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Wet Kabul
Putting my hand outside my bedroom window to feel the rain and decided that tonight is this country's rebirth


May 16, 2005

I was cleaning and  found this random old journal entry from my trip to Afghanistan this past March.

God, the poverty here startles me, and shocked me initially. Reconstruction, peace, stability, progress are all afoot, but hard to discern upon first glance. There are more young men selling phone cards, less waving wads of Afghanis for foreigners in need of the local currency. New grocery stores have opened, hawking soaps, condiments, and packaged foods while beggars await the foreign shoppers patiently outside their shiny glass doors. 

This morning I went to buy bread and cheese for the house with Yael, who has learned enough Farsi to get by on his own here. On our way back to the guesthouse, several women in burkas trailed after us.  "Mardom Iran sharif-hastan, bakhshesh" ["Iranians are honorable people, please help"], one woman wept to me, tugging on my sleeve for my attention while her three-year-old daughter expectantly extended her hand. These moments are painful, but make the suffering human and concrete, rather than simply reducing it to sanitized statistics in a glossy NGO brochure.

By choice I am much more of a pedestrian this time, walking through alleys and passages of Shahr Naw, seeing, smelling, and hearing life at the speed it occurs rather than from the hasty and homogenizing speed of a car seat. For a foreigner in Kabul, the increasing amenities, paranoid security restrictions, hired cars, and air-conditioned offices have made it much easier to ignore one's surroundings, and can lull one into a disconnected complacency.

The days here alternate between dusty and muddy. This has to do with the fact that there are very few trees and little vegetation in this city. Most was destroyed in the 23 years of conflict, and the rest has been burned by the people as fuel for warmth in the winter and cooking fires. This lack of flora has caused soil erosion, which has led to billowing clouds of dust blowing through the already smog-choked air. The snow and rain that continue to descend on Kabul have made a mess of the unpaved streets, and when it rains, the dry dust of the previous summer gives way to different textured mud and shallow pools of water in the uneven streets. 

Here, mud in infinite varieties to cling to one's shoes-thick clay, mud like creamy butterscotch, sticky melted chocolate, and ordinary shit-colored mud have all decorated my boots in the past two weeks. The strong sun and increasing temperature dry the mud and causes the dust to return with a vengeance, swirling about the streets, settling on the buildings, the people, the bread at the bakeries and the meat sold by butchers -- the dust here penetrates your entire being through every pore of your skin until it rains again and the cycle repeats. 

We have dived into our work, briskly making rounds and talking to different organizations and NGOs about the different aspects of educational development in Afghanistan. The landscape has changed, but not to the point that it is unrecognizable. Humanitarian assistance attracts interesting kinds of people; I have marveled at the bravery and commitment of groups who trek out to the provinces, often for months at a time, and have felt dejected by those whose indifference is exceeded only by their colonial disdain for Afghanistan and their desire to leave the country once and for all-as soon as possible.

True to form, I am not yet sure how I feel; I cannot say that I am scared or unhappy to be here, but I quietly enjoy the moments when I realize I am one day closer to going back home [in the U.S.].

It is hard to reconcile the images of poverty with progress; despite the construction of massive new homes and palaces by former warlords and commanders, the roads remain unlighted, congested, and pocked with potholes. Men clean deep street gutters with shovels, but mostly with bare hands. Money is being spent in this town, but it is in the hands of very few while the majority seemingly waits in vain for the promised prosperity of reconstruction. Weapons, especially guns, are what maintain the status quo -- the police, the army, countless soldiers of different nationalities, and private mercenaries maintain a very visible presence in the city and emphasize the fact that Afghanistan has not yet fully escaped its violent past.

But the rain fell torrentially tonight, driving away the dust and dry patches of concrete under its droplets-the rain cleansed the city of some of its rough edges and ended just as suddenly as it started. Peals of thunder reverberated around the mountains ringing the city and flashes of lightning illuminated the deserted night streets of Kabul after curfew. What a lonely and strangely beautiful part of the world it occupies. I tried to imagine having lived here all my life, putting my hand outside my bedroom window to feel the rain and decided that tonight is this country's rebirth. The drought is over, with it some of the anguish of these long suffering people. Grain, grass, trees, flowers, and poppy all will grow forth from this rain, and so will that unsettling and unfair prosperity.

For letters section
To Roozbeh Shirazi

Roozbeh Shirazi


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The Legend of Seyavash
Translated by Dick Davis

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