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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Oops (01/14/10)

TITLE: Before You Bow to the East
By Chely Roach


Aamir jan,

By the time that you read this, my son, you will be on the other side of the ocean. Chances are you have figured out that you have not travelled to America for your grandmother’s funeral, whose home you will lay out your prayer carpet tonight and bow to the east. When you do, say a prayer for your Baba.

I plead with Allah to give me the words to tell you what you need to hear…

Yesterday, you were on the verge of becoming a man. Aamir jan, as these words fall off the page and into your mind, you have achieved manhood. I am going to tell you things I would only tell another man. I am going to ask a favor of you, one that only a man could fulfill. Understand?

I regret that I have missed so much of your life. I believed that I was doing what I had to so that our family could survive. When the Soviets scampered away, we had so much hope; hope that was crushed by the Taliban. As an American educated scientist, the Taliban clutched me to their wicked bosom. Kabul, the city of my childhood, became our prison. I wish you could see her from my eyes, unscarred from these years of war. She was once beautiful. I regret that war is all you’ve ever known.

I praise Allah that you are now far from this place.

The work I have been doing—what has kept me away from you and your mother so often—was not voluntary. Because bombs and guns have a finite killing potential, the Taliban made us run endless experiments to find even more lethal ways to kill the “infidels”. For years I have faked my way through—never quite achieving the weapon that the Talib officers dug their heels into our necks to find. Do you remember how I told you that the discovery of penicillin was born from a small mistake, and in that moment, the world changed? Well, that also happened to me, not long after the Americans arrived, but my accidental discovery could take more lives than penicillin has ever saved. Do you understand such an infinite number, my son? Such a small little blunder—an unintentional combination in a centrifuge—and within moments, I created another Manhattan project. With the strict documentation we were forced to maintain, my feeble attempts to hide the formula failed. Recently, the Taliban began to manufacture unfathomable amounts of the agent in my lab. It is first intended for the American soldiers, but there will be just as many Afghans that will perish. Probably more. They will also sell it Hezbollah to attack Israel.

Aamir jan, we’re Pashtuns, we live by the Pashtunwali—the honor code. We are not terrorists, and never let anyone tell you that we are. Those who do not believe as we do are not our enemies. I spent eight years in America where Allah blessed me with an education that my father and his father’s could have never dreamed of. I met and married your mother there. You were born there. That place so foreign to you with the strange tongue is now your home.

But, my son, it grieves me to tell you that I will not be joining you.

I have unfinished business. I cannot live with myself knowing what I have unleashed. By the time your mother gives you this letter, I will have already acted out what has taken months to plan. It has required many long nights to deactivate the Taliban’s stash of the weaponized agent, and many more developing the formula to do so. The formula that impotents the weapon is in your mother’s hands. Help her be brave enough to deliver it to its addressee. However, the lab and all the documents must still be destroyed. For the sake of our relatives still in Afghanistan, it will appear as another small little blunder: an overworked scientist that unintentionally combined the wrong chemical with an unstable element. If I am not buried under rubble at this moment, then I have surely found a similar fate by a Talib soldier.

Be strong, Aamir jan. It is an honorable death to fight evil, to protect one’s country, to glorify Allah.

My favor of you? Look after your mother, my widowed bride. And tonight—before you bow to the east—say the Janaza prayer for me.

May Allah be with you always,


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This article has been read 692 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sheri Gordon01/22/10
The writing is very, very good--you had my heart aching for the boy reading this, and for the father who wrote it. Extremely unique take on the topic, and I like the way you wove in the "oops" of the discovery of penicillin.
Barbara Lynn Culler01/22/10
What a powerful insight into another culture. Well done.
Gregory Kane01/24/10
Wow. This is compelling writing.
Catrina Bradley 01/24/10
Powerful - STRONG writing! Very effective. This in the first paragraph confused me - "Chances are you have figured out that you have not travelled to America for your grandmother’s funeral". I wondered where he went if not America, and how could he not know where he was actually going. After finishing your entry and thinking it over, I realized I misunderstood - it wasn't where he was going that he didn't know, it was the reason why. You also have a couple of missing words, but that minor oops didn't affect the story. This has a strong emotional impact - I love it!
Jan Ackerson 01/25/10
From the title to the last word...wow. Outstanding writing, outstanding voice. Such authenticity, and it reminded me of the Tarsheeshan character in C. S. Lewis's "The Last Battle". Again...wow!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 01/25/10
This was absolutely brilliant. I had goose bumps and tears. Just this weekend, a local solider, the same age as my son, died in Afghanistan. What a powerful message. God bless you.
Patricia Herchenroether01/26/10
Very eye-opening-- a p.o.v. from a different culture. Good writing. Patty
Carole Robishaw 01/26/10
Excellent! Left me wanting to read more. I, too, stumbled on the first paragraph, but it didn't hamper way the story read at all.
Carol Slider 01/26/10
What a compelling and intriguing take on the topic! You hooked me from the beginning, and the outcome certainly did not disappoint. It made me want to read more about those professionals (scientists, etc.) who have been caught between two worlds. Exceptionally well done!!
Sharlyn Guthrie01/26/10
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/26/10
Really powerful!
Rachel Phelps01/27/10
I meant to comment on this earlier in the week. I love the atmosphere you created with this, and the way you played off of the "oops" theme. Amazing!
Ruth Brown01/27/10
Exceptional! It would make an intriguing book.
Kimberly Russell01/27/10
As so many other have said: WOW. This was really something. A winner for sure, at least in my book...
Dr. Sharon Schuetz01/27/10
Amazing. I was hooked from the first word to the last tear. Powerful stuff.
Noel Mitaxa 01/28/10
Compelling, engrossing material. Please assure us that it's the prologue of a suspense novel, for I'm sure we're waiting for the rest of the story to emerge.