I wanted to discover whether or not I had understood, had yet learned what I needed to about war. About my war.

After six months deployed, I volunteered to stay for another year. This meant forgoing my assignment to teach ROTC at the University of Arizona. It meant postponing the inevitable confrontation with a fractured marriage. I did not think this conflict could be understood (or won) six months at a time. After the extra year, I volunteered to stay again. In total, I stayed for two years, surviving the investigations into my crimes of engaging with the Afghan people. I worked in outreach, communications, and counter-corruption. We used to joke we were just about done fixing the monstrosity of corruption giant international contracts had helped create and perpetuate—“just a few more months.” Our small, determined team was making progress understanding, listening to our Afghan colleagues about what was wrong with the way we were fighting (against corruption, against the Taliban) or not fighting (against Pakistan’s support for the insurgency). But it was not enough. Two years was not enough.

I spoke Persian Dari well enough to conduct an hour-long cooking show on national Afghan TV. But my language was not enough. There is a lot language can do, but there are places language can’t reach. As Margaret Atwood said it, “war is what happens when language fails.”


Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Namedwell: Synonyms for Self by Farzana Marie. In her submission, Ms. Marie described Namedwell as “vignettes and mini-essays…composed of the raw materials of personal story.” Twelve days after sending her submission to us, Ms. Marie, a U.S. Air Force veteran (2006-12) and a doctoral student in Middle Eastern literature at the University of Arizona, suffered a massive stroke and fell in Afghanistan. She is now being treated in Arizona, but has so far lost the ability to speak or write, and is challenged cognitively. To find out more about the life of this inspiring young writer, please visit the fundraiser page set up in her honor.

Note on the Photo: U.S. Army Col. David Komar, guest speaker at the Morehead English Language Training Center (MELTC) transition ceremony, presents a “Falcon” sculpture to Afghan National Army (ANA) Col. Milik as a symbolic token of appreciation and confidence in the students, staff and the language program on Camp Morehead (Kabul, Afghanistan) May 16, 2012. The falcon was selected as a symbol of patience, endurance, skill, self-reliance, and bravery- all qualities representative of the commandos and their values. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott A. Buchholz)


From Eight Slices of the War in Afghanistan by Farzana Marie
Introduction by Dan Cafaro
I: To Merge, To Erase
II: Restrepo: One Slice of the War
III: Inside with an Itch
IV: Enter to Search
V: To Fight
VI: To Find or Be Found
VII: When Language Fails
VIII: Tea with Terrible Questions
Afterword by Dr. Timothy Kirk, Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Ret)