Afghanistan


2 jeribs = 1 acre.

I had a conversation with some mid-ranking Afghan government workers from various ministries and one of them ruthlessly interrogated me on my father’s profession, my lack of a wife, why I did not marry my ex-girlfriend (yay!), if I was Catholic or Protestant, what the differences between Catholics and Protestants are, and how much land and livestock my family owned. It went like this, halfway into the conversation:

Me: My family has a house in a small town. But I do not live there, I only visit sometimes.

Interrogator: How much land does your family own?

Me (not sensing the significance of this question): 20 acres.

Interrogator: How much is an acre?

MRRD guy: 2 jeribs.

Interrogator: Do you have animals?

Me (not sensing the significance of this question): Three horses and 20 cows that belong to our neighbor graze on the land.

Interrogator: You do not have any animals?

Me: No, not anymore. It’s too difficult without any children living at home.

Interrogator: Yes, that is true.

At this point I was rescued from the interrogation by a tailored suit-wearing Western educated guy from one of those ministries where everyone seems to have visited Dubai recently. He was highly amused with the conversation and the questions directed by his comparatively “rustic” counterpart. The gist of the whole incident was that, out of a group of ten, one guy had, in his mind, ranked me socially based on my family’s land and livestock ownership. Or maybe he was just politely making conversation.

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This is a rather interesting museum exhibit: “Australia’s Muslim cameleers: Pioneers of the inland, 1860s-1930s” (link). Some were Afghan, some were from British India (Pashtuns? Others?). Here is an immigration document for one of them from Peshawar:

The story of these cameleers and their role in “opening up” the inland areas of Australia can be read here.

Here is photo of one of the cameleers in 1896 (source):

And here is one of his grandson today, William Bejah, showing his grandfathers compass:

At the suggestion of Q. A. Shah I took a look at an article about Australian skateboarders teaching Afghan kids to skate. You can read the article here.

kabul skateboarding

The groups organizing this is Skateistan. Check them out at Skateistan.org.

Afhgan skater kid

And finally, you can check them out on video as well.


This spring, i visited Badaxan (Badakhshan), in northeastern Afghanistan. Even in Afghanistan the province stands out for its uniquely harsh terrain and remoteness. Badaxan has traditionally been one of the most under-developed provinces of the country, and remains somewhat the same even now (the province has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.)

There are districts of Badaxan that are off limits to all motorized vehicles, and during the ‘open’ seasons it takes upwards of a week to reach from the province center -often involving long treks on horseback. For much of the rest of the year, these parts are closed off from the rest of the world.

I took this picture in Argu, a district close to the provincial capital of Faizabad. The boys of the village had gathered around to take a good look at the team of visitors. This boy had an intense gaze and sense of purpose about him.

From Afghanistan with love,
~Hamesha/Safrang

Lake Qargha to the immediate west of Kabul is a veritable cesspool of all things ‎imaginable -a little like the primordial soup. ‎

Of the non-living variety, the bottom of the lake is awash with pointed rocks, wires, ‎deflated soccer balls, discarded plastic bottle, broken glass bottles with unforgiving sharp ‎edges, silverware and other kitchen/household needs, artificial flowers, items of clothing ‎and footwear, various forms of ordnance and ammunition, dumped vehicles and ‎television sets, assorted printed material, electronics, and the occasional valuable such as ‎watches and jewelry along with many secrets. ‎

Of the living varieties, there is an abundance of organisms thriving on the rich nutrients ‎of the lake’s water which also lends it an overall greenish look. When you wade into the ‎water, the rocks, already round and smooth in texture, are rendered even more slippery by ‎algae growth and plant life, making it hard for one to stand on them. There is sure to be ‎some fish and amphibian life in the depths of the lake away from the shallows, and ‎perhaps the occasional aquatic serpent. Brown crabs of a particularly hostile variety are ‎rumored to roam the lake.‎

And then there are the other non-living but still organic residues that are dissolved in the ‎lake’s water and make up an integral part of its biodiversity. These are the decomposing ‎or long-decomposed bodies of drowned swimmers (of which there have been many, what ‎with the absence of life-guards and rescue facilities and the nonchalant attitude of the ‎visitors- although all unfortunate incidents are invariably attributed to the supernatural ‎and mystic qualities of the lake), dogs, birds, tree-trunks, watermelon peels, spongy Naan ‎bread, urea, and assorted bodily fluids. ‎

The lake is one of Kabul’s few weekend getaways, and certainly its most accessible and ‎closest. This proximity and the scarcity of other nearby picnic areas, plus the fact that the ‎population of the capital has been bulging cancerously for the past several years only ‎adds to the color, texture, and the molecular diversity and richness of the lake.‎

