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Jacqlynn K. Duquette Walid Gardezi
Rachel Glover Michael Jacobsohn
Pamela Ng Jennifer Pusey

A Place Called Home

"Shhhh!" my mother whispered as the tanks rumbled by under the cold Afghan night, the stars twinkling above the mountains surrounding us. From our hiding place in the brush along the shoulder of the dirt path through the Khyber Pass, I could see tanks stretching to infinity and, try as I might, I could not find an end to the convoy of trucks. Huddled along with my father, mother, and infant brother and sister, we peered anxiously as the Russian Spetsnaz scouts rolled past us in jeeps ahead of the convoy heading toward the Afghanistan-Pakistan border-the very place our destination lay.

My brother began to whimper. My mother began to pray. It seemed as if the line of tanks would never end. Finally, as the last of them rolled by, silence engulfed us. My father had been planning for months for our flight into Pakistan along the Khyber road and we could not stop now. Our nerves were frayed. We had not slept for three days since being smuggled out of the capital and the 15-mile walk across the border might have well been 15 hundred miles. My father stopped for a moment and fished a small, empty black pouch out of his pocket. He crouched close to the earth and paused, grabbed a handful of the dry, fine dust beneath his feet, and gingerly deposited a piece of Home into the bag. He straightened himself and brushed a tear aside with the back of his hand. I was puzzled. We walked on.

As dawn approached with a faint hint of turquoise along the horizon in front of us and we finally sighted Peshawar-the border village in Pakistan-in the distance, my thoughts were not of the next step in our journey, but of the steps already behind us. I knew nothing of war, politics, or Communism. All I could grasp was that I was leaving the only home I had known for the first three and a half years of my life for an unknown, an abstraction, a void that held neither the warmth nor the familiarity of my home in the suburbs outside Kabul. Behind me, just beyond the bend in the road and miles away, were my friends, my teachers, and the only feeling of security I had ever known. Ahead of me lay the worst kind of fear-fear of the unknown. All I knew was that we were traveling to a place called America. After an 18-month waiting period in Pakistan, we were permitted to enter the United States and on March 21, 1983, a plane carrying my mother, father, brother, sister, and myself landed at Los Angeles International Airport, completing our long journey.

Yet through all my experiences, the years have not wiped from my consciousness the memories of the final hours before our crossing of the border that cold September night. My father left behind our property and a house; my mother, likewise, her teaching career; and I left behind the familiar faces of relatives and friends. To this day, I can still remember playing on my swing set in our backyard during the summers, or going to pick apples in my uncle's orchard in the Maymana district in the fall.

But accompanying the loss of those old, sweet memories, are new ones made here in the United States: of going to grade school in Los Angeles, of going to the beach on the weekends and playing under the warm California sunshine, and of visiting friends and relatives here in this country. Without coming to the United States, I could never have had these experiences nor have found the worth and preciousness of a place to call "home."

Today, that pouch of a few ounces of earth that my father gathered during our last hours in Afghanistan lies on a desk in his study, reminding me of what I have lost, of another place filled with memories that I used to call home. But today, what I call home is in Orange County, California, half a world away from Afghanistan. Perhaps one day I will go back to see what is left after the years of war and strife and once again relax in our old backyard, or go to pick apples in an orchard in the Maymana district. But I will go back only to visit.

~ Walid Gardezi

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