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  • I was just a tourist. A tourist in Afghanistan. Go figure.

    But even Kabul has its tourist traps. This one was called Chicken Street. Except for the occasional bombed-out building, Chicken Street was lined up and down with shops, each one packed to the gills with traditional Afghan merch. I'd been to Chicken Street before, but last time our guide had briskly ushered us out when he spotted a handful of American soldiers on patrol. Our guide's english wasn't great, but the message was clear: we weren't likely to be targets ourselves, but it wasn't best to hang around when one walked down the street.

    I think I was buying my then-fiancée a pair of scarfs, or maybe it was the oversized winter socks I bought as a gag. Either way, I was mid-haggle with a shopkeeper when I saw him look past me and motion with his hands, "Away, away." An Afghan woman had noticed the tourists and worked her way into our group. She was now standing right behind me, reaching out with cupped-hands and asking for a few coins. The shopkeeper seemed annoyed, so I turned back to the scarfs--or was that where I bought the blue burka?

    Yeah, the blue burka like she was wearing, with the mask woven so tight that nothing but the smallest amount of air could get through. How anyone could see through that mesh I don't know, but she could. And she was back, undeterred by the shopkeeper's rebuke. "What are a few coins," I thought as I dropped them in her hand and turned back to my bartering.

    Before long he was distracted again, looking past me again, waving her away again. But when I turned around, I realized that she wasn't begging anymore. She was crying. No, she was weeping. She was gushing tears. And she was speaking, clearly to me, but I couldn't understand anything she was saying. Someone said that she was asking what my name was. I was so thrown that I had to remind myself before I could tell her. Still weeping, she thanked me more profusely for those few, insignificant coins than I have ever been thanked by anyone for anything.

    I left the shop with a some trinkets (or whatever). More importantly, I left with an indelible awareness of my own ineptitude. How could I have not noticed her? How could I have cared so little for her enormous need and so much for myself? How is it that now, over 7 years later, her thankfulness still haunts me, asking me again and again if I still stumble blindly over the broken.
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