Holy Blood: An Inside View of the Afghan War

By Paul Overby | Go to book overview
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14

Slouching Toward Asmar

Allah loves those who fight for His cause in ranks as firm as a mighty edifice.

Quran 61:4

AFTER AN HOUR and a half's hike with incredibly balky mules we began to hear thudding sounds in the distance. Khan Jan greeted us grinning with delight: these were enemy missiles. At this new camp, called Shoodun, there was a sharper edge in the air. Several weapons were on display, set up for cleaning, shining dangerously in the warm gray light: a machine gun, an 82mm mortar and a 75mm recoilless rifle. Yes, the war was closer—but most of the camp was still a construction site.

A new one-room house was being built on, or better into, the side of the hill; several mujahideen were setting rocks on the two-foot thick walls; half a dozen others were breaking apart the crumbling, flagstone-shaped pieces out of the hillside with a pick, sledge hammer, and heavy iron pry bar. Off to the side they were also fashioning an oven for bread-baking. The mujahideen paused in their work on a new building to make jokes about roogay (fleas) and stinging nettles, one of which I accidentally touched on an earlier trip here.

They accepted the fruit I'd brought and that put me in a good mood; normally they wouldn't take anything I offered. That and the unjustified privilege of getting the best cuts of meat were a problem for me. But now I stood on a log eating a juicy mango, holding it away from me, and laughing. Everyone had stopped to eat the rare fruit. Khan Jan insisted that I take the bigger of the two prized mangoes, which were close to rotting; he ate the smaller one.

Shoodun was located on top of a ridge among the pines and cedars, higher and cooler than Al Hejirat. There were a few dilapidated buildings of logs and stones, hardly more than huts, where they were living while they built the new house. The one I ended up sleeping in was maybe ten by ten feet; the walls were rough logs and crudely piled stones. I made up a bed from small branches of a certain finely leafed bush; the others were sleeping on all kinds of uncomfortable-looking limbs, some of them an inch thick, which they never

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