St. Petersburg Times Online: Business
 Devil Rays Forums
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather




printer version

In a country they love, a dose of hate

Click here


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 23, 2001

The St. Petersburg police report calls it a simple battery.

Simple it was, all right. A simple act of rage.

Tuesday morning, when she walked to the end of her driveway to pick up a trash can, Rona Ghorzang saw a red car in front of her house. A woman got out, walked toward Ghorzang and called to her to stop.

"Are you from Afghanistan?" the woman asked.

"Yes, yes," Rona Ghorzang said.

"Does your husband work at Publix?" the woman asked.

"Yes, yes," said Rona Ghorzang.

The woman began screaming at her about the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the dying, the horror.

Then the woman slapped Rona Ghorzang three times on the face and knocked her to her knees. She pulled her hair and punched her on the cheek.

The woman spat on Rona Ghorzang, and as she left, vowed: "I'm coming back to finish this."

Sure enough, the woman returned that afternoon and pointed out the house to a man in her car. On Thursday, a car circled the street in front of the house three times, and the woman was in it.

I would prefer not to have to tell this story.

For this is one of those moments when, despite the calamity that has been committed upon us, you are embarrassed to be an American.

The attacker looked to be about 30, had long blond hair, green eyes, a medium build. She wore denim shorts and a white shirt.

And this is who the stranger slugged:

Rona Ghorzang is 31, the mother of four children between the ages of 2 and 10. She and her husband, Sher Aga, 37, have hardly drawn an easy breath in years.

They were broadcast journalists in Kabul until the Taliban, the regime that shelters Osama bin Laden, put the couple out of business. Sher Aga Ghorzang, who last worked for the BBC, spent three weeks in jail last year, constantly handcuffed, constantly beaten, until his brother sold his own house to buy him freedom.

The Ghorzangs fled to Pakistan and stayed, under U.N. security, for eight months. They reached St. Petersburg two months ago, where they are getting help from Pasadena Community Church.

While his wife stays home with their children, Sher Aga studies English several hours a day. He also bags groceries at a nearby Publix.

He used to ride a bike to work. Since Tuesday, a friend has driven him.

His kids used to play outside after school. Now they only do so if a group of neighborhood families are with them.

And sometimes at night, the family crowds together in one bed.

There is not much else to be done. "We lock the door and pray to God," Rona Ghorzang said.

They have certainly been more frightened in their lives. The Taliban have slaughtered people the Ghorzangs know. They're not even sure where their relatives are now. But they wonder about this woman, why she singled them out.

Sher Aga Ghorzang figures it's the obvious, that they're Muslims. He pulls out a fat Persian-English dictionary and points to a word that suggests he understands more English than he can say. The word is religionist, a believer of over-the-top zeal.

I tell him that complicates the picture and find another word in the dictionary to explain that screaming woman: extremist.

We are in their living room, sipping orange juice. A moment comes when husband and wife manage a laugh, a loud one. "Afghanistan! Pakistan! Now this problem!" they say together.

The woman in the red car didn't know the Ghorzangs came to the United States for the reason everybody else comes. They are so glad to be here that Sher Aga Ghorzang describes himself as "newly born."

The woman in the red car would never understand.

* * *

I wrote a column last Thursday about American ignorance of Islamic culture and religion. In doing so, I revealed some ignorance of my own. Despite doing the appropriate research, I misidentified the crusaders who crossed Europe in the Middle Ages to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims who controlled it, an event that Muslims still regard as one of the grimmest times in their history. The crusaders were Western European and Christian.

Back to Times Columnists

Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111

Times columns today

Robert Trigaux
  • Follow the money trail to track terrorists

  • Helen Huntley
  • On money

  • Mary Jo Melone
  • In a country they love, a dose of hate

  • Ernest Hooper
  • She fondly remembers what the walls can't tell

  • Jan Glidewell
  • The world needs humor -- but maybe not right now

  • Dr. Delay
  • Courtesy seems to be in driver's seat for now

  • Philip Gailey
  • A nation forever changed

  • Bill Maxwell
  • New York state of mind is slowly returning

  • Martin Dyckman
  • The outdated principles of less government

  • Robyn Blumner
  • Privacy hit in Senate's war on terrorism

  • Darrell Fry
  • Emotions to rule the day

  • Hubert Mizell
  • Several pro teams have airline disaster plans in place

  • Gary Shelton
  • Modest goal just a little out of reach

  • Susan Taylor Martin
  • Searching for terrorists? Check U.S., Canada

  • From the Times Metro desk
  • Eyes on the skies
  • Man, 21, held in assault on baby
  • TV serves up comfort food for the brain
  • Tampa Bay briefs
  • Metro review