They did their jobs in the best way possible. What worried them was something that worried everyone of us. We would be facing an unclear and messy situation having to deal with the civilians by knocking on their doors, kicking them or breaking into their houses if they didn't open. Did they have the choice to say no? Not at all. Did we have any other choice? No! All these uncertainties would be repeating themselves in each operation, no matter how big or small operation.

In a Mastive vehicle, you would have less chance of seeing anything outside, so I remained in the dark about any of the deads going on outside. At some point the vehicle stoped. The officer dismounted from the front seat, asking me to go with him. As we arrived in the assembly point everybody had assembled there, the Afghan army officers and police and the officers from the other American units. The Afghan army and police would lead the the operation taking us to the appointed area. The Afghan police, AUP, would be conducting the investigations with the captured or suspected Taliban, the Afghan army, ANA, would be dealing with any threat from the Taliban, the American units would be supporting the AUP and ANA, by providing air support, in case of any Taliban attack, casavac, and providing facilities that the Afghan units lacked, medics and medicine, for instance. In return, the AUP and ANA would share any information they received about the Taliban hideouts and the suspected Taliban. The AUP and ANA would remain in the villages after the American units evacuted them to take care of the displaced people and to further security.

We left the vehicles there and followed the ANA and AUP in a scattered order in the barren territory ahead. Soon, most of the American and Afghan soldiers disappeared taking a different rout and a small number of them remained there leading our unit to the appointed area. The officer got some time from his radio contacts to talk to me walking next to him.

"How are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm fine, youself?"
" Thanks Bahir. Teach me a few Pashto words. We hope to talk to a Mullah at some point. How do I start after greeting him?"
"Tell him, Senga Ye."
"That's right."

The officer disconnected himself with me and talked on the radio to talk with the other units to find out about their positions. We followed the Afghan ANA and AUP who took an indirect way to the desired territory walking through some remote bushy areas along the Helmand river. According to the officer we needed a few more hours to reach there, which would be about nine or ten in the evening.

Soon hearing a fire slowed down our pace from ten to noil, as we ducked for cover under the trees and walls around. The officer looked around to see everyone was on their chest on the ground, from a half laid-down position, taking his head up to see. We wouldn't know what was going on unless the Afghan officers informed us, with whom we didn't have any radio contact. The dark made it difficult to see where the ANA and AUP officers were. We kept quiet as we didn't want the Taliban to find out our positions and fire. The officer waited, the only correct decision at that point. We didn't hear any more shots, which suggested tbe Taliban didn't know about our positions, otherwise they wouldn't have missed a second in suppressing us with the RPGs and heavy machine guns, taking the chance on us. We didn't hear anything from the Afghan men. The officer took me with him to get to their positions and ask after them. They had heard the shot as we did, but didn't know where it had come from. They suggested that we wait for a while and then continue on our way, as we are losing time to reach the area. Where that shot came from and from whom remained unsolved.

The Afghan officers ordered everyone to go. We walked and eventually we got the pace we had had before hearing the shot. It was getting darker minute by minute, but we were near to get to the first village we wanted to contact. The officer tended to his PRR (Personal Role Radio) to order his men what to do when getting closer to tbe village. They would watch the ANA and AUP while they enter the village, but not entering until the ANA officers asked them to do so. The officer would make radio contacts with the other units who had circulled the area from all sides to deter the Taliban from attacking the searching units from the outside. The Afghan officers didn't wait long to go and and knock on the first house. Now it was about after midnight. We heard the knocking on the door, but didn't see who opened the door. After that, we heard shouting, which said, "We are not the Taliban, what do you want from us?"
"We will find out about that, we need to search this house."

Then everything and everybody hid in the dark, which made the officer and us wonder. The officer wished he had provided the ANA and AUP with a radio set, so they this dead moments wouldn't happen every now and then, but it was too late. I stayed next to the officer in case he wanted to know anything or take me to talk to the Afghan officers. After a while one of the Afghan officers asked for our help in securing the building while they were investigating the men in the house, as they didn't have enough man power to do so. The building was a typical Helmandi mud-walled house with many rooms on the two sides of the yard. No women and children existed in the house which made the Afghan officers suspicious, therefore they asked us to help. A few soldiers went up the roofs using the ladders. Some of them stood in the yard to keep an eye on each room. A few remained with the officer who tried to help with investigating the men, and to find out for himself who those men were. The men kept quiet and wouldn't say anything until the ANA men found their guns from under the containers of flour and rice. Then they said they didn't know anything about them. The Afghan police handcuffed and took them away. The officer asked his men to search every room, the yard and the roofs.

But the next four hoses we searched in this and another village, tutned up to be empty, no one lived in them, which was surprising for us. The houses didn't seem to be abandoned since long, or they wouldn't have been in such a good condition as we found them. We thought the Taliban had left them after they finding out we would be coming, sparing enough time to take everything out.

