Category Archives: Afghanistan

Kabul: Home Is Where The Heart Is

As I stare outside my Kabul hotel room at 630 am, I see the morning traffic has just begun. Vehicles pass few and far between, then the bicycles..until there’s a steady flow just a half an hour later. The mountains, an everlasting spectacle, seem unimpressed by the monotonous goings on below them. Standing majestic I can see the snow peaks to my left, Kabul mountain in front of me with homes etched within. I feel at home in this land, not like a stranger. Reminds me that home is not a place, but a feeling. Where I rest my head. Where my heart is. Home is where my story begins..

“Why did you invite me here?”
“Because I love you”.
With those words my defenses crumbled, but my heart still stung from the blows of your earlier confession. Why were you opening up now? No matter your reasons for not telling me before, nothing added up, nothing made sense. Now everything seemed so bitter sweet.

I don’t believe one can ever fully comprehend the energies at work within our hearts, minds and the battles they fight. I knew why I had traveled to Afghanistan, and had been longing to come. I knew exactly why I was there, but when heart and mind are involved in a struggle, things become discombobulated.
My heart continued to sink into a pit of despair as I was left questioning my own intelligence. How is it possible that something unseen can make you feel so deeply? How is it that your sweet words of adoration attempted to revive me afterwards, but failed. Your words stood little chance and quickly succumbed to the weight of my mind’s skepticism. The risk I took to meet you seemed fruitless at this point. Everything mixed with love becomes more complicated. All is fair in love and war, and our love was no exception. The truth was, I had ultimately betrayed you as well, and in such ways you may never know. “Why am I here?” , my mind echoed like a drum beat within a mountain valley.  The answer was found within my heart and my walls relented and soon crumbled, as we embraced in a silent pact to never again speak of the past again.

It’s just past 1pm as my driver sends a text letting me know he has arrived and is waiting. As I leave my suite I’m aware of familiar smiles and greetings as the friendly cleaning staff, alerted by my room departure, vacate their nearby staff room to attend to mine. I’m just as curious about the young boys as they are about me, but I don’t let it show. At times, when I’m present during their room sweep, I catch their curious glances and grins. As I smile in return, we all become aware of the many words left unspoken, being barricaded by tongues of different mothers.  Nevertheless, throughout the ages, language barriers couldn’t prevent eyes from intermingling, sending hidden invitations to engage in different forms of interaction. This, so I’ve been told, is how the sexes here make secret arrangements to meet and engage in (what this society perceives as) morally corrupt practices, of a physical nature.

The night brought little sleep as my stomach proclaimed the invasion of an unfriendly parasite. Loose motion for hours, but I can’t complain,  I have evaded the persistent pain that usually accompanies such stomach infections. I am pleased with myself for bringing Wormwood and Black Walnut tonics to aid in the fight against this unwelcome invasion. I have been drinking them frequently hoping to effectively stunt the parasite infection. Time will tell.
My stomach bubbles and surprisingly grumbles with hunger, but under the circumstances, I opt for a no food approach.. for the time being.
Waiting has never been my forte…
Where are you? My question has once again arisen like deja vu as I await his arrival to my suite. As I sit, I wonder if my shirt is appropriate or not. It doesn’t quite cover my bottom and is slightly see through with it’s yellow cotton and elegant embroidery. I don’t feel comfortable in traditional Afghan clothing, so I was excited when he told me I could wear jeans to the restaurant last evening. Made me feel that much more relaxed.

It’s another day, 8am is early for room cleaning, but who am I to say. As I open the door, my curious eyes are greeted by no less curious stares. I am greeted with “Hi, Good Morning” as I allow their entrance to my already tidy suite. Fresh towels are a welcome. The testosterone in the air is hard to bare and the silence between us, deafening. I try not to make eye contact but find it hard as one of the boys goes out of his way to draw near to me, finding items in close proximity to dust or arrange. I find it sweet and reward them with my smiling glances. One of the boys seems concerned that the other lad’s behavior may be a disturbance, as he stood idly nearby he made attempts to draw the other boy’s attention. Truth be told, I looked forward to seeing them and was a little disappointed when they had days off. They lifted my spirits for the time being and I sensed they felt the same way. We had forged some sort of connection, not knowing one another’s name. So much so, that on the day of check out I looked for them to say goodbye. As fate would have it, they were not around. Who likes goodbyes anyway? Perhaps we shall meet again, in this life or another.

