The Bomb

The U.S dropped a lot of bombs on Afghanistan last year.

I drew this map in 2002 at the site of an aerial bombing by U.S planes.  The victims were part of a wedding party.  However, it also turned out that the site of the destruction was an arms cache.  Afghanistan confounds.

bombing drawing

There was snow on the ground the other day.  It made me think of white bodies flailing in the darkness.  At dusk people wandered around the streets and we told begging children that we’d come back the next day and they believed us.  They have little metal cans that they hold on sticks and rattle around as they follow you.  Sometimes they touch your arm, and you can hear these little voices humming beside you, but there is no articulation.  You wouldn’t be able to understand, and really you understand too much already.  The leather seller sold us vests, and I wear mine every day, made of sheep.  At home we eat sheep, and call it sheep when we eat it.  It’s simpler that way.  A bird squawks whenever someone sits down at the table, and it’s ear-splitting.  They call him canary, the way some man calls his dog dog.  I don’t want to think about some of the people I know, but I end up doing it anyway.  What would be really nice is not to know them at all.  You can’t just think about the people you’re glad to know.

When the snow fell, people were slipping and sliding around in the streets, and there were several accidents.  But in the larger scheme of things here…and when you ask them if they’re upset that the Americans have bombed them on several occasions, they say no.  They say they’ll forgive us if they’re assured that these are accidents, which they may or may not be.  They speak about the B-52’s as if they’re the ultimate salvation.  The warlords like to threaten one another with bombing strikes if they don’t get what they want.  And the government tells the warlords that if they don’t behave they’ll sick the planes on them.  These planes that are so ancient, and were once destined for the military trash heap.  They arch around in huge circles, and apparently they’re banking when they do this so you can imagine the pilot sort of looking out his window at the ground below.  Because looking straight ahead the pilot can’t see anything.  And it’s usually on the curves that the bombs are dropped.  And then they disappear off into a straight line. Sometimes, you don’t see them until they’re at the end of a curve, and no one knows if it’s because suddenly the contrail appears, or because it’s one of those things one doesn’t see until it’s almost over.


You can see the impact of the explosion long before you hear the boom, so you look around wondering what was hit, and all of a sudden a hill just implodes in a raft of dust.  It cracks across the desert, like a whip.  They’re used to it, and they laugh when they see us ducking, as I used to do, or looking around astonished at the reverberation.  The fourteen year olds carry guns and smile at you through broken teeth.  They tell you they’re much older, and you can believe them or not.  It doesn’t really matter.  No one knows how old they are.

Kabul is empty in the dark.  Or it’s not. The drivers switch their high beams on and off again all the time.  You see things in the burst, like donkeys or carts, or small children scurrying off the sides of the road.  You can see the shadows and the ruts.  We listen to music when we drive, Indian and pashtun, cassettes with pictures of beautiful Indian actresses on them which were banned during the Taliban.  Now they’re sold at marketplaces all around the city.  Taxis carry them in their back windows.  About the bombs, you always wonder if whole villages were wiped out.  I’m not sure we’d have heard about it, but I think so.  What you think will be a big town usually ends up being a smallish village.  There is nothing like Kabul.  Dogs chase the car down the road and bark at you through the window.  Often they’re white dogs and I’m not sure why, and they glow in the headlights and they also glow in the darkness, so close to the cars.  No one is really afraid of them, but they are afraid of the german shepherds that the german peacekeepers keep around.  Today, a german was yelling at some Afghans in German and of course nobody understood him, and this is the problem that everyone keeps talking about, above all others.

In Gardez we stayed at a hotel that had no toilet and so we went out onto the roof.  It looked like a minefield.  But the stars were out by the thousands and I knew that the planes were still there. And the mountains.  In the afternoon we had seen them in a ring around the valley, snow-capped, high, like mirages, and the people under them as if they were moving around holding a blanket over their heads.  There was no rain and it was warm in the sun.  At the American outpost, we were shooed away by men with guns and drove back down the road we came in on, which lead straight to Kabul.  The Americans fort has probably been there for years, and it looked like something out of the middle ages.  Four walls and a rooftop lookout.  They say they’re built that way so that others can’t see a man’s women, and so that the women can work in peace.  It’s also probably so they can’t steal their women.  The women only leave to go to market.  Other than that they live there forever.

— Afghanistan, 2002

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