I'd Rather Be Blind
The night hides a world but reveals a universe.
My life after Afghanistan.

By Grant Lock

Grant Lock directed Afghanistan’s largest eye care program. Until he himself became blind. He returns home to a society with its own blind spots: myopic attitudes to Islam, mental health and what makes us human. After battling corruption, injustice and disadvantage in the deserts, mountains and cities of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Lock confronts challenges—both intimate and global—with courage and compassion.

1Blasphemers will die13
2The salesman15
3In love with the garbage man19
4Macular wall23
5Widow of the curly comeback27
6The fur piano31
7Frishta goes shopping35
8Hanging out39
9The gun41
10The road not travelled45
11Some of your children will die49
12Survival at Sandspit51
14The Lamborghini and the big stick61
15Road therapy65
16Holding on67
18Flowers and phones75
19The plainclothes policeman of Kabul79
20Mobile Mo83
21The commander and the flood85
22Liars, twisters and fools89
23Young Lawrence of Arabia91
24Double dilemma95
25Out of your brain97
26The package103
27The man107
28The delivery111
29The Basant trap113
30Sadiq Sahib117
31Cat and mouse121
32Silent night125
33Will the real Islam please stand up?129
34The club133
35The last straw137
36And one thing more141
37Land-locked Afghanistan147
38Stop picking on us!149
40The fifth face159
41Never say never161
42That woman165
43Miscalculation 1169
44The pervert171
45Miscalculation 2175
47Welcomely obscene181
49The rifle187
50And the winner is …193
51The touch197
52The squatters199
53When the planets align203
55The last Wali, the Mad Mullah and Malala215
58The left side229
59Finding the mastermind231
60Two dollars’ worth237
61The crab girl241
62Hubble images245
63The muddy morgue249
64Faces of death251
66The Afghan wedding and the drummer from hell257
67The cigarette261

Riveting. To his experience in some of the world’s most troubled places, Lock brings a bushman’s wit and wisdom. Lock writes about Islam with authority and insight.

Hon John Anderson AO, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia

Grant Lock is master of the ripping yarn. This smorgasbord of human experience spans centuries and continents and embraces themes common to us all: hostility and hospitality, disaster and hope, the mundane and the marvelous.

Dr Bernie Power, Author of Understanding Jesus and Muhammad

Inspirational. I could sit in a pub all day listening to Grant Lock.

Haydn Radford, Freelance Writer

I thank God for you every day.

Farida, Afghan widow

Grant Lock dug wells, built schools and helped restore the eyesight of thousands of Afghans. Grant is married to Janna, the woman the widows of Kabul call Frishta (Angel). Development work in Pakistan and Afghanistan followed their notable success as cattle breeders in South Australia.

Shoot Me First
A cattleman in Taliban country.
Twenty-four years in the hotspots of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

By Grant Lock

Shoot Me First is a gripping personal account of life in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The author offers intriguing insights into the culture of the tribal territories that straddle the two countries. This is home to the Taliban, an untamed land which continues to absorb so much of the world’s attention and military endeavour. Lock is shrewd and laconic but above all compassionate. His experience of the world’s two major religions deserves careful consideration.

Grant and Janna LockSupporting micro-hydroelectric systems, empowering Afghan widows and overseeing a massive eye-care program, Grant and Janna Lock’s development work in Afghanistan and Pakistan followed their notable success as cattle breeders in South Australia.

The Desert
South-East Pakistan 1984–1989
1Half way across Australia21
2A name to remember23
3We the beggars27
4Perfume and punches31
5The unwanted woman37
6The arrangement41
7It’s in our blood45
8A window in the desert49
9Bhopa anyone?57
10Son of the prostitute61
11Rocky rip-off67
12A crack in the caste77
13Too fat for mujh87
14Putting off or putting on91
15Almost orange marmalade97
16The waiting room101
17Swissair scare105
18Fries your brains109
19Good news, bad news113
20Gardening the Taliban121
21The spies go north125
22Midnight movements129
The Frontier
North-West Pakistan 1989–1998
23Flower power141
25Tennis anyone?151
27Gun town165
28Shoot me first171
29The sickening thud177
31Special meat189
32Not a bad innings195
The Capital
North-East Pakistan 1999–2003
33The snow princess205
34Kabir takes a wife209
36The throat cutter221
37Mrs Baitto225
38Blood on the ceiling231
39Do I know you?235
40Counterfeit cricketers239
41The Uyghur reunion247
43Meet me under the bridge!251
44Only kafirs ask questions255
45Training terrorists259
Taliban Country
Afghanistan 2004–2008
46The return of the blue-eyed boy269
47Before the fall275
48It’s a man’s world281
49I sold my baby285
50The charmer291
51Go to hell295
52The sweetheart and the setup297
53The Smith and Wesson301
54The lama of Elista305
55The mask309
56The beautiful eyes313
57The Chinese singer319
58The surprise323
59The elephant in the room325
60Deep pockets333
61Number 17339
62In the chair345
63Back in the barn349
64Afghan angels355
65One-way street359
66Pul-e-Charkhi prison365
67The tree hugger373
68Cafe Omar379

North-west Pakistan, 1992

The stench of stale urine rises with the dust as my Pakistani workmen begin to demolish the building. Shovels and picks bear down on the mud bricks, clay rendering and poles. Sweat rolls down their faces, glistening in the sun.

