Afghanistan is full of bad ass characters. My first visit, I dubbed many of the baddest that roamed the city streets in the back of jeeps – the black birds. These motley lot were dressed all in black, with sunglasses, an attitude, and some serious weaponry that they weren’t afraid to flash. They gave me the chills. The mystery is as scary as the guns. Who are they? Are they the good guys or the bad guys? Which in Afghanistan isn’t clear at the best times, especially when you get it figured out just in time for the players to switch sides.
I’ve since been on the receiving end of a few heavily armed dudes that prefer to point with their AK-47’s and rifles rather than with their hands. My first thought is always, “Dude, is your safety on?” My second thought is from imagined perspective. “What is this silly girl speaking about? I can’t shoot if the safety is on.” Meanwhile I”m arguing about traffic directions or access to a building, and the business end of their egomania is pointed inches from my chest or stomach.
Considering how they gaily wave their guns around in this trigger happy society, I’m surprised more ‘accidents’ don’t occur. I’ve seen traffic cops clear traffic snarls by waving their guns and shouting, “Burro burro” the equivalent to, “Move your ass”. Doesn’t matter that the roundabout is a jumble of cars pointing in three or four directions, everyone ignoring the traditional right of way rules and take the shortest most direct approach. (Even if that means cutting off five others or created a automobile jigsaw that will take hours to unjumble.) The traffic cops are there in the midst of it, shouting, waving, and doing very little to actually clear the traffic.
I didn’t grow up around guns, but I’m not particularly upset by them. I lived for a short stint in Beirut and while it was my first time walking down a city street with AK 47’s everywhere, gun culture is just part of the accepted deal if I’m going to work in places like these. They are everywhere. Police, contractors, military, security guards, and more than a few civilians I’m sure are packing some heat. When you go out to dinner at a ‘secure’ restaurant, meaning one that has enough security that USAID or UN workers are allowed to go to by the rules of their curfews and travel restrictions, you enter the first round of security at the outside door and then check your weapons inside with the secondary guard. Only then are you allowed to go through magical door number two.
Its the bad ass dudes that put me on edge in Afghanistan. But then there’s this guy. Bad ass? You bet. Scary? Not so much. Instead of the usual avoidance, I find myself wanting to talk with him. Its almost comical, like a Monty Python sketch of a terrorist. How long does it take him to get ready? Is it heavy wearing all those layers of ammunition? Do you jingle when you walk? What’s the point of THAT many layers of ammo? What happens when someone walks by with a magnet? Okay, okay, totally illogical…but damn. Its like balding, pot-bellied, fifty something, geezer buying a cherry-red convertible sportscar. Delicate ego and small genitals compensated with layers of bad ass ammo.
Was this the guy all the other Afghan children teased and bullied at school? If so, they’d better run for cover. When the good guys look like this, the suicide bombers look positively cuddly.
photo credit, Travis Beard