As we entered the second village a few kilometres away, it was in the afternoon the next day. In the first village we didn't get any episode, but in the second as we left the second empty house without finding anything, the shots from the nearby bushes pinned us down. The officer and I laid down behind the wall of the house, but soon he ordered us back inside. The fire exchange lasted for about an hour. The Taliban fled to face our reserved units who killed a few and captured the rest alive.

Still in the same village that we heard more shots. The officer found out that an ANA soldier was shot dead by a sniper and one injured who worked with another unit. They had airlifted them both to the Lashkargah hospital. A sad news, but the good news was that the man behind the sniper had been found and taken out by an helicopter bomb blast from the top of a tree.

The Afghan ANA officer ordered a few of his men to stay behind with the police force as he had done in the first village, and invited us to follow him to the next village. By now it was nine in the evening. As we walked close to the river, the calm and quite flow of the water scared me in the dark. The surface shining to the light in the sky and waving with the flow of the water made me look away. Such a scary moment as we walked quietly to avoid making sounds, like the river. We avoided the Taliban. What did the river want to avoid. The people? Had it seen enough of such creepy nights in this more-than-a-decade war? In the past few years these river banks had been cleared from time to time to stop the Taliban from attacking the Afghan army and police, the NATO patrols or disrupting the normal daily life of the people. The Taliban benefitted from poppy cultivation in the feilds around these areas. Therefore, they would try to come back and continue with their poppy smuggling business. These areas would have a strategic importance for the Taliban or in other words for the drug mafias.

It took us about an hour and half to reach the outskirts of the third village. The Taliban in each area knew that they would have less or no chance of fleeing, realising that a massive operation was underway. They wouldn't like the idea of surrendering and getting rotten in the jail. The only rout for them to take would be resistance. But the Americans wouldn't like the last, being weary of the civilian casualties in the cross fire and dameges to their house, which would damage their relationships with the foreign forces. Therefore, they left a gap somewhere for the Taliban to scape and leave the area without any fighting, diminishing the possibilities of giving casualties, themselves, as a result. Fighting wouldn't benifit anybody, but the Taliban whose plans would be to turn the locals against the presence of the foreign forces.

As we sat on the outskirts, the ANA officer entered the village to find the first suspected house. Those dead moments followed as we didn't know what to do, until hearing something from the Afghan officers. It took them longer this time to inform us. Eventually the police officer came to invite us to the house. We followed him. On the way he said that there were a few women and children. They had asked the women where their men were, but without any success, they wouldnt say anything.

"Where do you think their men might be?" the officer asked the Afghan police officer.
"They didn't say anything. They might be hiding somewhere."
"Can you imagine where?"
"We have to search all the houses. They are not away from here."

The officer agreed and they started with the daunting task of searching every house. This would take the whole night. We went to the second house to face the same episode. Only women and children with no men inside. The officer allerted his men about an imminent Taliban ambush. But it was too late as the Taliban targetted one of the soldiers from the roof of a house. The soldier went down in front of my eyes. He took his hand to his neck to relieve the pain, before the medics arrived. The medics gave him morphine and tended to his injury, before carrying him to the point where the casevac would take place. We didn't know what would happen. He was hit in the neck by a machine gun fire. How deep or superficial the injury, it would be known in a few days.

The first American casualty, after killing and capturing many Taliban, which would be the average outcome in such operations. At one point I wondered where Dozakhwal would be at this time. Of course, as the head of the Taliban movement in Helmand, he would be aware of this operation, but where he might have been, himself. I knew he took drugs, from what people said. He had taken drugs when he had gone to marry a girl by force, taking his brothers and men to take part in the ceremony. He had gone to a family who he knew had two teenage daughters. He had demanded the older one from the father to be his wife. The father had wanted him to give the family one day to prepare for the wedding ceremony, but Dozakhwal wanted her that night. After the father had insisted to give him one more day for the ceremony, Mullah Dozakhwal had agreed. The next day he would come to take his bride with him. The father had taken his wife and daughters away, before the night Dozakhwal had come to demand. What he had done the next day was to send them to Kabul. He had gone to inform the British forces. That night Dozakhwal had evaded capture by turning up late, but his brothers and men had been taken away.

The Taliban who had fired drom the roof jumped behind the house to flee, but someone got him in the head. He fell to the ground on his face without a noise. Later, an Afghan soldier would claim the kill, after taking the body away.

We didn't get shot at, but the officer didn't turn down the possibility of more Taliban attacks. He allerted his men to watch the windows, roofs, and the corners of the walls of the houses, while the Afghans were searching them. Where were the rest of the men who had abandoned those houses? The officer radioed the other units to inform them about the situation in this village.

