Alaska: While an increasingly desperate Hafizullah Amin was conducting pacification operations in every province, while his superior, Mr Nur Mohammad Taraki, began the last six weeks of his presidency (and, incidentally, his life), while Babrak Karmal waited in Moscow, while the Soviet Union was bland (for this was still five months before the invasion of Afghanistan stunned and horrified us); in the month of July I first visited Alaska. At that time I had no suspicion that I ever might go to Afghanistan. We were on the ferry from Seattle to Haines, my friend Erica and I. She was older. The inland passage narrowed, and on either side of us evergreen forests ascended mountain shoulders until they met snow, white fogs lying in all the hollows, and we passed rocky grassy beaches and the wind smelled of salt. When the two shores began to draw away from each other again, the sky to open, we stood on the cabin deck, our hair beating against our faces. We could see for a long way. The windbreakers of the passengers standing at the rail fluttered violently.
Erica pointed down. ‘If your child fell overboard, would you jump down and save it?’
‘If it were a wanted child,’ I said flippantly.
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