At least once a week I drive with a team through several villages on the outskirts of Kabul on our way to a clinic. In most of the villages, children will run alongside our Humvees waving their hands. At first I thought they merely were being friendly and were excited to see a convoy of armored vehicles pass by their homes. There was certainly an element of that in their behavior, I was told, but the children also know that sometimes we will throw bottled water or candy through the windows to them. Lately we have not been tossing anything as we want to discourage the children from coming too close to the vehicles. I’ve seen a few kids so close to the Humvees that, if they slipped, they would fall under a tire.
I often think how very different my life is from that of these Afghans even though I am physically close to them as drive through their villages. For security reason, we cannot stop and leave our Humvees to meet them. So the armor of the vehicles serves as quite a metaphor for the barrier between us.
The villages are mostly dusty settlements of mud-brick homes. My photographs of them are poor as I have to shoot through the dirty windows of our Humvees. I wrote the following poem recently after returning from a drive through the villages.
Our Humvee crawls over the cratered road
Of the village like an enormous beetle
Navigating a boulder-strewn field,
Laboring under its heavy, plated shell,
Its antennae prodding the air
For sound of distant trouble.
Dusty children skip alongside us
Each with one thumb pointed to the sky and
The other to the mouth,
Their smiles pleasant reflex sewn
In weeks past when we tossed bottles of fresh water
Out the windows to them until
They came too close,
When they ran and pounded our armored doors
So feebly I could barely hear impact
On the steel that kept us separate
As the Humvee, a tottering insect,
Rolled past them.
After that came the orders:
Nothing more to the children
To keep them back from us,
Safe in the cloud of dust
That follows our crawl past their homes,
That dirties them more and increases their thirst.