Alyce wanted me to share the story of my life. I told her that I wasn't ready,
that it was too soon. I'm not even nineteen years old, and I haven't achieved
anything yet. But Alyce said that with a life like mine, surviving itself is an
I don't know if she's right. When I look back at my childhood in Afghanistan, it seems so far away and long ago. Back then I thought I would grow up and grow old in the city of Kabul, surrounded by my big, complicated, loving family. Little did I know I would lose most of them before I turned fourteen.
As a child, gazing at the high walls around our home compound, I longed to see what lay on the other side of my city. I never dreamed that I would see our home reduced to rubble and would end up living on the other side of the world, in the suburbs of a city called Chicago.
But in the end, I have decided to tell this story because it is not mine alone. It is the story of many people. Probably, you have read the numbers. So many people have stepped on land mines, so many have gotten hurt by war, have lost their families, fled their homes. Each of us has a story. What happened to me-both the bad and the good-really does happen to people.
I say "the bad and the good" because out of my losses have come tremendous gifts as well. Looking back, I see that my life could have ended so many times, except for unexpected strangers who reached out to me in loving kindness. After I lost my leg, I thought I could never know happiness again, and yet that very loss opened the world to me in strange ways and showed me wonders that I had never imagined.
I have seen my dreams crushed, but new ones have sprouted in their place, and some of those dreams have even come true. I have lost loved ones but not love itself. That's what my story is about, I think. That's the story I want to share with you now, the story of my life, so far.
Chapter 1: The Gondola
Even though ten years have passed, I still find it difficult to talk about the
land mine. I don't like to think about it either, but on that score I don't
always get to choose. One time last summer my new American friends, Alyce and
John, took me to a carnival here in the suburbs of Chicago, where I live now
with my mother. What a dazzling sight it was for a seventeen-year-old girl who
had lived most of her life in Afghanistan and in the refugee camps of Pakistan.
I had never seen anything like it--the colors, lights, noise, and spectacle. I
ate cotton candy and tried my luck at a few sideshow games, and then we went to
look at the rides.
We came to one called the Gondola. It was shaped like a large boat suspended from two long poles. It had many rows of seats, all facing the center. The boat was swinging back and forth when we arrived. Each time it swung in one direction, the seats on that side lifted way up, maybe a hundred feet into the air. Then it swung the other way, and the seats on the other side lifted up. It was kind of like a massive swing that went from side to side instead of forward and backward.
As the ride got going faster, people started screaming, but Alyce told me they were having fun. She said the ride scared them, but they wanted to be scared. That was what they enjoyed about the ride.
I told Alyce I wanted to try it. Alyce wasn't so sure about that, but I insisted I could handle it. So she bought some tickets, and we both climbed aboard. We went to the very end of the boat, to the seats that rose the very highest, because we wanted the full effect, the biggest scare-the most fun. The man came through and locked down a bar in front of us. That bar keeps you from falling out when the ride is going. Of course, you can still get out by climbing over the bar, but when the Gondola is swinging back and forth at full speed, who would want to?
Text copyright (c) 2005 by Nestegg Productions LLC.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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