Today was a holiday, Navruz the Persian New Year. I was taken up to where many families and youth were flying kites and enjoying rides. It was a a mountain gathering of fun and festivities, but I was to remain in the vehicle. I grew accustomed to this, it was armored after all, and was a barrier from the multitude of stares and cameras. Even from within the vehicle I was the center of the attention on most drives. How Afghans can spot a foreigner so well is quite impressive. Then again, they’ve been bombarded by foreigners and invaders for long enough to gain this, perhaps… adaptive trait?

“Everyone passing is looking at her”, my friend’s cousin sitting in the back seat mentioned. We in the front had also noticed the craziness of the situation and started laughing in unison. My friend who was driving commented, “This has never happened before with other foreigners, I don’t know why, it’s you..I had told you that you’re beautiful.” That was it. Apparently I was a phenomenon.

Copyright 2015 Niazmina

Afghanistan, In Praise of Your Propriety: A Story In Picturesque Verse and Photography

Kabul, Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan

My account of wanderings in Afghanistan and my many colourful conversations with my Afghan friends, detailing their lives and surroundings. Photos courtesy of my dear friends in the bold and beautiful land of AFGHANISTAN and from one of my visits to Pakistan.

Oh, Land of Majesty!
I call you Mother Brother Friend
You called me to your end
Lifted me in flight
Granted my eyes a grand sight

Oh, Bamiyan!
Wondrous reaches of spectacular peaks
The sky spread in praise doth speaks
There the remains of the silent Buddha’s great seat

Oh, Kabul!
How your parakeets do chatter
As the tanks and passersby do scatter
You keep aloof of the whole matter

Oh, Blue Mosque of Mazar!
How many doves there are Cooing and flocking
The whole world left stalking

Oh, Badakhshan!
The whole Universe cannot possibly contain
The beauty that you possess and maintain
Even the stars compete in vain

Oh, Nation of Lions!
The eyes of jealousy surround you I do see
Bombarding with wars of frivolity upon thee

Oh, Afghanistan!
How unjustly you so bleed!
War racketeers my ears do heed
What doth keep you strong

Oh, Marvelous Steed!

© 2015 Rebecca Martin

My decision to finally take a leap of faith and travel to Afghanistan, was after many years of trepidation and warning from friends and family. Due to the country’s turmoil for the past decade, many were concerned for my safety, and understandably so. Security is a never-ending and very real issue for Afghans and non Afghans alike. This in mind, I’ve always had precise intuition that lead me to the conclusion that it was ‘meant to be’.

Images © 2015 Niazmina

I was unable to witness all of Afghanistan due to the security issue, what I did see was rough and rugged beauty, without a doubt. The mountains were beckoning and bold. Rivers and lakes surround to refresh your soul, while it seems the rest of you is greeted with heat and parched ground. The discrepancies in weather are most clever, leaving the sub-arctic northeastern reaches at odds with the drought-ridden southwestern regions.

Village Children Images © 2015 Niazmina

I had never before encountered a village or it’s inhabitants but had an idea of what it might be like. I can’t say that I was too far off in my assumption that it would be a lot like camping, boiling your water for the luxury of a hot shower, toilets virtually non-existent, defecating outdoors (a given) interesting cooking methods and hospitality. The hospitality of Afghans is their pride and honor. It outweighs any downside to village living and is so endearing one finds themselves adapting to the lifestyle rather quickly.

The family I was staying with while in Afghanistan had just shifted homes from Pakistan. Their home wasn't complete, this was the kitchen at the time. Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Quroot (or Qoroot) is a reconstituted dairy product. It was traditionally a by-product of butter made from sheep or goat milk. The residual buttermilk remaining after churning of the butter is soured further by keeping it at room temperature for a few days, treated with salt, and then boiled. The precipitated casein is filtered through cheesecloth, pressed to remove liquid, and shaped into balls. The product is thus a very sour cottage cheese. Quroot is hard and can be eaten raw. It is typically served with cooked Afghan dishes such as Ashak, Mantu, and Qeshla Qoroot, among others. Info Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_cuisine#Quroot Images © 2015 Niazmina
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The family home wasn’t complete, this was the kitchen at the time. Images © 2015 Niazmina
Afghan Boys Images © 2015 Niazmina

