By Steve Winshel
Copyright 2012 by Steve Winshel
November 24, 2001
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Brilliantly white walls surrounded a dozen children playing in the courtyard. Quiet men hand-scrubbed them each evening. Now they reflected the late afternoon sun, echoing the slap of a hard rubber ball each time it banged against a wall and into the hands of a little girl playing in one corner. A puff of dirt swirled and then resettled with each bounce. Two teen boys kicked a worn soccer ball at the other end of the courtyard, navigating between the legs of the swarm of children. Voices called to one another to come play a jumping game, or to wrangle over who would get to eat the first cookie when they went home. The sounds ricocheted off the walls and were like notes from a choir. Beyond the wide north wall was the school building, not much larger than the courtyard. On the other side, the south wall separated the children from the packed dirt road that split Sharzi into two tiny villages. The road ran straight for a hundred yards before resuming its winding path for another quarter mile and then emerging into desert that appeared like a mirage and went to infinity. Looking up into the glare of the sun, one saw the tops of three-story buildings and escarpments made of hand-molded clay and ancient cement.
Over the cacophony of the youngsters playing and mothers chattering as they entered the courtyard to pick up their charges and walk them home for the afternoon meal, no one heard the rumble of approaching vehicles.