By early morning the Afghan army and police with the help of our unit finished searching the houses, but to no avail. The officer told the Afghan officers that they might be hiding somewhere to ambush us on the way. The ANA and AUP officers wouldn't disagree, knowing the nature of the Taliban, dying to take out a few infidels to go to the heaven. For the Taliban it would be their ticket to heavens, and the ticket holders were there in front of them. They needed one shot from either side, they would go to he heaven either way, to kill or to get killed. Killing one infidel and staying alive would be like booking a ticket to heavens for whenever.

The last three villages we cleared were not easy. All the reports we had received about the Taliban activities turned out to be correct. We encoutered the Taliban activities throughout the river bank. Apart from the two houses that sheltered men, women, and children, the rest had been the spot-on pieces of information. The officers from both side expressed their satisfactions from the mission throughout. With a few casualties, this joint operation was a success, leading to the capture and death of many Taliban.

The villages we had cleared were all the same in terms of their buildings and environment. One or two storey houses closed by mud walls. Most of the people owned their lands growing all kind of crops. Some grew poppies. A few people we asked worked in Lashkargah as a government employee and a few owned their businesses in Lashkargah. They didn't want the Taliban to disrupt their life by their Sharia law, and smuggling, but they were scared of them. They wanted schools and clinics for their families, but the Taliban burnt them.

In the last four days of this operation we took a break to eat from our ration packs and rest on our asses or sleep leaning on the walls, trees, whenever possible, the rest was spent in chaos. In the last three vilages the Taliban attacked us many times. We dealt with the angry locals and sorted out the disputes between the Afghan police and army officers who wouldn't compromise on how to go ahead with the operation. I didn't get a break more than five minutes by constant receiving of a call from someone. Rafih had joined a platoon commander and he felt the same, as we met from time to time.

At some point, the officer met with the Mullah in the last village, who represented the rest of the religious leaders in the district. The officer and the Mullah talked about the importance of such operations. The Mullah suggested that the American forces should avoid going into the locals' houses as that was against their culture and religious beliefs. But the Mullah hesitated to share any information about the Taliban leader, Dozakhwal.

The officer realised the Mullah was scared, so he didn't query any further in that regard. In the end of the meeting the Mullah requested from the officer to pay for the damages they had caused to the mosque in their fighting against the Taliban. The officer noted his request and said that he would convey his message to his superiors.

On the way back from a night patrol, we came under attack from a Taliban base. I and Rafih were given the ICOM radios to listen to Dozakhwal chatter with his men. It was a dark night different to any other nights we had ever seen before. The air was dry making the breathing hard. We heard Dozakhwal on the ICOM ordering his men to capture us alive. We were surrounded from all sides. There was no way that we could have come alive from there. Everyone dissappeared leaving me and Rafih stranded in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the Taliban. We didn't know where everybody went. They suddenly dissappeared. Were they killed or captuted? It wasn't known. We hid our ICOMS somewhere, knowing that we would be captured any moment. Dozakhwal wouldn't kill us with bullets, he would kill us with a knife. And soon we were captured by the Taliban and taken to their base. It was the first time I had stood in front of Dozakhwal, looking into his eyes which were red from taking drugs throughout the fighting. He was also drunk with the fact that he would be beheading two interpreters that night.

"Bahir," I looked up to see Mullah Dozakhwal into his eyes one more time before his death. That was what I had on my mind after he haf beheaded Ehsan, leaving his sisters and parents to mourn their son for the rest if their life. This was my wish which would become my dream--to see Mullah Dozakhwal into his eyes before killing him with my fests and feet. Now the moment had come for him to pay the price for his past and present deads. He didn't know what I would to him in soon. I aimed to do what I had done with his father, Dozakhi when he had come to our club in Kabul to force us to go for praying, beating our master for keeping us there abd teaching us a sport that was unislamic. But soon he had been nailed down to the ground with one punch:in his chest, following a back cake in his left cheek and one in his right. He had gone unconscious long before falling down like a dead body, his broken tooth flying a few metres away. He had spilled blood and saliva like a dead cow. That was what I wanted to do with his son. After Ehsan had been beheaded by him, Ehsan's family had died along with him. His three sisters and parents hadn't recovered from that tragedy. His parents had died and his sisters had left school. Sami and I would help his siters with their food, clothes and going back to school. Dozakhwal killed a family by killing its one member. After that day I had decided to return for Ehsan and his family and stand on top of Dozakhwal's dead body, killed from the excessive punches and kicks in his head and body breaking his every bone all over.
"Yes," I said back to the officer.
"You were thinking?"
"Yes, this is something I also dream about."
"I know what you are thinking."
"Yes, you have caught me many times."