The lake may have the unique and dubious distinction of being the only freshwater lake ‎in the world that contains all things except fresh water. As such, there is a possibility that ‎the life forms and the ecosystem supported by the lake are neither of the marine nor the ‎freshwater typologies, but altogether new and perhaps as yet undiscovered. ‎

In point of fact, if the lake is to be stripped of all its living inhabitants and made into an ‎entirely self-contained closed system, given enough time on an evolutionary scale, it ‎could witness the return of life through the many possible combinations and re-‎combinations of its ingredient molecules, thereby giving rise to the first nucleic acids and ‎thereafter self-replicating chromosomes and mono-cellular organisms. ‎

As such, the lake has an important -albeit unacknowledged- future role to play in the ‎event of a catastrophic collapse of all life-forms on earth as a spawning ground for ‎organic life and a return of the human and other species and the very continuation of ‎earth as a living planet. Because of this, here is a proposal to sanctify the lake Qargha as a ‎mother-ship, a launching-pad, a regrouping ground for future life, including human life, ‎in an ever approaching post-apocalyptic world. This massive and organically rich petri-‎dish should be given the due attention and respect it deserves, and it should be opened up ‎to the world that will one day owe its life on this planet to the lake. ‎

I am planning to discuss this proposal with the current operators of the lake lest they get ‎any crazy ideas about ‘cleaning’ it up without realizing its existential significance. In fact, ‎once it is opened up to the world, a sanctifying ritual dip by visitors of all races, colors, ‎and creeds should be made mandatory so as to add to the richness of its contents. Further, ‎my plan proposes sealing off the small stream that lets out a couple of cubic feet of its ‎water now, thereby letting valuable ingredients go to waste.‎

I took my own purifying dip in the lake this past Thursday. Although I jumped in and ‎swam the lake on a dare -which at the time I thought of as a rather stupid thing to do- in ‎retrospect, I am glad it happened. How else would I have realized the vast richness of the ‎lake and its potential promise of life preservation on our green little planet? In fact, in the ‎larger scheme of things at stake above, even the pain in my ears and the burning ‎sensation in my eyes do not bother me anymore.‎

Maybe.

Afghan goats

Are goats really that bad? Growing up I hated goats. They were ornery and environmentally destructive (to fruit tree bark and other vegetation). One neighborhood billy goat butted me and left a huge bruise on my side. One of my sister’s goats actually murdered one of my other sister’s goats (haven’t we had enough goat-on-goat violence?). Chickens, cattle and sheep; they’re alright.

But then at some age it was explained to me why goats are so important to people in other parts of the world who are not just keeping them for cheese-making: goats can eat anything and survive in very marginal grazing environments. You have a dry rocky hillside in Afghanistan? Graze your goats there on the sticks, twigs and tufts of random plant life and they will provide you with milk, meat, leather and hides.

That’s all well and good. But you really need to be wary of over-grazing and erosion (but most Afghans don’t have that luxury).

Photo of Afghan shepherd girl by Craig Mullaney:

This is a photo that few people would guess was taken in Afghanistan. Via MastaBaba, it’s a shaman in Mazar:

Afghan shaman

C’mon! Take a drink of whatever folk remedy he has mixed up in his red flower watering can! It will make you potent-better-fertile-hairier-hairless-attractive or something else entirely.

All joking aside, pre-Islamic religious/folk traditions still exist alongside Islam throughout Central Asia and much of the Muslim world. Sometimes harmoniously, sometimes less so. I recall an anecdote, from some forgotten place, of a young Wahhabi-trained Uyghur (I think) preacher deciding to go to war with the local shaman. But the local people did not see how the shaman folk remedies, blessings and ceremonies were un-Islamic. It’s like telling a Christian that the Christmas tree is a pre-Christian pagan symbol (which it is) and expecting them to toss it out immediately.

Anyways, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m no anthropologist. If you are interested in shamanism in Afghanistan (and apparently shaman is an inaccurate term borrowed from some Siberians) then I suggest reading these academic articles:

Sidky, Muhammad Humayun. ‘Malang, Sufis, and Mystics: An Ethnographic and Historical Study of Shamanism in Afghanistan’, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 49, No. 2 (1990), 275-301. Link!

Micheline Centlivres, Pierre Centlivres and Mark Slobin. ‘A Muslim Shaman of Afghan Turkestan’, Ethnology, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Apr., 1971), pp. 160-173. Download PDF.

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