Mujtaba walks to the corner of the room and takes his bag down from a wall-hook. He pulls out the plastic sleeve containing his UNHCR refugee application forms and digs deeper into the bag. He is in his mid-twenties, tall with spiked hair and the distinctive central Asian features associated with the Hazaras, who are thought to possess Mongolian ancestry dating back to Genghis Khan. These same distinct features make Hazaras stand out in Afghanistan. They are regularly targeted by the Taliban.

Mujtaba finds a book, pulls it out of his bag and exclaims “Afghan Elvis!”

The book contains photos and lyrics - in both Dari and English - of Ahmad Zahir, a rock and pop musician from Afghanistan. He was a cultural icon in his homeland until his untimely death in 1979 at the age of 33.

Mujtaba thumbs through the book and searches for a particular page of lyrics. He sets the book on the carpet and reads the first verse:

It’s now or never,
come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it’s now or never
My love won’t wait”   

With his limited English, Mujtaba knows the singular meanings of words but some of Zahir’s poetic flare leaves him confused. “It’s now or never?” he asks.

The concept of urgency, however, requires little explanation. The Taliban have taught him that well.

Mujtaba continues to the second verse:

“When I first saw you
with your smile so tender
My heart was captured,
my soul surrendered.
I’d spend a lifetime,
waiting for the right time
Now that you’re near
the time is here at last”

He reads the last line slowly, word by word. Then he repeats it quicker, as a sentence, “The time is here at last”.

He understands each word individually.

He does not understand the sentence.


Vol I