The officer left and Dozakhwal reapeared with his red eyes thinking of beheading me and me thinking of breaking every bone in his body until he died. He wouldn't know that my name was Shabir Khan, I had changed it for him. He wouldn't know that I had returned to Helmand because of him. He wouldn't know that I had broken the bone in his father's leg with a bullet and would break his every single bone with the kicking and punching. He would set up the beheadings in a place of his favour. He would bring about all his men to join him in this beheading party, unaware of what I had on my mind for him. I would break his teath before breaking his neck. They would ready their drugs filling them in cigarettes to take a puff in turn. I would ready myself to take each one of them before getting to the man, himself. They would start with the party, taking a turn to take a puff from that one single cigarette. I would count to see how many men were there. They would prepare the vedio recorder to take a film from my beheading. I would think of using that vedio recorder in filming the process of Dozakhwal's death.

The night was still young. The fire that they had lit to light up the area was burning making them warmer along with their drug smoking throughout the night. They would behead Rafih first and then behead me.

I heard a voice calling my name, "Bahir."
"Yes," I said back to Rafih, standing by my side.
"What are you thinking?"
"Maybe I am getting crazy."
"You will if you don't get a break for a few days."
"I can't leave you alone, Rafih."
"Don't worry, I and Shekib did very well last time you went with Hasib. Go to kabul to visit Hasib and his family."

It was about midnight. They took him out. he laid dead on a cat. I looked at him and cried. They laughed. I stood there waiting for my turn to be killed. Dozakhwal stood and walked towards me with the knife red with Rafih's blood. It reminded me of Ehsan. Every was repeating itself. That was how he had killed Ehsan. He had put Ehsan's head in front of the ANA base. I laughed after shedding tears over his death.

"Why are you laughing."
"Because I am about to break your neck."
"He laughed. You are breaking my neck. How?"

"You won't know because you will be dead."
"I am dead already. You said Dozakhwal killed me. You were shedding tears." Rafih shook me awake before going crazy. "You are going to Kabul for a week. I will speak to the officer." Rafih pushed me to sleep.

The men around waited to see the the next infidel being beheaded by their leader. Their heads circled round their shoulders in a constant manner once after one or two seconds break to get their next puff. When they smiled their teath suggested that I would break them in a minute. Dozakhwal, standing in front of me, looked lost like a stray dog. Non of them knew where they had put their guns. For them beheading would be like joining a dance party. Why would they need their guns? There were eleven Taliban men as I counted, but all of them high. My hands were tied with a rope from two branches of tree on the left and right. I wore a jeans trouser, a V-neck sleeveless shirt, and mountain boots. My leather jacket was thrown to the side keeping me open to the cold. I enjoyed the heat coming from the wood fires around. Dozakhwal asked my name. I told him my name was Shabir Khan. He shook. Then he looked at my muscles bursting from under my skins out. He sized both my shoulders with his eyes, and took a break on each muscle round in my neck. He realised who I was. His mouth opened in shock. Shabir Khan, he said. I read the flickers of fear on his face, but not yet the fear of death. aat some point I saw Rafih getting up from the cat looking for his severed head. He placed it back on his neck and walked towards me.

"Bahir," he said.
"You are alive." I said with excitement.
"Yes, but you are going to kill me." He shook me awake. "Get up, you are talking to youself all the time."
"I'm sorry. I can't help it." I held my aching head in my hands.
"It's ok. I couldn't sleep. You are shouting, swearing." He put his head down and went to sleep. I switched off my mind of everything and lied down on my bed. I closed my eyes to see Dozakhwal was not there. I slept till morning, and went out to do my karate training.

I would be in Kabul on Christmas days, but would I be away from Dozakhwal's eyes not to follow me everywhere? I hoped I would. That was the reason I wanted to go and be with Hasib and his family, or I would go crazy in Helmand, thinking about meeting Dozakhwal one day. I wanted to meet him, but I needed to be normal to throw kicks and punches.

Hasib knew what I thought about Dozakhwal. He wouldn't tell me to forget it, but he didn't like the idea of me facing Dozakhwal one day. That wouldn't be a one way game, but it would end up either way. No one believed my story that went on my mind and came into my dreams. Rafih thought that only thinking about it would be enough to make me crazy and kill me, let alone facing it in real time. I didn't think so. I wanted to see myself in Ehsan's place, but feel the fear in Dozakhwal's eyes.

Thinking about going to Kabul to join Hasib, would relax my mind, taking the stress of work and fighting the Taliban away. Rafih had talked to the officer that he would bring Shekib to cover me to be to go to Kabul. The officer had agreed and organised my journey to Kabul. I had packed my bag and readied myself to take a break from Helmand. The officer would come any minute to take me with him to the gate to put me in the Husky vehicle and say goodbye, although we had asked the officer to let us go to Lashkargah base or elsewhere by our own, but the officer thought it was not wise. The officer arrived. Shekib, Rafih and the officer escorted me to the gate. Many soldiers had gathered there to wish me a good time with my friend, Hasib.

