Long time since I have been in a church, where the first notice given, is not about the Ladies Craft Group, or Friday night Youth Group (Youth Grope, we used to call it), but about how to evacuate the building in case of a suicide bomber.
Perhaps I should rewind a little. You may not know that I am a person with a SofGos. Now that is not a type of rash you find in the unwashed creases of your body, but a Sort of Faith in a God of Sorts. Kind of like a vestigial tail, this faith of mine doesn’t do much, but makes me uncomfortable, in a moral sense. Makes me think about poor people, those who are left out of life’s better moments, about my own failings. So it was that I decided that given that I was in Afghanistan – a country that is currently one of the epicentres of violence and impoverishment – Good Friday was a good day to go to church.
I dressed in my best Afghan clothes – the baggy pants and long shirt that is the equivalent of a Sunday best, and asked our driver to take me over to the other side of town, where the expatriate church meets.
I am not a big fan of expatriates getting together in war zones. Too often it seems like behaviour that would normally be restrained at home, the war, tension, fighting and pressure suddenly now permit. And that applies in both secular and holy settings. I kid you not: at a party the other night, as I yelled over the thudding boofdoof music to a fellow Australian, a woman with a squint and a pork pie hat, several Americans behind me screamed into the Kabul sky, ‘Team Fuckin’ American!!! Yeah! Hooo-aaaah!!!’, the Frenchmen took their shirts off, and a short man with a sparse beard ran about, pushing his camera up women’s shirts and taking candid shots. And no one seemed to mind, about any of it.
In churches, I have heard sane and good people beseech their God to remove the curse of Islam, watched them go into apoplexy, and seen an undercurrent of fear of the other, that disturbs me. (Though I have to say, when the men took their shirts off at the party, I felt an undercurrent of fear too. Momentarily I wondered if I had stumbled into Afghanistan’s first Gay Rave.) It has occurred to me to ask whether in the mosque nearby, there might be devout Muslims praying that God would remove the curse of Christianity, but that would explain to you why I am now a person with a SofGos, rather than a person with foam flecking my lips.
I digress. Determined to see as all, Muslim, Christian, shirtless-party dancer and weird photo-snappy short-man as equally redeemed and equally fallen, I went off to church, turning my mind to the ‘open’ setting, (as opposed to its normal setting, ‘vacant’). As we drove up the wide, main street leading to the Parliament, crowds thronged in front of us, and the way was blocked by two ISAF tanks, and three Amoured Personnel Carriers, and usual coterie of black, tinted-window security vehicles. It didn’t take long to work it out: a suicide bomber. Another suicide bomber. Now I have lived in Afghanistan in the Mujahideen times, under the Taliban, in the chaos before and after September 11, and under Karzai’s new deal, and I have seen plenty of horror here. But the random violence and carnage of a suicide bomber is deeply upsetting. Two bodies lay inert on the street, roughly swathed in plastic. Bits of car were flung over hundreds of metres, barely recognisable. Sump oil, bone, and blood mingled in the brown mud. Two attack helicopters shuddered in the air above. Half of my mind puzzled at them. Unless spectacularly unsuccessful, a suicide bomber does not flee the scene.
I took a few photos, and we drove on. Barely half a kilometre on, we turned into a side street and I got down and went into the Good Friday service, feeling numb and shaken. Not stirred.
Bits of somebody.