Lucy Ferriss

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I've called this blog "Travelin' Thoughts" in the past, because I kept it mostly as a journal to record impressions of new places and cultures. But in a way, it's still a place for traveling thoughts--ideas that move through and past me, and out into the world. Some of these are literary, some just about life. It's a good place to open up the conversation, and I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Reaping the Whirlwind in Peshawar

December 19, 2014

Two and a half years ago, I chose Peshawar, Pakistan, as the central location from which I would do the research for a novel that was then in its infancy and would grow to become A Sister to Honor. The choice came from Peshawar's reputation as the birthplace of squash champions; the famous Khan family hailed from there, with Hashim Khan's story practically an international legend. But I also knew Peshawar was the gateway to the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, close to the mountain strongholds of the Talilban and home to more than a million Pashtuns, an extraordinary people who followed traditions that predated Sharia and were often at odds with Western ideas, particularly regarding men, women, love, sex, and marriage. In the hospitality I received, the warmth and openness with which I was greeted by almost everyone with whom I came into contact in Peshawar, I was extraordinarily fortunate.

But I do not know if I would have gone to Peshawar even a few months after I did. In October that year, Malala Yousafzai was shot point-blank as she sat in her school bus in Mingora, only an hour from the village I visited outside Peshawar. And only a few days ago, in revenge for Pakistani military action, the Taliban stormed the Army Public School and Degree College, a heavily guarded enclave (of course, they're all heavily guarded!) I passed several times with my host in Peshawar. They killed at least 145 people, mostly students, including one 24-year-old teacher who was burned alive after she pleaded with the gunmen to shoot her first, so that she would not have to witness the bloody bodies of the children she cherished.

The people I stayed and spoke with in Peshawar are in shock; they feel angry, helpless, anguished. When people write--as one did in a New York Times comment--"Please understand that Pakistan is nothing but a collection of tribes and ethnic groups unwillingly bound together by the fantasy of one Islamic state to which they will supposedly all give allegiance," they dismiss all the loving, grieving parents, all the working people, all the ones who are simply trying to get by, as we all do, and who are oppressed by a corrupt government, an incompetent and lying military, and butchers with automatic weapons (many American-made) climbing over their walls.

Sandy Hook, only 40 miles from where I sit, was a different kind of tragedy, a lone and mentally ill gunman who took out 26 in 10 minutes, as opposed to a trained terrorist force who waged an 8-hour gun battle with security forces and took out 145. But there's madness in both massacres. And there is the terrible loss of children's lives. Unending grief. Wails of frustration that never seem to reach the corridors of power. The smallest coffins are always the heaviest.

I dedicated A Sister to Honor to the women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. If I could, I would add another dedication: to the parents of Peshawar.

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