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Mousab’s Exhibition

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By Luke Nephew

Late at night, I sit alone in the office of The Afghan Peace Volunteer’s house in Kabul. The mountain cold wrapped itself around me. I finally got the internet to work and found a message from Rashad, a good friend of mine in Sudan. I feel all the muscles in my chest tighten. Rashad wrote that in the protests in the streets of Khartoum our dear friend Mousaab had been shot and murdered by the police. I froze. Below his words is a picture of Mousaab bathed in his own blood in the back of a pickup truck.

No. I shook my head in denial and tears started falling out my eyes. I stared at the picture and heard Mousab’s voice. I closed my eyes but the tears kept flowing down my cheeks as I saw the image of Mousab sitting next to Eddy in the Circle of Peace we built together in Khartoum. My memories transported me back to the some of the most truly human sessions, unforgettable moments with Unity House, our poetry family. I see Mousab showing me what he was drawing while everyone else was writing poems. His smile. The picture of him shot through the back bleeding uncontrollably. I was sobbing. I can’t remember crying like that for years. The tears just kept coming. They seemed to pour out in protest of this injustice, out of love for this young brave artist brother, the tears poured out in rage against the Sudanese dictatorship and the authorities willing to murder their neighbors. I could barely breathe but felt I didn’t have a choice, my mind was rushing and I just let the tears flow out for his fellow painters and beloved friends- for Eddy and Muni’im, for Enas and Amani and everyone in Unity House who I know is hurting so much right now.

Finally, the tears stop. I sit still alone in another warzone thousands of miles away from my friends in Sudan. I take a deep breath. I remember ending every session of Unity House by saying together in one loud voice, “One Family” and then “We Are Together”. That one family always extended beyond the limits of our circle and even far beyond the borders of Sudan. Without a doubt it reaches here in Afghanistan where people are murdered everyday by any number of armed groups- the military, the NATO forces, the Taliban, the US forces and more are responsible for the deaths of young men like Mousaab. People who are acting peacefully and simply demanding dignity. As I reflect, I’m surprised by the sound of the door to the office opening because it’s the middle of the night. Abdulhai appears in the doorway and smiles. Even though I try to return the smile, he sees my tear soaked face and his expression turns immediately worried.

What happened?

“My friend was murdered by the police in Sudan,” I told him. He cringed and tears welled up in his eyes. I was surprised he was so emotional. But soon I came to learn that he has lost loved ones in his country’s war. His father had been murdered years before. I’m sorry, he says. He puts his hand on my shoulder and sits down next to me. Abdulhai stays there keeping me company while I write to my family from Unity House. With tears in our eyes for another fallen brother, our collective chant feels so real: We Are Together. With compassion, with commitment, with longing for justice and peace- we are together. And even though it was hurting me to not be physically present in Sudan with my people at this moment, I knew that they could feel the love I was sending them and that I had all of them right here with me in this cold night in Kabul.

I heard from Rashad again a few days later. Emanating from his words was the certainty that Mousaab’s spirit was alive and with us. I could feel it, too. Unity House had gathered together and decided that they would organize an exhibition of Mousab’s artwork. It was a dream he had always spoken of that his family was now going to make real. As I wrote these words, tears came again. But that must just be the presence of love, the power of our connection and fearlessness settling into my chest for the long hard struggle to make our dreams come true- while we are still alive.

While I do pray that our brother rest in peace, I also have the sense he is already inciting restlessness in me. Thank you Mousaab, I hope I can honor the courage and goodness and love you left within us.

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The next morning I don’t say anything to the other community of young people I’m staying and working with here in Kabul. Instead I somehow get into a conversation where one of them, Raz Mohammad. He is telling me the story of his two classmates being murdered by drone attacks. He trembles as he recounts the story. “I just remember the day before walking to school with them. They were such good boys, my friends, so good…”

Talking to Raz I felt the closeness to death that I haven’t had recently. It comes at times when a lot of people you know pass away or you’re in a place like Kabul where everybody has been cut somehow by war’s relentless blades. In many ways, it’s good to dwell close to the funerals. It allows us to sit with our mortality and the reality of war and suffering that so many people in our family are living through.

Raz then describes his family to me. Heart warming stories of his littlest brother who only wants to play with him when he goes home to visit and then always falls asleep in his arms. And of course, more heartbreaking stories: his older sister who was so full of life and laughter until another drone attack killed her husband. Now she is quiet. When he calls on the phone she cries. His little sister who only dreams of studying but there is no school for her to go to. Raz Mohammad says everything like it’s extremely important. At some point during our conversation I realize- It is.

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For the record, I can’t with this guy. He’s gotta be the number 1 most genuine dude on the planet and totally unaware of this unofficial but still pretty epic title. And he’s always laughing. Except when you get serious, then he physically shakes his head and shoulders rapidly for a quick second. Ok. Now’s he’s serious and ready to do whatever you need. Yes? Tell me. What should we do?

Throughout the day, I keep shaking my head thinking- this guy. He’s the best. And now, we’re both sick with colds so we sit together and drink hot water and talk about his village. Quality time. But then last night when we were all laying down on our mats to go to sleep, I realized that there is no mat under his blanket. In the corner of our room where Raz sleeps, there is just a sheet on the floor. Of course, I’m the visitor in this room for 3 and so somebody had to give up their mat. As I lay down all congested with a sore throat, I look over and hear him stifling under his sheet. He pokes his head up and asks if I need anything. I can’t with this guy. He makes me ask a question this harsh war torn world so rarely evokes: how are people so good?