There is one evening of my childhood that stands out in my mind for some reason. Unlike other memories, it wasn’t particularly unusual. But it was a moment of my life where I distinctly remember the feeling of pure joy.
I was probably 12 years old at the time, give or take a year. My family was living in Northern Afghanistan. I remember that it was a Wednesday. This was the last school day of the week for us as our weekend was on Thursday and Friday. And on Wednesday evenings we met up with a couple of other families for a movie night. This was always a special treat as we didn’t have a TV at our house.
We had finished supper and were all getting ready to go. Before leaving I went out to put our chickens into their pen for the night. First the young ones that I had watched as they hatched. They were getting quite big now, and as they scurried into their pen I reached out and caught the biggest one. His little crop was full to nearly bursting with the food he had gorged himself on, and for the first time I could tell for sure that he was in fact a rooster.
I closed the door and breathed a sigh of contentment. All was well with the chickens. Something about chickens has always represented home and contentment for me.
And then we all piled into the blue Toyota Landcruiser Jeep. I absolutely loved that Jeep. It had been a labour of love for nearly a year as Dad had fitted it with a diesel engine in his spare time, of which he had very little. But now it was purring like a kitten and we loved sitting on the sideways-facing seats in the back, watching Dad shift the gears as he drove.
We drove through the busy streets of Mazar-e-Sharif, the cars and horse-carriages and men pushing carts full of vegetables. Past shops and naan bakers and kebab restaurants, with the delicious smell of roasting lamb wafting from their barbecues.
At the school where we had our movie night, we were unusually early: none of the other families were there. So Dad bought us soft drinks from the little fridge that was stocked especially for these evenings. I grabbed my cold Mountain Dew and ran outside to the swing, suspended from a branch of a mulberry tree. As I sat there on the home-made tire swing and drank, I practiced reading the Persian script on the can: meeawntan dyeew… I slowly sounded out the letters. Oh, Mountain Dew!
I finished my drink and kept swinging. Higher and higher, until I could catch glimpses of the mountains to the south of the city. The sun was about to set, my chickens were safe, I was with my family, my friends were about to come, and I was catching glimpses of the beautiful mountains of Afghanistan. Contentment, thankfulness, joy.