“they’ve learned to shoot but not to read”

Phillip Corwin was part of a UN team in Kabul who tried unsuccessfully in April 1992 to transform power from Afghanistan’s last communist president to the country’s first Islamic one. When the war broke out in the city and he felt so desperate for not being able to do anything, took a pen and a paper and like a good Afghan in such moments, expressed his feelings in the following poem:

Waiting for the End: Kabul, 4/92

The soldiers smile their smile of pride;

each heart contains a fist inside.

The land they left has gone to seed;

they’ve learned to shoot but not to read.

 

In villages with holy names

they’ve seen the sky explode in flames.

In godly mountains thick with pines

their pets have been deformed by mines.

 

In playgrounds meant for girls and boys

where lethal pellets lay like toys,

a child that only played at war

has two less fingers than before.

 

For decades long the feringhee

dispatched their best technology

to help the people kill themselves,

then granted aid to fill their shelves.

 

Now we sit like stumps and wait

as rival armies infiltrate,

as women blot their skin with mud

and stock their cellars with cold food.

 

My landlord is inured to war,

has seen it many times before.

The only hope, he says, is faith;

the only waste is useless death.

***

The source of the poem: this book.

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