In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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When people ask me what I did in Afghanistan, I tell them that I hung out in planes and listened to the Taliban. My job was to provide “threat warning” to allied forces, and so I spent most of my time trying to discern the Taliban’s plans. Before I started, I was cautioned that I would hear terrible things, and I most certainly did. But when you listen to people for hundreds of hours—even people who are trying to kill your friends—you hear ordinary things as well.
On rare occasions, they could even make me laugh. One winter in northern Afghanistan, where the average elevation is somewhere above 7,000 feet and the average temperature is somewhere below freezing, the following discussion took place:
“Go place the IED down there, at the bend; they won’t see it.”
“It can wait ’til morning.”
“No, it can’t. They [the Americans] could come early, and we need it down there to kill as many as we can.”
“I think I’ll wait.”
“No, you won’t! Go place it.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes! Go do it!”
“I don’t want to.”
“Brother, why not? We must jihad!”
“Brother … It’s too cold to jihad.”
Yes, this joke came in the middle of plans to kill the men I was supposed to protect, but it wasn’t any less absurd for it. And he wasn’t wrong. Even in our planes with our fleeces and hand warmers, it really was too damn cold for war.
Business Manager Diane John
“What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban,” by Ian Fritz, in the Atlantic
Cobble your streets and no whining:
Stones are abundant here,
Stones and weather and air.
Reader Rob Shapiro
“Little Town,” by Rita Dove, in Playlist for the Apocalypse