Watch Your Step

I visited the world's only landmine museum a few days ago, on the eastern rim of Kabul. The manager, Mohammad Noor Sahak, stepped up to me as soon I strolled inside.

“You are with which organization?” he asked.

“No organization,” I told him. “Just me.”

He looked sharply at me and tilted his head; this seemed a new one to him.

“You are from UK,” he asked.

“No, USA.”

“Oh, I see.”

“USA is good?” I asked him.

“Afghanistan is better,” he smiled.

I studied a few of the dozens of varieties of landmines arrayed in glass cases, and still scattered across Afghanistan, one of the world's most heavily-mined countries. They were made in Italy, China, Pakistan, Iran, and of course the USSR, with names like butterfly and bounding fragmentation. Some were plastic and could fit in the palm of my hand, others were metal, rusted and the size of a healthy tire. I took a few notes, snapped a few pics. Mohammad Noor, never straying more than a few feet from my side, stepped even closer.

“You don't need all this information and pictures,” he said, literally breathing down my neck.

“Maybe I do,” I responded. “Could you maybe go to your desk and I'll come and ask you any questions I might have?”

“What would you like to know?

"Why you are following me so closely."

“This is important part of my job, to keep an eye on all visitors.”

I nodded and continued. Minutes later, as I was nearing the end of my tour around the one-room museum, he spoke again.

“So,” Mohammad Noor began, softly. “You will help me get to United States?”

“To do what?”

“Maybe you could help me think of reason?” he smiled again.

We tossed a few ideas back and forth, perhaps he could lecture about landmines, or museums in war-torn countries, or about the need for security to protect cultural artifacts.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Why do you want to go to the US? You told me Afghanistan is better.”

“US is better,” he snorted, as if I were a fool.

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