Time is up. The dukandar (shopkeeper) has had his chance to demolish it himself. Now I’m doing it for him, as quickly as I can, before there is trouble. I’m dimly aware of the noise of a crowd gathering in the street outside the mud walls of the derelict Pennell High School.

This is Bannu, in Pakistan’s Pashtun country, near the border with Afghanistan. Back in the days of the British Raj, Dr Theodore Pennell built a school for boys and later added this segregated compound for girls. Neglected, and closed in recent times, we plan to open it again.

It is a challenging region for an engrez (foreigner) to work in. Before too many years have passed, the eyes of the whole world will focus on the nearby rugged Tribal Area. The Taliban- and al-Qaeda-riddled mountains span this porous border of the Islamic Republics of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pilotless drones will circle overhead while Islamic extremism oozes from its mountain fastness. As the Coalition tries to extricate its troops from the Taliban war, Afghanistan will be worried. The United States will be worried. Indeed, the entire world will be worried because the sting of an over-patronised Taliban scorpion will be curling back to strike its mentor, nuclear-loaded Pakistan.

Now in 1992, however, as I watch the walls of the dukandar’s illegal storeroom come down, all I’m worried about is getting the job done despite any uncooperative locals.

“Sir! Now! You must come now! They are very upset!” It’s Samson, my dedicated Pakistani assistant. Unlike the long-haired muscle man of Old Testament times, my Samson is frail and sickly. He stands barely as high as my shoulders. But his shrewd understanding of Pashtun ways has got me out of jams before.

“Sir! Sir! You must come outside! They have guns!”

So what’s new? As with the naan bread and chai tea they survive on, Pashtuns and guns are synonymous. Pashtun boys are born with a gun in their hands. Pashtun courage and marksmanship when repelling invaders and settling feuds amongst each other are legendary.

“Look, Samson, this building is coming down. Right now! We need all the space we can get to rebuild the school.”

Voh bahoot bahoot naraaz!—They are very, very angry, Sir!”

Pashtuns and guns, plus anger. I’d be a fool to ignore that nasty cocktail. I order the workmen to keep up the demolition. Dust from the collapsing clay roof fills the air as I march to the gate. It was hard enough to evict the squatters. We’re not stopping now.

Stepping out of the compound, I can see that the influential shopkeepers have indeed stirred up an angry crowd. Mostly bearded, they are gesticulating and shouting in Pashtu. What’s all this about? They know their fellow shopkeeper illegally extended his storeroom into the school ground. They know that yesterday he signed a document admitting his fault. He agreed for us to remove the building if he failed to do it himself within twenty-four hours. Surely they know that we are re-opening Pennell’s school for their Muslim daughters as well as the minority Christian girls. Don’t they realise that this is for them?

But the mob is defending the damaged honour of their colleague, who yesterday had to publicly admit his guilt to an unbelieving foreigner, a lowly kafir who stands with the small community of Pakistani Christians, the local kafirs.

Hospitality, honour and revenge. That’s the age-old mantra of Pashtunwali, the unbreakable code of the Pashtuns. Looking into the black eyes of the shouting beards, I can see that in this dusty Bannu bazaar, honour and revenge have conveniently coalesced.

The mob surrounds us. Samson’s glasses seem bigger, and his body smaller, than ever. The mob’s burly leader shouts in Urdu, a language that has taken me three years to master. “If you don’t stop your workmen from demolishing the building”—and he pauses to add venom to his ultimatum—“we are going to shoot them!”

The crowd falls silent, savouring the imminent back down of the engrez. The preservation of all-important male honour trumps female welfare every time. Anger and indignation surge up within me. Hey, you bellowing misogynists, this is for you. This is for your daughters, for the mothers of your grandchildren.

I stare back. Who is going to blink first? My brain fleetingly recalls a girl I met the day before. “I want to study,” she confided. “One day I want to become a doctor.”

The emboldened beard repeats his threat. “If you don’t stop your workmen from demolishing the building, we will shoot them!”

I hear my voice answering the challenge. It’s surprisingly strong and resolute. “If you are going to shoot my workmen, Sir”—and I jab my forefinger, first at his chest then mine—“you’ll have to shoot me first!”

They all hear it. The silence thunders in my ears.

Crisp, beautiful and revealing. Valuable for anyone trying to build an appreciation of Islamic societies. And that should be all of us.

Hon John Anderson AO, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia

Lock’s adventures are probed for meaning so that the reader may have a deeper comprehension of a region frequently in our headlines but seldom in our understanding.

Lynn Arnold AO, Former Premier of South Australia

The raw reality of daily life for ordinary people, up close and personal. Lock gives the most pressing global issues of our time a human face.

Mark Durie, Author of The Third Choice

Your book brought back so many memories. I couldn't help but cry.

Habiba, Fugitive from the Taliban and Afghan refugee