I never would have thought of my beard as a conversation starter. Of course, had things gone as planned, it wouldn’t have been.
This isn’t the post I planned to write today. The past week in Virginia has been straight rain followed by snow. Right about now, I should be sitting on a beach in St. Thomas drinking a Mai Tai and soaking up the sun. I had planned a quick tweet announcing my arrival and then later, a general blog maintenance post about leaving flickr, what happens when you like your own posts and other such topics. I’m okay with this though. I’m spending time with my sister and mother. Well, sort of. Their shopping habit borders on compulsive. A free day in the big city and they are headed for the outlets. I can’t really blame them…a free day and I’m glued to the computer. Part of that is because of the two hours of sleep I managed to eek out last night. Either way, we’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon and tonight together.
The short story is we went to the wrong airport. We got to Reagan International, made it all the way through the queue to check in and the kiosk wouldn’t let us. The attendant informed us that the problem was we were supposed to be at Dulles. A mad dash to a cab led to a 30 mile ride courtesy of a Ghanian cab driver. Nice guy. So roughly 60 dollars later and we’re standing in Dulles at the desk for United with an hour to go. No worries right? Wrong. We get told it is too late to check in with bags. We can either board without luggage, or not go. There’s no one here to mail our luggage, so we’re stuffed. I think to ask what the cutoff is for checking in. The lady says an hour. Something doesn’t add up…we’ve still got just under an hour to go! Turns out they bumped out flight up by 29 minutes. No way we’re making it out today. Mom was disappointed, but Anne and I were just happy to have the three of us together, so she calmed down fast and we laughed about it later.
So back to the beard. Now we’re at Dulles with 500 pounds of luggage, but our car is still at Reagan in long term parking. We end up catching a cab ride from this middle eastern looking gentleman in a new Dodge Durango. His attitude seemed a little abrupt, but maybe I was just tired. No coffee in the morning does that to me. I’m not accustomed to coming out of my cave during daylight hours; I burst into flames. So off we go…the guy seems nice enough. Definitely a talker. He figures out our situation and starts in on the “Trust in God” and “It’s God’s will” thing. Obviously lost on me. A little while later, and we’re talking about my beard. It reminds him of his beard. Turns out he is from Afghanistan. He’s clean shaven now at the request of his wife, but for the longest time, he refused to shave. He grew up in Russian occupied Afghanistan. The first time he was arrested for speaking out against the government, he was 17. He spent 27 days getting kicked and punched. He was tortured through sensory deprivation. The second time, he was a sophomore in college. 33 days, the first 21 of which were spent below ground, shackled in solitary. The third time he was 5 months from graduation with a master’s degree in ecology. 119 days of hell. When he got out, his father pleaded him to stop speaking out against the Soviet regime. His father had friends, and his friends had warned him that there would be no fourth stay in jail. The next time J got out of line, he’d be executed on sight.
Afghani men are required to serve in the military unless they are handicapped. The time to be served is dependent upon your level of education. J enlisted out of University for what was to be his year of military service. He lasted 9 days. On the 9th night, he went AWOL, taking with him 3 rifles, 5 pistols, 200 rounds of ammo and 12 grenades. He crossed the lines and joined the rebel mujahideen, where he fought valiantly as a freedom fighter. He swore to keep the beard until Russia was expelled from Afghanistan. Ultimately, he was shot in the cheek. The bullet exited just below his ear. He was evacuated to Pakistan for medical care, and was ultimately given asylum in the U.S., as a return to Afghanistan under Russian rule would mean certain death for him and his family. As it was, various members of his family were arrested and questioned. Most of them have fled now too. I truly enjoyed listening to his story, and his firsthand experience of something we only read about in the news. I can’t imagine someone with a history like that would be happy to drive a taxi cab in America, but he relates a story of success; His wife is here, they’ve fathered four sons and he owns his own cab. J’s hung up his rifle and shaved his beard. He’s happy, and he spends each day thankful that he is here to educate his sons and spend time raising them. You can tell they are the most important thing to him. He made sure we knew that no matter what had happened, we should enjoy this day together, as there is no promise of another one tomorrow.
We missed our flight, but we’re together, and that is what it important. That being said, cross your fingers. We’re hold up at a hotel within a few miles of Dulles, and we’re trying again tomorrow. Epic beard pic below.
This blog post brought to you by the power of coffee