Rafik is the youngest character of Silent Heroes, a brave boy of about eight years of age with a big heart. He is an Afghan boy who takes a physical journey, but one of self-discovery and growth as well. Rafik is like any other civilian caught in a war zone. He is uprooted from his home village and what he does, traveling on a mission, is out of an instinct of self-preservation and desire to help.
Have you followed his journey so far? After arriving as an emergency at the medical facility of Camp Bastion Rafik ends up in the desert…
Away from his friends and their worry-free childhood.
At his mother’s desperate request, Rafik leaves the false safety of his village behind yet his plans spin out of control and he ends up at Camp Bastion, later named Camp Shorabak, an international military camp in Afghanistan with a state the art medical facility.
Rafik should have only went from his home village of Nauzad to the hamlet nearby. Yet he is now further south, near Lashkar Gah city and fortress. The fortress is on the banks on the Helmand River, hidden from direct view by a hill. Lashkar Gah has a rich history behind it, once was even the winter capital of the Ghaznavidi Empire. It belonged to the same Turkish dynasty that conquered Afghanistan a thousand years back, bringing Islam along.
Along these brown, rocky hills live farmers who breed sheep and camels, but Rafik meets none.
And he runs again… a little boy on a mission. I cannot hold his hand, he has to do it all on his own.
“A sense of foreboding took over him and his eyes shot open with a will of their own. A pair of grubby feet in dusty, old sandals and the edge of a filthy shalwar kameez appeared in his eye field as a menacing hand grabbed hold of his shirt collar, throwing him aside.”Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Run, Rafik! Run!
“The boy stopped dead after rushing through the last row of doors, blinded and dazed by the bright daylight. His eyes hurt, his body overwhelmed by the outside temperature as if he had hit a solid, arid wall of heat and sand. ‘Where am I, where had they gone?’
Behind him, the vacuum noise of the hospital doors sealed the insides in an encased gigantic hangar.
Ahead, past the perimeter fence, the deadly desert. Five flags, barely soaring in the wind, rose to one side. One of them, bright red like his mother’s best dress, displayed a white cross with a snake. Past the five flags, two dark silhouettes were marching in a cloud of dust, heading towards an unkempt gathering of mud-walled compounds that sprouted along a field of opium poppy. Above their heads and heading north, two Harrier jets roar, having just taken off from Camp Bastion’s airfield, their wingtips luminous against the clear sky.”Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
And Rafik is gone again. Is he one of the Silent Heroes, soon to get lost in the Afghan desert? Not the right time, as it is the beginning of the long, scorching, and arid Afghan summer. Here, over the course of the year the temperature typically varies from 35°F to 108°F.
“Behind everything and everyone, dragging his feet under the midday sun and with only a gush of wind for a company came Rafik. Now crawling, now running, now letting himself fall to the ground in an attempt to conceal himself, looking more like a desert dog than a human being. For each stride the men took trough the sand, the boy’s wobbly legs took two, yet he pushed on, his eyes on the twin menacing shapes, his attention wrestling an army of questions, his legs moving forward with a mind of their own.Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Where will help come from? What shape will it take?
“As he stood above him, the dog seemed twice as big as the child due to his shaggy mane, thicker around the neck, and his reassured posture. His shoulder blades moved accentuating his strong physique, yet for all that muscle he was as gentle as the moon. In seconds, the boy’s face was covered in slobber, the dog’s sandpaper tongue sliding all over the pale skin, doing a perfect job at cleaning all the dried-out blood.”Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Because of their isolation, deserts often symbolize clarity and revelation. Purity too, as they are unspoiled landscapes. Yet the desert is a difficult terrain, threatening, challenging. It is a symbol for challenges, both physical and spiritual. It is a struggle calling onto the traveler’s deepest reserves.
Yet there is no adversity between the spiritual and the physical. Although deserts have been seen as the ultimate purging landscape by hermits, prophets, seers, the ultimate holy ground, it is the spiritual strength they enhance in humans that eventually augments the individual.
Thus deserts, through the personal conflicts they call upon, bring humankind the closest to heavens.
Rafik’s journey through Silent Heroes does not end here, in the Afghan desert, with the mere warm support of a friendly military dog. There is more for this young boy to encounter and survive to before he can call his home a home again. Before he can close his eyes and fall asleep feeling secure in his own bed.
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You might also like to have a look at these 30 Photos From Afghanistan That You Won’t See In The News.