Every year this time my thoughts turn to Mohamed (his story is here). I had reason to conjure his story this fall and found the image below.
Pictured is the American Library, Kabul, circa 1958. Is this the building where Mohamed learned to love the United States? Where he read American authors and watched American movies?
Does it matter, whether this or some similar facility?
Shouldn’t these places be funded in perpetuity?
The next-to-last time I saw Mohamed—11:15 a.m., December 6, 2004—a blast-resistant window separated us. The day’s final applicant, he was alone in the waiting room when the high-low alarm started wailing.
An Afghan male taking refuge in Saudi Arabia from the time of the Soviet invasion of his country, Mohamed knew patience where visas were concerned. We liked him and he liked us, but rules were rules. He understood the process, though our implied distrust hassled him.
Gunfire erupted just outside. To this day I have no idea how Mohamed reacted to it.
I crawled to my office for a Quickmask. Shadows crossed the blinds above my desk—clouds or terrorists? How many doors between me and the gunfire?
Five colleagues were killed outside the chancery. Ten were sent to the hospital.
The last time I saw Mohamed, months later, we didn’t speak of December 6. We didn’t speak of the visa he’d yet to receive.
I visited his shop in Jeddah for gifts at an hour when we’d be locked in alone while the city knelt in prayer. There was tea and piles of carpets. We toured his shop, dark, labyrinthine, crowded with carpets and art. I felt safe hidden within this dim, antiquated scene.
At tour’s end we sat on a pile of soft wool carpets. Mohamed pulled out his wallet and thumbed a tattered card: “U.S. Information Service Library, Kabul. Expiry: 1982.”
There was no requirement that he say anything about the place, what he’d read there, the movies he’d seen, the American speakers he’d heard as a young man in Kabul. Those things all resided in that tattered card from long ago.
He loved America, knew my country as well as I did. My government had seen to that by building, staffing and supplying a library of our collective works.
Decades later, a refugee in a country that could never be his own and that had its share of killers who hated an America they didn’t know, Mohamed kept the memory as close as possible, tucked in his wallet among his cherished things, deep in a pocket of his thobe.