Too much time to think
Ronnie, Nancy and the Afghan refugees
By Farzin Foroughi
August 30, 2001
There are no good days for being sick. I stayed home today because of
this terrible cold the likes of which I have not had in years. First day
of work I have missed -- in about five years -- for being ill. That is how
it is, when you work for yourself and have no one to call in sick to. No
mercy on thy body and soul! Even when you feel miserable, you drag yourself
in, because you know work will pile up and patiently wait for your return.
But eventually even the mighty will fall and, I -- not being that mighty
-- was miserable enough to stay home today.
I cannot stay in bed during the day and relax. I usually think of sleep
as an unfortunate necessity and otherwise a waste of time. I thought of
this joke about good reasons for being in bed: to sleep, make love, read
or watch TV. I couldn't sleep and was in no shape to make love and would
have been cause for laughter -- if I were to try -- since I felt so pathetically
ill. I read as much as I could.
The TV screen was splattered with thousands of mind numbing stupefying
daytime shows. Regis was doing his excruciating version of Yoga and, on
the Today Show, a bunch of ice skaters -- dressed in horrendously
uncomfortable costumes -- were prancing and sliding on ice in Rockefeller
plaza doing some stale version of Beauty and the Beast on ice.
After medicating myself properly and being bored out of my skull, I left
the bed and took refuge in my office. I turned on the radio, which is my
preferred way of getting information, especially when I listen to my local
public radio station. Some reporter was talking about a refugee crisis in
Pakistan. He talked about a steady stream of people pouring across the border
from Afghanistan to Pakistan leaving essentially everything behind, but
He interviewed a couple of these people. A woman with three children
who had sewn together a few empty sacks of flour and used them as sleeping
bags placed right on the cold ground every night to lay her children inside
them protecting them from the bitter cold. I heard the woman speaking Farsi
in the background and I listened to the not so good translation in English.
They eat when some food aid comes their way, which is not very often.
An aid worker talked about the usual problems in these camps no sanitation,
rampant malnutrition, death because of simple maladies such as dehydration
and exposure which I have heard about hundreds of times before in reports
from refugee camps from many corners of the world. This time the story hits
much closer to home.
I remembered the happy Afghani songs we listened to at home when I was
a child. What I knew about Afghans then was that we were neighbors and they
spoke the same language as we did and they had beautiful happy melodies.
Now, decades later, those memories seem like a far away dream and all of
this news like too real of a nightmare.
I turned the radio off and went back to the bedroom. I turned the TV
back on. Nancy Reagan is on. I did not listen well enough to catch what
program. Who cares? Ronald had a nasty fall a few days ago and had a hip
surgery and so the Reagans were back in the news. Nancy apparently had gathered
all the personal letters Ronald had written her over the years and had now
donated them to some library as a gift.
Nancy was emotional and oozing with sentimental nostalgia about values
of a good letter in everyday life and how letter writing is a lost art and
people these days fax and send emails which is not at all the same as a
letter by hand. She is right of course. Apparently Ronald had a descent
prose and the sample of his letters they read on the program sounded rather
I coughed my guts out as I watched and listened. I made an absurd connection
between the two stories while I tried to tell myself no one usually dies
from a cold. I thought to myself and wondered if Ronald wrote anything about
the Afghans in his letters to Nancy. Did he write about how when he was
president, he authorized and encouraged creation of the Taliban and armed
them to the teeth, just because they were fighting the Russian invaders?
Did he really care who these people were as long as they were fighting
the Russians? Did he write anything about how once the Russians were gone,
America could not care less what would happen to Afghanistan? Did he write
anything about how the lives of all these people has never been the same?
Was he aware that this woman with her three kids, who slept in empty sacks
of flour spread over hard and cold ground, could not care less about how
well-written his letters are to his wife Nancy?
I then remembered how he kept saying "I do not recall" in response
to questions they asked him during the Iran-Contra hearings. I am certain
he does not recall anything about these Afghans either. He does not recall
much of anything anymore.
I crawl back into bed. Nothing is as dangerous as having time to think.
It leads you to places not easily left behind. I hope I'll fall asleep.