As I arrived in Lashkargah, the Husky took me inside the camp where the Helicopter was, which travelled between Helmand and Kabul, carrying back and forth people and whatever else needed. I greeted a few people who would go to Bagram. They greeted me back. They travelled in a group of three reporters working for the differernt news departments of the Pentagon. They went to Kabul to report on the meeting of the NATO Secretary General with Karzai who would give speeches in front of the reporters.
I told them about my job which they found fascinating. After that we shook hands and they introduced themselves. I did the same. One of them had interviewed many Afghan officials and civilians to know of their veiws about the Taliban and their leader, Mullah Dozakhwal. He had realised that not only civilians, but even the officials found the Taliban and their leader, Dozakhwal, a bunch of ruthless killers who fought for controlling the contraband business and for their fundamental religious beliefs. He asked me what I thought about them. I took them back all the way to what had happened between me and his father in Kabul and in Helmand. I explained my personal feud with them. They listened with interest. They found me interesting and they seemed to enjoy my company. They hoped that we would meet in Kabul on Christmas Eve. We exchanged telephone numbers. I didn't promise to see them in Kabul as I wouldn't get any break from Hasib and his family, but if they came back to Helmand I would love to see them.

The journey from Helmand to Kabul would be something I looked forward to, as I did it for the first time with Hasib. I mounted the Helicopter. It roared above my head, pushing its corps up in the air with force. In the air it paused and then maneuvered ahead. Making constant chopping sound by cutting the air by its blades, it found its course. Next, I would be in Kabul.

In the Bagram airport, the reporters offered me a lift to the city. I thanked them as Hasib would be waiting outside the airport to take me home. Hasib had arrived in a black jeep car provided by the embassy. Now Hasib worked as the cheif editor of the embassy's English, Pashto and Dari news department. Someone else had taken over the translation job.

I jumped in the front seat, after kissing and embracing each other.
"How are mum, dad, brothers and sisters?" I asked.
"You will see them," he said. "Do you know who asks after you?"
"Of course I know. Little sister, Cita."
"Helen." Hasib looked at me and smiled widely.
"She is a reporter, so what do you expect?"
"True, but she did ask a few times."
"Where did you see her?"
"She comes to the embassy."

I congratulated Hasib on his new job. He thanked me but he didn't look happy. Hasib had been in contact with the officer and he had told him about my continuing obsession with killing Dozakhwal. The officer had seen me in training, fighting with him, on duty thinking about him, and dreaming about him while sleeping. The officer had added what Rafih had experienced with me.

"Do you want to kill yourself or Dozakhwal?" Hasib asked.
"Did the officer tell you anything?"
"Yes, Bahir. I told my mum and dad. They will talk with you."

Bahir stopped the car in front of their house. He wouldn't talk to me. I realised how he felt. It was hard for him to think what I had on my mind. He thought it was crazy, like everyone else did.

"Here your son," he said. "Talk to him and ask him what this is all about."
"Let him relax Hasib," his mum said. "You are being too hard."

We talked for a long time about it, before drinking or eating anything or taking a rest. I explained to them how I had become obsessed with the idea of killing Dozakhwal. Non of them understood or pretended not to understand. The only solution they thought would be to find a job in Kabul and forget about Helmand and Dozakhwal. Only the idea would be enough to kill me, let alone executing that idea. How on earth would that be possible to kill a man who killed and injured someone every day? I would be one more kill for him. How on earth would that be possible to think about it?

They left me with no option but to forget and look for a job in Kabul. Everyone would work to transfer me from Helmand to Kabul. Then they would have a peace of mind. I wanted to do it for Hasib and his family who loved me like their own.

Now I would get a cup of tea from Cita and a smile from everybody. Now I knew I would get something to eat.

We ate the food Hasib's mum had cooked, which I missed. Qhabili Palau with meatballs, spinach, fried obergines mixed with yogurt, potatoes and a few more. Typical Afghan food from a typical Afghan mum. For desert, milk rice pudding and home made cookies with tea.

Hasib's dad praised his wife's food and desert. Tuba, the oldest daughter before Hasib intervened and said, "Dad you forget to praise me. I helped mum too.
"Yes," her mum approved. "She helped along because of Lala Bahir coming today."
"Thank you Tuba jan." I said.
"You are welcome Lala Bahir."

We talked about politics with dad. I congratulated them on Hasib's transfer and new job, expressing my happiness. Mum took a deep breath and said, "Now, it's your turn to come to Kabul or return to your family."
"Now that I have promised, I come here as soo as I find a job."

