Friday, 24 July 2015

Tell Me Why

I am the Afghan child cowering in her mother’s arms when foreign men in uniform break down the door in the middle of the night guns pointing shouting
Things in a language I do not understand, orders my mother can’t comprehend, dogs barking, lights flaring in our eyes, blinding bright
My father knocked down to the floor, hands pulled behind him, kicked in the side till the blood pours from his mouth, then dragged out –
Dragged to a shed in Bagram, tied down to a plane to be sent to a cage in Guantanamo, year in year out, force-fed, and waterboarded twenty times a day
My brother not here to see it, because he’s dead, shot on a whim, his fingers hacked off as trophies and his head, blood mask, held up to the cameras.
I am that Afghan child.

I am the Iraqi man driving my wife to hospital, she cradling her big belly by my side, the baby on the way, no longer willing to wait, eager to see the world
The streets studded with checkpoints, the foreign soldiers watching as the cars come, one by one, stopping them to search them,
The soldiers who brought us freedom, who drive around in their cars shooting at us, and laughing, taking videos they post to the web to show the world what they can do
What they can get away with – and by my side, my wife gasping as another contraction hits, her dress going dark between the legs as her waters break   
And the soldiers shooting, shooting, the bullets through my car like butter, through her, through the baby, and I touch my wife’s dead face.
I am that Iraqi man.

I am the Yemeni boy, at my sister’s wedding, the whole village gathered, friends and family, all come to see, and to celebrate, the groom from the next village
They’ve known each other all their lives, and they’ll be happy together, everyone says, and they urge me to sing, for they know my singing, that I sing well
I smile, and I sing and dance, forgetting for a while the charred cars in the street, the village school struck as if by lightning, burned walls and windows blasted out –
Then there is a buzzing in the air, above, eyes watching a screen in a far foreign land, toggling a joystick and presses a button
And my sister’s wedding explodes, blast breaking walls, shrapnel slicing through her, through her groom, through the guests one and all, and there is nothing left, and I can’t sing any more.
I am that Yemeni boy.

I am the Sudanese girl, held in my mother’s arms, suckling at a breast gone dry, the flies buzzing around my face
I have two days to live, the doctors said, even if I wasn’t starving, even if my mother had milk to give me, the disease eating me inside
The doctors at the hospital, who could help me if only they had the medicine, the syringes, but the hospital has nothing, the hospital is bare
Because a man in a foreign land had a sexual scandal, and thought bombing a medicine factory was a good way of diverting attention, a man who had the power to do that
As well as put sanctions afterwards, because someone didn’t like my country’s leader’s face, the leader I did nothing to choose, the country I did not choose to be born into, and that is why I must die.
I am that Sudanese girl.

I am the woman in Donetsk, cowering in the cellar, while the shells burst overhead, bricks crashing, the floor trembling under my feet
Wrapped in all the clothes I can get on, the air freezing, holding my neighbour close, telling her it will be all right, knowing that her home is rubble now
Watching the children’s faces, wide-eyed by candlelight, knowing I will have to go out in a while, to look for food, to look for water, to look for a way to stay alive
While my people are called beetles by swastika-waving democracy-lovers paid and trained, armed and supported, by someone on the other side of the planet
And my husband – who never hurt a fly before – goes with a gun in his hand, to fight, perhaps to kill and to die.
I am that Donetsk woman.

Now tell me why.
Tell me why I must sympathise
With your rainbow flags and your men who come out as women
With the people your police stop and kill on the basis of their skin colour.
With your politicians and your trade deals, with your disrespected presidents.
Tell me why I must act as your media directs me.
Tell me why I should care more about you than about me and mine
Even as I die.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015


  1. I can't think why you should sympathize. But those who know, as you do, as I do in lesser degree, must tell the story of the child in Sudan and the woman in Donetsk and the man in Iraq. Because no one else in the American media will, and they will treat their viewers/readers to a diet of rainbow flags and young Princess Charlotte and Marines killed at a recruiting station. And nothing else.

  2. When I try to talk to people about Gaza/Ukraine/Syria/Africa, what I usually hear is some version of "those people have been fighting for centuries" or "People over there have been dying for centuries". It's always "those people" a lump, a group, no one to care specifically about. And they don't.

    Some might send a few dollars to Docs w/o Borders (MSF) and then pay attention a gay couple whose story is told, in lingering detail. Or people shot due to our insane gun laws. US media gives these people faces and gives their lives depth. No one except you, that I have read, does this for those killed by US/Western policy all over the world.

    And don't get me started on US politicians, whose offices I have deluged with emails and phone calls and in-person visits. "I am consulting with the President", and "Israel has the right to defend itself".

    Please keep writing. Your words are so powerful.


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