In order for the rest of this story to make any sense, you are going to have to get to know who the main characters are. In my next five posts, I will paint pictures for you of the men that I was privileged to serve side by side with. These Pakistani men went from unknown to me to friends–from friends to brothers (More to come on this in the future).
Known by his friends as “Baby Sparrow” Afzal represtented youth on the military team that welcomed us to Jabba on that cold November day. He is currently 19 years-old, a 2nd-year private in the Army, and engaged to be married this year. Afzal was that “little man” with a huge heart who thought that he was “bigger” than he actually was. Being that he was in the military, he held his head high with pride seeing his role as a virtuous, honorable position. Afzal considered himself the best at everything that he did, but was often shot down by his elder teammates who would quickly remind him that they frequently finished ahead of him in athletics and other military games. (They would put him in his place by shaking their heads and saying, “OOOOH Baby Sparrow but do you remember when….”and they would tell a story of when they beat him badly in a competition.)
After spending a couple of days with Afzal I discovered that he would take every opportunity to have tea prepared so that he could sit out for a while. He would frequently invite me to such tea breaks which I couldn’t turn down (because I wasn’t allowed to). Tea breaks with Afzal, although tastey, were difficult and a bit awkward because he thought that he could speak better English than he acutally could. The only thing that he said that I could ever really understand was, “Jeremia–I AM FULL-TIME HAPPY!” He would exclaim this with great joy and with a huge smile on his face. My response to such a statement was always the same–“Afzal–you are the only one that I know that is full-time happy!” He seemed to love this because it set him apart from anyone else.
One time I was having tea in the military’s quarter with Afzal and he decided to put on a bit of a show for me. He was shirtless and thought that I would be excited about seeing how strong he was. He would flex and grunt and pose and check the status of his wee-bicept and then look to me for a response. I would go on and on about how strong he was–which of course he loved. I noticed that he had an interesting scar on his chest so I decided to ask about it.
He came closer and I realized that it wasn’t just a scar, it was actually a brand. I learned, after many misunderstandings, that this was the name of his fiancee Janet. I wish you could have heard the way that he spoke of his wife to be. Every time he would mention her name he would touch his heart (under the brand) and close his eyes.
He assured me that this marriage was an arranged/love marriage. This means that the marriage was set up between the two families, but that their arrangement had blossomed into love. I asked him why He had her name branded on his chest. I’ll never forget his response:
“So that when I close my eyes, I can see her in my heart.”