With brothers and sisters we talked about their lessons. As the children of two teachers, they had a lot to share. I asked everyone about their favourite subjects. I realised that three out of four liked Dari literature, only Tuba liked Science. She found it fascinating to know about how this world would continue with its existence and a lot more. Everyone of them would have their own reasons for being in favour of the subject.

For the whole week in Kabul, I went to try to find a job. At the start I didn't know where to go. I realised that I needed someone to recommend me to a firm or an office. Having no qualifications in the hand would make it ten times harder in comparison to the qualified people. Working with the NGOs and other foreign organisations would be a possibility, but for that I needed a qualification, recommendation and time, which I didn't have any of them. I had promised to Hasib and his family that I would leave Helmand and find a job in Kabul, but it seemed to be impossible. I didn't want to disappoint, so I didn't say about what I did in the city. I told them I visited old friends and saw the city. It felt bad. I had broken one promise for another. And the latter seemed to be broken too.

It was Christmas and the American Embassy would have a Christmas party where all the Afghan and American staff would come and celebrate. Hasib had mentioned about it and had said to his parents that I would go with him. I wanted to stay home and let Hasib enjoy the party with his colleagues and friends. No one liked the idea. Everyone wanted me to go, enjoy and get to know people.

"Who is there Hasib?"
"All the American Embassy staff and their friends. Helen is also there."
"Who is Helen?" mum asked. "It's the first time you mention her name."
"Bahir saw her a couple times. She is a Swiss. I told you mum that she asked after Bahir a few times."
"Yeah, now I remember."
"She asks after Bahir, why?" dad asked.
"I've no idea," I intervened. "Maybe she wants to interview me. That's what she does."
"Bahir!" Hasib exclaimed. "You haven't seen her like I have. It's the second time you say this about her. She is a woman too."

As we arrived there, everybody had gathered in the Embassy's saloon. I had worn my black suit with a white shirt without any tie. Hasib had donned his black jacket and grey trouser, a white shirt and a red tie with narrow black squares on top. His black shoes had been sent to him from America by an American friend who had left the embassy. I hadn't bought any new shoes for a long time. What would I do with new shoes? Where would I go with them? Hasib deserved it because he had a job that required formality. Everyone had tried to look as giid as possible with what they had available, which was understandable. They lived in a foreign country celebrating Christmas Eve in an Embassy. Had it been in their own country, it would have been different. It looked more like a formal gathering though than a Christmas Eve party. The difference would be that a quiet music played at the background and they served many kind of soft and alcoholic drinks.

Helen had donned a knee-length dark purple wrap dress. She was talking with the reporters who worked for the Pentagon. Hasib introduced me to a few of his friends. The reporters who I had met in the Lashkargah base, rushed to shake hands. Helen and I greeted each other by moving heads from a distance. Her purple cheeks and dark purple dress suggested that she knew what to wear. Purple might be her favourite. Her curly neck-length blond hair was showing her thin long neck suited her petit face with a little long chin. Her blue eyes were hard to look at and not to feel them from standing close to them, something that must have attracted the American reporters to stand by her and keep chatting with her. They must have fallen in love on the spot, all at the same time. One would find it hard to leave her side, but they left her to come and talk to me, which I found flattering. I would have gone to them to greet them, hadn't they turned to me, having to leave Helen on her own, which seemed a bit disrespectful to her. They overreacted by coming to see me. I felt Helen was a little embarrassed from outside and happy from inside, as I felt a flicker of smile passing on her purple lips. To me she looked embarrassed by nature, the way her eyes shied away a few times I looked at her, feeling embarrassed. Would she talk to me if I went close to her. I doubted. That was the reason I stayed back and greeted her from afar. What was she doing in Afghanistan? She could have worked for a modelling agency and lived an easy life. The answer was that I didn't know her as Hasib had put it, and I shouldn't have judged her by seeing her a couple times, wearing a scarf, a multi-pocket cargo trouser and mountain shoes. I was wrong. Hasib was right.

The reporters seemed to have been fascinated by my past and personal feud with the Dozakhwal family and didn't seem to have enough of it. Their desperate eyes seemed to want to see more of my past life. One of them had interviewed many people to know a little about Dozakhwal, but he had found an invaluable human source that had had mutual and physical contact with the family.

