Thursday, 2 April 2009

A snowy winter in Kabul, Afghanistan

Afghan woman and other poems from Samay Hamed

I will never forget that snowy winter in Mazar I Sharif, Northern Afghanistan. in 1993- 94 when I met Waheed and his brother Samay Hamed. Waheed was a scrawny 17 year old who had learnt some BBC English. The killing in Kabul had reached hundreds a day and as various factions fought, people fled to Mazar-I-Sharif for sanctury where there was relative peace. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people needed assistance from the Red Cross, so I moved there to increase the volume of our humanitarian assistance.

I employed Waheed as an interpretor and his brother Samay Hamed worked as a Doctor for the Afghan red Crescent Society.

When I published my book of poems and photographs in 2003, Mountains of Our Mind, I included 12 of (Abdul) Samay Hamed's poems. Since then he has gone on to be one of Afghanistan's leading poets.

The other day Samay Hamed wrote to me and shared me his lates poems and a photo of he and his brother. He is happy for me to share his poems with you.

Samay Hamed (l) and Waheed Warastra (r)

Can I see what I wish?

I see my mother watching my gritty grave
on this grizzly ground
She is pouring tears and water into the broken pot
for the desert-pigeons

I can even sense the fragrance of her face
The fragrance of her old cloth - flowered
with colorful patches-

I see my father selling left-over parts of the mortar-shell
to the iron-peddler to buy a nipple
for my month-old sister

I see my brother making bricks from dust and sweat
to rebuild our house
He is making, too, a big brick for my grave
to prevent whirlwinds destroying my silence

From this gritty grave on this grizzly ground

I can feel my playmate chewing a fresh leaf,
riding on a wooden horse

I see our neighbors praying for my little soul
while she crosses the singing bridge

I see every one in the violet face of our village
after violence


Can I ever see my month-old sister
sitting with my mother on the roof of our home,
inviting small birds to a morning snack?

With not a single bullet to interrupt them?

Can I?

Afghan women outside the Mosque in Mazar-I-Sharif. Taken 1976. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Afghan Woman

The Afghan woman in a blue veil
looks like a piece of sky torn off and fallen
on the smoking street
she is trying to rise again
but it seems that a wave is frozen
The Afghan woman,

When she reaches her hand out from her cloth-cell to
to sell a chewing-gum
Several small and colorful rainbows
dance round her wrist

The Afghan woman
hides her love in the shoes she has never worn
Pays her father’s debt with her virgin dreams
Tells her problems to a cloudy mirror
in the dark corner of a basement

The Afghan woman
Is cooking
But still not working!

A baby on her left arm
A teenage boy in her right hand
She is running faster then machineguns


The bridge is crossing the Afghan woman!

The Mosque in Balkh, near Mazar-I-Sharif. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Ouch! Telephone cards!

The orphan boy is shouting from his shirt
of dust and smoke:

Telephone cards! Telephone cards!

He runs after the sleepless cars
He follows the waving baskets of grapes
He stands in front of a shop
full of perfume and shooting stars
The shopkeeper hits at him with a fly-swat

Ouch! Telephone cards! Telephone cards!

Since he was 5 years old
he has been selling hundreds of telephone cards

But his own second-hand mobile had never rung!

We have to believe

The black and white film of the night
is always the same here
Just its red burning subtitles change

Sometimes they change so horribly that you want
to write under the window :

Minus 18-years old!

It is difficult, but we have to believe
there is a lover plying guitar with her/his
blood-lightings behind this wall

It is difficult, but we have to believe
this sky, covered by red full-stops of bullets
Will turn to a poetry collection of galaxies again

The window will open us towards the fresh breath
of hidden forests
The door will welcome sunny smiles

It is difficult, but we have to believe
a silken child is opening the cage of our bones
to emerge like a free-form Haiku

To translate us for ourselves

In spite of our difficulties we must believe


Unknown said...

Hey Bob

I always find poetry in a second language (or translations) difficult. Its hard to tell exactly what the poet is trying to say between the lines.

But at a minimum we get a glimpse of their individualism and humanity. We glimpse their home and their life for a second.

Take care


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks Jamie

Yes p;oetry does give you an insight into a culture even if you don't fully understand it. Having lived in Afghanistan I find Samay's poem haunting in many regards.


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