The only thing worse than the moon dust that the world here is made of, is when it turns into moon mud.

It had been pissing a fine mist onto us for about seventy hours. The mist froze on contact, turning beards into yeti pelts. The bottom of the clouds was about ten feet above the ground.

We were nestled in a tiny crag up in the crinkled brown hills, and had been watching the same village for about four days. We were waiting for something very specific to happen. It hadn't yet, but we knew it would. Man is a creature of habit, and our enemies, like us, are only men.

The village wasn't known to be particularly friendly to either us or the badguys. Like most Afghans, these villagers would tell whoever happened to be talking to them at a given time whatever they wanted to hear, and go back to aggressively minding their own goddamned business as soon as whoever was gone.

It's one part of Afghan behavior I will never understand. They never pick sides except when they think their lives (or wallets) depend on it, and they don't believe in any sort of higher cause one way or the other. Except the ones that do, and they lose their minds over it.

We had been given the heads up that there were reports of a suicide bomber in the village. That's the kind of mind-losing I'm talking about. The pure essence of mind-losing. You see, suicide bombers generally are blackmailed, brainwashed, or tricked into doing it. The Taliban is not above kidnapping a man's family and telling him that if he doesn't blow himself up, they'll kill his family. And they'd be justified, because if the man is unwilling to sacrifice himself for Allah, then the women and children, mere chattel to begin with, are no longer afforded Allah's grace, and SHOULD be killed.

Retarded children, or adults. Young people with birth defects. Orphans. People who should be protected and nurtured, but are instead used as suicide bombers. There is a sick logic in this particular selection: It's the only way they can get into heaven. The fuckfaces reason that since to have been born that way they must have been cursed by Allah himself. They can redeem themselves and guarantee a place in heaven, despite their defects, by "turning into flowers".

"Turning into flowers" is the colorful Afghan euphemism for blowing oneself up in the service of Jihad. Or having oneself blown up by remote control while shopping for the candy that Abu-badguy gave you the pocket change to go buy, right over there by the Americans.

Or delivering the special package of medicine to the hospital. The awfully big package that looks like three drums of diesel and ammonium nitrate.

Man is a creature of habit, so when a shepherd deviated from his daily routine we perked up immediately. He came trundling over with his pitiful little flock of bones, gesticulating wildly at us, to make sure that we saw him. He came up within about a hundred yards and stopped, and sat down, and put his hands on his head.

I went out to go ask him what he wanted, and he asked if we were from "the NGO". He thought, apparently, that we were waiting to give out food, or medicine. I told him no, we were just leaving. He nodded, and told me that he would wait.

We were packing up to get the hell out of Dodge, when a woman came up the same way the shepherd had, pulling a little girl behind her.
The little girl was having a hard time keeping up. She was maybe four, and had terrible bowlegs.

The Doc said, "Fuck, it just breaks your heart when they have rickets that bad."

And when she got a little closer we could see, even without binos, that she had a really awful cleft palate. It was so bad that seeing was, honestly, revolting, and I still feel like a monster for feeling disgust before pity.

They got up to about where the shepherd was and were told to stop. The woman hesitated visibly, weighing her options, then kept moving. She kept coming, and we told her that if she didn't stop we would have to shoot.

She stopped.

Thirty seconds later, the little girl blew up.

We found out later, after all of the reports had been generated, collated, disseminated, that the guy we'd been waiting for had beat us there, and had been building suicide vests the whole time we had been watching for him.

The shepherd was toast but his wife later said he had been considering warning us. He'd obviously changed his mind.

The village elders had all been paid off to keep quiet.

The woman's oldest daughter told us her side of it. She had been told to take the youngest to go see "the American doctors" up on the hill, and if she didn't convince them to fix the girl and bring back some medicine, she would have hot oil poured on her face to spoil her beauty. This is a common punishment handed out by older wives or stepmothers to younger wives or stepdaughters.

The guy building the vests blew himself up when the compound got raided. This was no turning into flowers, oh no. He pulled the pin on a faulty grenade in a room full of suicide vests. Is this irony?

I hope they had a very special hell all ready for him when he got there, because he didn't suffer nearly enough on the way out.

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