My arrival at this particular village was welcomed with smiles and laughter from the village children and adults. I was sheltered, feasted, cherished, warmly received and treated as an honored guest. I became family, a distant relative. Daughter. Sister. I was enveloped with love and had much fun watching and learning their culture and traditions. The girls  from various homes would come each morning and stay until dusk or later, offering to do my hair and make up, smiling and attempting to communicate through various means. At times causing bursts of uncontrollable laughter at our many failed attempts to understand one another. Speech wasn’t necessary amidst smiles and laughter. One of the sisters loved doing my make up for me. Each morning I would awake, wash my face and draw my eyebrows in or apply under eye concealer so that I wouldn’t look like a downtrodden traveler. This routine I was wishing to do in secret, as I was the only one doing so and felt somewhat vain. I must have sparked some hidden creative talent within one of the girls, as she insisted she apply full make up for me whenever she caught me mid-coverage. I was pleasantly surprised to see the finished product in the mirror. Absolutely artistic display of perfection!

Village Life Images © 2015 Niazmina

I will never forget the warm, genuine hearts of the Afghans I met. Their care was genuine. Their smiles were broad. Their laughter touched the soul. Their stories were inviting. Their innovativeness motivating. Everybody in the village was generous and lovely. All spent time visiting me and caring for my every need. I suffered from giardiasis (an intestinal infection caused by a microscopic parasite that’s found worldwide, especially in areas with poor sanitation and unsafe water. Marked by abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea and bouts of watery diarrhea) so everybody’s patience was surely tested with my subsequent complaints and discomfort.

I was excited to try on an Afghan Burqa. A burqa (Urdu: بُرقع‎), (Arabic pronunciation: [ˈbʊrqʊʕ, ˈbʊrqɑʕ]a (also transliterated]burkha, bourkha, burka or burqu' from Arabic: برقع‎ burquʻ or burqaʻ), also known as chadri or paranja in Central Asia) is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies when in public. Info Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqa Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
I was excited to try on an Afghan Burqa. A burqa (Urdu: بُرقع‎), (Arabic pronunciation: [ˈbʊrqʊʕ, ˈbʊrqɑʕ]a (also transliterated]burkha, bourkha, burka or burqu’ from Arabic: برقع‎ burquʻ or burqaʻ), also known as chadri or paranja in Central Asia) is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies when in public. Info Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqa Images © 2015 Niazmina
I was far from perfecting my fluency in either Pashto or Dari, the two officially recognized languages of Afghanistan. This placed a huge wedge in the area of communication without a translator, but Kaka was not deterred. He would without hesitation start conversation with vivid illustration and depiction using his whole body as language. Flailing arms and boisterous words left us all rolling in laughter as Kaka expressed his life, adventures and stories to me. He was attentive and kind. A great man, not only in my mind.

My Little Buddies Images © 2015 Niazmina
Brothers In Arms Images © 2015 Niazmina
Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Images © 2015 Niazmina
Qargha Lake, Kabul Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Qargha Lake, Kabul
Images © 2015 Niazmina
Qargha Lake, Kabul Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Qargha Lake, Kabul Images © 2015 Niazmina
(Kabul Ride) Although alcohol consumption is banned and taboo in Afghanistan, foreigners can purchase it in certain shops upon showing their passport. Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
(Kabul Ride) Although alcohol consumption is banned and taboo in Afghanistan, foreigners can purchase it in certain shops upon showing their passport. Images © 2015 Niazmina
Kabuli bacha (boy) in Kabul traffic Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Kabuli bacha (boy) in Kabul traffic Images © 2015 Niazmina
Kabul  hillside across from center of town. Home built here are significantly less expensive than the homes built on flatter ground. Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Kabul hillside across from center of town. Home built here are significantly less expensive than the homes built on flatter ground. Images © 2015 Niazmina
Jalalabad Images © 2015 Niazmina
Entering Jalalabad Images © 2015 Niazmina
Balloon seller. Jalalabad, Afghanistan Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Balloon seller. Jalalabad, Afghanistan Images © 2015 Niazmina
Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Images © 2015 Niazmina
Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Images © 2015 Niazmina
Salang, Afghanistan Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Salang, Afghanistan Images © 2015 Niazmina
Salang, Afghanistan Images © 2013 Rebecca Martin
Salang, Afghanistan Images © 2015 Niazmina
Salang, Afghanistan Images © 2015 Niazmina
Salang, Afghanistan Images © 2015 Niazmina