Monday, March 27, 2006

Sunday 3/5/06 Day One (part 2)

The weather was grey, wet and chilly. I believe the dim weather made the first sights of the city look especially dismal as our van traveled along the streets of Kabul toward our guesthouse - crumbled buildings, twisted electrical posts, strong local and international military presence, barricades and soldiers protecting government buildings and embassies. Yet it was evident from this first drive through the city that life went on like normal for the Afghans on the street. The center of town is home to a myriad of small businesses and stalls selling bare essentials - homemade bread (made in very inviting, little bakeries), vegetables, women's clothing, hardware equipment and fresh meat (with entire skinned cows hanging brazenly). Even the humblest of structures donned fairly new, brightly painted signs advertising their businesses - both in Dari and English. Indian movie posters were pasted onto walls. Brightly colored Afghan wedding dresses hung in store windows. It was amazing for me to consider that so many of these things re-emerged only within the past four years since the fall of the Taliban. I was entering territory where the simplest of things were perhaps of extreme significance and value - color, laughter, women wearing nailpolish, posters with images of faces, music floating out of someone's car. The thought brought to me the wonder of a child appreciating life's simple beauties..... The men and women on the street donned big wool shawls to protect themselves from the chilly drizzle. Many men wore the loose shalwar cameez and either white caps, brown woolen "Massoud" caps or material draped into a bit of a turban. Most of the women wore long coats over loose pants and a casual headscarf. I would suggest that only about 1/3 of the women still wear the sky blue burka (though no longer lawfully enforced), some of them in a very casual manner (pulled back over their heads exposing their faces)..... Like I've already mentioned, my first impression of Afghans (an impression that only continued to strengthen throughout my time in Afghanistan) was how amazingly active they are. Even on this rainy day, men and young boys were busy shoveling piles of rubble and hammering away to rebuild destroyed structures. Everyone on the street was busy doing something. You could feel the energy that there was almost a quarter of a century to make up for and people were determined to not waste a single moment. As Jason Elliot observes of Kabul in the 1990's in his book, An Unexpected Light, "Everywhere there was an infectious enthusiasm for life, and we felt richer for it."..... As we had the opportunity to meet with many Afghan people and Afghan organizations engaged in the various reconstruction efforts, I came to compare the people to an ember - a profoundly patient ember that was not extinguished by the endless years of suffering and various wars. This ember seemed just to be waiting for that moment of fresh breath in order to ignite. And it seemed that as soon as Afghans were given that slight breeze of hope and change only a mere 4 1/2 years ago, this ember quickly blazed into a fire that has continued to grow and build into what I can only hope is an unstoppable force of peace and stability....

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