Off Beat: Tribe gathers, embraces its own, tells its stories in its own language

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A few days ago, Jere Van Dyk returned to his tribal region.

The 1964 Hudson’s Bay grad got a warm welcome during a national tour promoting “Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban.”

The book details his 45-day captivity and also tells what set Van Dyk on his path into the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The event was an unofficial reunion for members of Bay’s Class of ’64, who helped pack the Red Cross Building at Vancouver Barracks. Some grew up with Van Dyk 50 years ago.

Barbara Vaughan Olson, who introduced her classmate, recalled how they learned to ride bikes together on Z Street. She summed up the gathering this way: “We are Jere’s tribe.”

It was a reference to a theme that came up time after time in Van Dyk’s book and in Thursday’s presentation. Van Dyk talked about the complicated strands of loyalties and affiliations that must be understood before anybody can make progress in that part of the world.

Members of the largest ethnic group typify that sense of tribal identity this way, he said: “I’ve been a Pashtun for 5,000 years; I’ve been a Muslim for 1,500 years; I’ve been a Pakistani for 50 years.”

Van Dyk spent time in the 1980s with the mujahedeen warriors who fought Soviet invaders in Afghanistan. He counted on those relationships to get him into Taliban territory.

Those relationships had gotten snarled over time. Van Dyk relied on his best friend in Afghanistan to put together his undercover reporting project. Later, Van Dyk put the plan into action with men who’d killed 17 members of his friend’s family.

After Thursday’s session, Van Dyk said he “was more nervous than at any talk I’ve given. It was more emotional.”

But the opportunity to talk about his experiences with old friends is something Van Dyk has looked forward to.

A year ago, the FBI brought together Van Dyk and John Solecki, a United Nations refugee official from New Jersey who’d been held for 61 days by a Pakistani militant group.

“I’d watched him on video, pleading for his life,” Van Dyk said. “But part of me was a bit envious.”

Keeping things quiet

While Solecki’s family and high school class rallied around him, “I had to keep quiet because of the ongoing nature of my case,” Van Dyk said.

But as Olson said in her introduction, Van Dyk finally was back with his tribe Thursday.

The audience members came to see Van Dyk, but they also spent plenty of time reconnecting with classmates.

It was a chance to catch up on things — “My dad’s office is a tattoo parlor now,” one woman said — and pitch new plans.

“I was watching an all-comers’ track meet,” a fit-looking 60-something guy said to another ex-Eagle athlete. “You want to get a relay team going?”

All the hugs and handshakes going on around Van Dyk meant one thing: “I felt I was home.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.