Geraniums and Guns
It was my one day out of Kabul during my first trip there; my hosts wanted me to see a little of the countryside. So we piled a bunch of people in a van and headed out. The traffic and dust and commercial activity dwindled little by little-- after twenty minutes or so, there were just a few melon stands on the side of the road and a gas station (erroneously labeled, in English, Pimp Station). There was some dispute at the front of the van about which road to take, then we finally turned up one that was crowded, at the end, with small signs announcing various NGO-type programs at work in the area.
At the top of the mountain, we turned off the main road and headed down a tree-lined avenue to an old wrecked building. I was either never clear to begin with--or have forgotten-- if the place was one of the king's minor palaces or a warlord estate; whatever, it had been thoroughly bombed at some stage of the wars. It was now a park of sorts-- there were some gardens (although ragged and bare, because it was December) and a few intact rooms to creep through and a huge veranda for viewing the wide vista of fields and mud-brick houses below.
Some men were standing on top of the wrecked building when we pulled up. They grinned and waved their machine guns at us, much as someone would welcome you to a party with upheld wine glasses, the gesture meant to imply, "Come, come! We've been looking out for you!" So we waved at the guys and parked the van and headed toward the house, then saw this greenhouse made of poplar sticks and plastic sheeting in the rubble. The gardener--he in the brown robes--was eager for us to admire his work. I don't think there was anything edible growing there. It was all pink flowers of one kind or another, a love garden for Ahmed Shah Massoud. He is the man in the portrait, the Tajik fighter credited (by some, depending on their own ethnic identity) as being the Taliban's fiercest scourge, the one who was murdered shortly before 9/11. His portrait hangs all over Kabul, but I never saw it so tenderly displayed as in this setting with the pink flowers and the heart painted on the wall.
I remembered this photo when I was having dinner with friends a few days ago and we were talking about the TV special about the buildup to 9/11. One of the friends said, "That Massoud -- what a hottie!"