Last summer, a 17–year–old who grew up in California traveled with his father to their home country, Afghanistan. He took a tape recorder with him. The public radio program "This American Life" will broadcast the extraordinary recordings on KCLU 88.3 FM/Ventura County and 102.3 FM/Santa Barbara on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 11 a.m. and Sunday, Feb. 2, at 10 p.m. They provide a rare and personal glimpse into a country many Americans still don't understand.
In Kabul, teenager Hyder Akbar learns to use a Kalashnikov and spends his days with his one–eyed war–hero uncle. He and his father view the corpse of a family friend, Haji Abdul Qadir, hours after Qadir, a vice–president of Afghanistan, is assassinated. "To be honest with you, I have never really seen a dead body like that," confesses Hyder, later that night. "This is the first time I realized how going through a war must change you." A silence. "I think I'll age about five years in these three months."
Before this trip, Hyder had never seen his home country. Then the Taliban fell. Hyder's father, Said Fazel Akbar, sold the family business, a hip–hop clothing store in Oakland, and left America to work for his old friend Hamid Karzai, now president of Afghanistan. By the end of the summer, he was appointed the official spokesman for the new Afghan government.
For Hyder, the experience of trailing his father each day in the presidential palace is "Like, the equivalent of Lollapolooza. Going backstage and getting to meet all these rock stars going back and forth." The day after an assassination attempt on Hamid Karzai, Hyder stands five feet away from the Afghan president at a press conference, spellbound. Because of his father's position in the government, Hyder has an insider's access to everything important that happens in Kabul.
Hyder's experiences in Afghanistan span the mundane bouts of food poisoning to the dramatic walking, microphone in hand, through a bloody, glass–strewn marketplace in Kabul hours after a bomb has exploded.
Before Sept. 11, Hyder had wanted to study business, maybe become a mortgage broker like his older brother. After Sept. 11, he felt like he had found his mission in life: he would do something big to help Afghanistan rebuild, maybe become a politician, or an engineer. Going to Afghanistan and seeing the troubles there firsthand forced him to think through what that would mean.
Hyder is now back in the States, a college freshman at Diablo Valley College in California.
KCLU Public Radio is a community service of California Lutheran University, broadcasting to Ventura County at 88.3 FM and Santa Barbara County at 102.3 FM.