It was an embarrassing situation for me and for Helen who had been left alone waiting desperately for someone to accompany her again. Hasib realised the situation and left us to join her, which saved me and Helen. She took a breath and I saw the flicker of the same smile returning to her lips. It was amazing how comfortable she felt with Hasib, not as cold and rigid as when she was talking with them, as if she didn't exist at all. It seemed like Helen and Hasib had known each other from the past life, when they had seen each other probably a couple more times than I had. She held a glass of red wine in her hand, looking like it would fall down and break any moment, so soft for a touch by so soft of a hand. I couldn't take my eyes away. She seemed to be so proud and full of life, standing there straight against the ups and downs of life, choosing to do a job that would keep her away from home and family, and put her life in danger, having to travel between the different provinces and within the dangerous areas of Afghanistan. I was grasped on the spot. She wouldn't be a simple touch for every head that was scared to play with the fire. She was a fire who would burn every warm-headed character. One had to have an ice-cold charater to stand her firy personality. I felt like she had chosen me from the first day she had come to our camp by seeing me training karate. I had been surprised by her lack of interest in something that every other person would love to watch, and I was respectfully struck by the thoughts that would follow after, which had been scaring me. I was glad to listen to Hasib and his family to come to join the party. Now that fear was gone. Helen was in front of me with the heaven of a personality.

"What do you think of Helen?" Hasib asked on the way back.
"She changed my life. She seems to be so powerful woman."
"I told you. Not every woman would come to Nadali camp. Such women search for luck somewhere away from home."
"True. You two felt so comfortable talking to each other. I was surprised."
"She won my respect when she first talked to me."

We arrived back home in the early morning and went to bed. We woke up for lunch. At the dining table, mum asked about the evening. I and Hasib had a lot to say. That night had changed my mind and who knew that it would change my life. I told mum I was glad I listened to them. When she asked about Helen, Hasib jumped in to help. He said how sorry I was to think the way I did about her. Dad smiled. Tuba gave me a wink. After we ate lunch, Tahrir, Hasib's brother, younger than Tuba, wanted to discuss poetry, Dari literature, which everyone in the house showed interest. Dad recited a poem from Bidel. Mum followed with praising the Bidel poetry. She said she was fond of his poetry from a young age. Tuba agreed but she found them difficult to understand. Dad moved his head up and down and said that his poems invited people to be extra cautious. I recited one of his poems, which everyone knew and recited along with me. It suggested that all the family knew the Bidel poetry. Tahrir wanted to know about my interest in other poets. I named all the poets I had read their peotry since the primary school. Tahrir made it compulsory that everyone recited one poem. Hasib recited one from Rumi. Mum followed to recite one from Sadi. Tuba chose one from Hafiz. Everyone else recited their favourite poems until mum brought the tea and dry fruits.

The air seemed to be dusty and smoky. They lived somewhere that once considered to be the best part of the city in terms of its weather and location. It located on the outskirts of the Asmaii mountains and Bagh Balla hills, which overlooked the center of the city. By then our family lived in Shahre Nau, the richest part of Kabul, where all the businessnen and rich people lived, a few kilometres away from Karte Parwan. I would never enjoy walking in the city for the pollution. This night walking with Hasib and his family proved to be something special. I didn't care about the weather. I enjoyed their company and walking up the Bagh Bala hill was like reliving the past. They tried that I enjoy my time with them before going back to Helmand. I did. I would go back to Helmand with the beautiful memories, which would be saving me from everything and everybody that would want to destroy them. As dad said that Bidel encouraged his followers to be extra cautious, I would be extra cautious in saving my memories of them.

The day after I would go back to Helmand. Thinking about it while walking next them felt sad. That would be a normal life what Hasib and his family had, not what I did. I lived in a room, in a camp, in a desert. My job would be to fight. My costume would be a military uniform. My toy, a William Smith gun that I would carry everywhere. My thoughts would be full of the memories of a bad day. My body would be tired of sitting in the Husky or Mastiff for hours, without water and food. I would go back, because I had returned to do that job. I wouldn't be able to live anywhere else. It had been this job that had nearly killed me, but I survived a d returned. I didn't like an easy life. O had experienced death many times. Now that wouldn't scare me. I would be fine. No one would respect me any other way, anywhere else if I had run away.

After we consumed the dry fruits with the tea, Hasib suggested to go out and walk a little to take fresh air. Everyone liked the idea. We walked towards the Baghe Bala hill, talking and enjoying. Kabul air wasn't fresh, because of the air pollution caused by the overpopulation. People left the countrysides and resided in the city in search of a better life after the Taliban were driven out from Kabul.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Interpreter: Author Interview With ‎Chris Karlsen

Shah Sight
Chris Karlsen, Welcome on our show, and we are so excited to be with you today. You may want to say something about yourself to our members, before I ask you a few more questions?

Chris Karlsen Hi Shah, I'm a retired police detective. I always wanted to write but never had the time while working. I've just finished three books. Two are paranormal romances and in release. The third is coming out next month and that's a romantic thriller.

Shah Sight Thanks Chris, you are a retired police detective and you write romantic thriller, please tell us the connection between your writing and your past career, why don't write about what you know best?

