Thursday, November 17, 2005

Proximity in Bombing

Today marks my first week here. For reasons discussed plenty before, I still don’t really have a sense that I’m here in Kabul. I have seen very little of Kabul. Though last night, I did get to hear Kabul for the first time. Not chicken busses, screeching tires and lorries and taxis blaring horns for every conceivable sentiment. Those are the sounds of many places in this and other parts of the world. I heard something that I more closely associated, especially before coming here, with Kabul. I heard gunfire. My first reaction was the usual one, thinking it was simply an engine or diesel generator backfiring, or a tire blowing out on one of the many potholes on the local roads. After hearing the second shot, I suspected it was a handgun or other small firearm.

The subsequent few shots only served to change my suspicion into an assumption. Welcome to Kabul the gunmen seemed to be saying. I had spent that day listening to Califone (even bought another album of theirs off itunes...itunes will be a worthy diversion of my former commuting budget). The band seemed to suit my mood, the bluesy, sparse, post-apocalyptic americana. Single notes struck on the steel strings, drenched in reverb and timbre. Random dusty noises, a stripped down cacophony, and the singer with his raspy words sung in a whispered warble, how ‘trill’ would sound coming from a deep and barreled chest. I spent the day imagining myself stuck in the dusty old west. Only this country is still a land of guns, more or less lawless, gangs and warlords running rampant. Well, not as rampant as a few years ago, when the analogy was often thrown about. It’s a cliché now, call it the old west, call it the medieval days, but it still seems accurate. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent the day listening to Califone, my mind imagining that world.

This brings me to something else I wanted to write about, concerning the violence of the past few days, both here in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. The bombing on the other side of the city, as is often the case in our simulacra of lives, seems a bit removed coming through CNN. Though we were told the night of the explosion that the incident had occurred and that we were on “White City” status, movements being restricted and such. We were told at dinner and the table merely acknowledged the fact, and kept on eating. I wasn’t struck by the incident either, well either literally, thank god, or figuratively. I wasn’t really fazed, and I don’t think it was because of the dismissive attitude by my housemates. The violence here seemed as far away as it did for me when I was in the states. Ahh thank you Baudrillard.

But the bombing in Pakistan, I found that disconcerting. It was only a little over a month ago that I was sitting in the KFC in Lahore. My cousin took me there with his med school buddies. They had just completed one of their more difficult comprehensive exams, and it was still the first days of Ramazan, so KFC was running their all you can eat iftar. We tried to go to Pizza Hut buffet, but that having a 1-hour wait and the fast breaking in much less than that, we opted for KFC, somewhat disappointed. The place, of course, was filled with locals—natives, westernized Pakistanis, a family celebrating their little girl’s birthday, and quite a few who looked like they had just stepped off the bus from the Punjabi villages. I was likely the most American of the patrons there, and you couldn’t pick me from a native just looking at us. Proximity seems to be the key, the freshness of that memory. I could imagine easily what the crowd looked like in the KFC in Karachi, no different than ours that night in Lahore.

KFC as a symbol of the west, sure, but owned by a franchisor looking to cash in on the native population’s desire to eat “west” or entertain their occidental cousins, and the family celebrating their child’s birthday at an “American” restaurant, a special night out for their young daughter. All these patrons served, of course, by your typical service sector employees, low income, and in Pakistan, often ‘villagers’ with low to no education, who somehow managed to get to the city. I interacted with these people that night in Lahore. I was one of the cast members that night. I was proximate to these people. I am proximate, perhaps not physically, but on a certain tangent, to the victims of the KFC bombing in Karachi.

I am physically proximate to the ISAF soldiers that were killed in the bombing in Kabul. But on the human relation line, on the associational and emotional level, I am as far from them as I was when I was in the States. I may very well feel the same way if some Afghanis were to die in a bombing tomorrow. I felt the same way after 9/11, Madrid and London (barring the fact that I was deeply worried about my sister, nieces and her husband who live in London…but I still felt no closeness to the people, the victims or the incident).

My interactions here with the locals will hopefully let me feel some link, some association and proximity to them. I’ve probably had more interaction with our house staff than most of my housemates, my urdu coming in handy. But I still am far from feeling like a Kabuli, and even a proximity to the people of this city. That night in KFC, I wasn’t far from being a Lahori. That is as close as I’ve ever been to these types of incidents. I deeply hope that when I leave here, I leave with a sense of proximity to the people of Kabul.

I’m still listening to Califone as I write this. I’m going to pick something else to listen to. Archer Prewitt would be good.

There are no pictures here at the bottom tonight.


The Pageman said...

thanks for visiting and commenting on my site!
you're the best!

Anonymous said...

Quasim, I remember you talking about the KFC when you returned, and when I caught the news, thought of you. Please be safe, and when you return (whenever that may be), promise us your next venture will be somewhere where street noise doesn't include gunfire. Perhaps Reston?

In any event, keep up the good blogging, and nice job tossing in a casual Baudrillard here and there.


Anonymous said...

glad to hear you are okay.

Anonymous said...


Kate's sassin' you for Baudrillard and KFC - just like you're here.
Anyway - I haven't read your postings yet, but will on metro. To date, the picture of the bird hitting the window is my fave. I'll shoot a note with blog-worthy thoughts sooon...

Went to Stetson's Paul and his friend Katie (you who talked to the night Paul and I met). You were fondly evoked and sorely missed.

As you continue to be.


Anonymous said...

My God. I had like a million typos in that last e-mail. 6:30, still at work on Friday - that's the prob.

Sorry I'm retarded.


Q. A. Shah said...


It was coherent enough for me to understand. Thats not a good thing, and far from a compliment on your writing ability.

Of course Kate is sassin' me, everyone should be, especially for the crap i'm throwing up on the blog. And don't worry, i'll be providing plenty more opportunities in the future.

Glad you, at least someone, appreciated the "bird" picture.

Election night 2004, at least something positive came of that night. I remember the conversation driving home we had that night. Glad you haven't acted on it. Not sure yet if I am glad that I did.

As I am...q

Anonymous said...

You might want to listen to Camp Lo from now on instead. Just a thought.