Chris Karlsen I like romances and thrillers they're what I read the most. Once I was done with law enforcement, I was done. I have no desire to relive my career through my characters.

Shah Sight Chris that makes sense, thank you so much. Chris if we don't write to earn our living out of it, what would be the other best motive for us to write, why did you agree to write?

Chris Karlsen I grew up with a love of history, especially medieval English history. It was one of the things that led to my first book, "Heroes Live Forever." The story of a young English woman who inherits a house haunted by the ghosts to two medieval knights and she falls in love with one of the ghosts. Another interest is time travel. My second romance is a time travel where the couple are transported back to medieval England and the hero's life is at stake.

Shah Sight Will you ever write in another genre apart from what you are writing now, what else would be your other favourite genre, do you fancy writing science fiction, or mystery, for instance?

Chris Karlsen The romantic thriller coming out, "Golden Chariot," is different from the first two books in that the romance is the subplot. I just finished the draft of the sequel to it and am currently working on book 3 of my "Knights in Time," series, which "Heroes Live Forever," and "Journey in Time," are from. What I might like to try down the road is a Gothic horror. I kind of have an idea of what I'd do with the villian and I'd like to set it in Victorian England too.

Shah Sight We are interested in what you have been in your own life, a detective, it is very interesting for us. Do you think your life experience as a detective is there in some ways, in your writing, is there lots of action in your books that you think is influenced by what you have been in your real life?

Chris Karlsen Absolutely. I think it's almost impossible for a writer not to be influenced by personal experience. As a detective, I spent a lot of time in court in trials. That helped with testimony and questioning my heroine in Journey in Time used for a medieval trial. My heroine in Golden Chariot is a nautical archaeologist but she comes from a family of cops. What she was taught by them aids her in fighting for her life in the story. Logical thinking is very important in detective work and I infuse my characters with a great deal of logic or at least try to.

Shah Sight Chris give us one or two links to Amazon for your books, before I continue with my questions please, where your readers can find your books?

Chris Karlsen

Heroes Live Forever (Knights in Time)

‎4 Stars "A grand debut" by Night Owl Romance Reviews. Elinor Hawthorne has in inherited a house that is haunted by the ghosts of two medieval knights, Basil Manneville and Guy Guiscard. Basil is the man of her dreams, her knight in shining armor. She falls in love with him an...

Chris Karlsen

Journey in Time (Knights in Time)
London attorney, Shakira Constantine finally agrees to spend the day with her handsome client, Alex Lancaster. While riding in the countryside, the couple finds themselves caught in a time warp and transported back to the 14th century-and an England preparing for war. Everyone believes Alex is th...

Chris Karlsen Thank you for asking for the links, Shah. I appreciate the opportunity.

Shah Sight My pleasure, we are enjoying the interview immensely, I ask you a couple of more questions before letting you do your other things, tell us please about your writing style, what I mean is do you write from a lot of experience reading other books, or you have your own style of writing, for instance, I use very little words to tell my story, how is it with you?

Chris Karlsen I'd say both. I do read a lot. When I see a scene that really strikes me and it can be because of the well written action, or love scene, or crisp dialogue, I read it again. When I reread, I concentrate on how the author drew me in and try to craft my scenes with my words, my spin, using the technique I admired. My books are character driven and I dig deep into them and I'd say most of what they feel and say is from my style of digging deep. The action and emotion guide the verbiage.

Shah SightSharon Kleve said that your books are 'wonderful', do you get a lot of such complements from your readers, tell us what your readers say about your books?

Chris Karlsen Sharon is very kind. Many say that they were deeply invested in the characters. Some say they felt like they knew them personally. One comment I get often is they think the books would make great movies. All those comments are so fabulous to hear. I'd love for them to be movies. I'm asked on blogs who I'd cast in my character roles and that's fun to do.

Shah Sight Chris, do you want to add to what we already know about you and your works, before we thank you for this great time having you with us and let you do your other works, anything that you think we should know about you or your works, please?

Chris Karlsen I'd say if you want to suspend belief for a bit or enjoy knights, time travel, & reincarnation, then I think you'd like "Heroes Live Forever," and "Journey in Time." If you want to work a Bronze Age shipwreck off the coast of Turkey with an American archaeologist and the Turkish agent investigating her, then I think you'll like "Golden Chariot," which is out on March 17. I love Turkey and have visited numerous times. I knew I had to set a book there. The same with England.

Shah Sight Thank you Chris, we are looking forward to learn more about your works in the future, hope to see you soon on our show.

Chris Karlsen Thank you, Shah. I've had fun and enjoyed our time together and thank you for all the "likes" that appeared.

Sky Citizen Barak I am definitely buying one of her books, she is amazingly convincing.

William Talcott Another great interview by Shah. Thank you Shah and Chris Karlsen!