The Way It Was – Afghanistan

“Never have we been more involved in a part of the world of which we are so misinformed” Dr. Diana Eck, Harvard University

Many assume that’s all Afghanistan has ever been — an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages…But that is not the Afghanistan I remember.” ~ Mohammad Qayoumi, Foreign Policy Magazine

It has been almost a year since Foreign Policy Magazine published a photo essay called “Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan”. I discovered this piece only two weeks ago and looked through it twice, then a third time, finally a fourth in one sitting. The Afghanistan he writes about was the Afghanistan I knew as a child. The Afghanistan of my vacations and school events; home to my best friend from high school,Kabuli naan, and kebabs; a land of wild adventure and hospitality.

The first memory I have of Afghanistan is the summer of 1967. The exchange rate from dollars to afghani’s was excellent and afforded us a hotel, meals out, and trips to the countryside. All this was almost unheard of for our missionary family of 7. Memories verified by my mother include a large hotel room with 7 beds, dinner in a palace restaurant, the sweet smell of frangipani at night, and strawberries. Trips to the countryside were enjoyed with stops at roadside restaurants and talks with friendly, hospitable people along the way. Although I was too young to remember, my mom speaks of more freedom for women than the places she lived in Pakistan and a real sense of relaxation. In her words “Afghanistan was a real destination coming from Pakistan in those days!”

My last memory of Afghanistan was in the spring of 1978, the year I graduated from high school. That memory is a mixture of delight at a school trip across Pakistani borders, teenage angst and boyfriend woes, and a history-making military coup. I have not been back since that time.

The Afghanistan in the article is not the Afghanistan of the NY Times, or of the American military. It is not the Afghanistan that is debated, pitied and despised.  The author of the article, born and raised in Kabul until 1968 , tells of the country he remembers in the 1950’s and 1960’s through a photo essay.  Through old photographs a story emerges of a country where men and women held jobs and hope. Where women pursued careers as physicians, and education overall was valued. A country that had order, stability, and a future.

But don’t just read this post, go to the actual article and take a look.  The contrast between the Afghanistan of before and the Afghanistan of today will make you gasp, weep, and end with a prayer for hope and change.

2 thoughts on “The Way It Was – Afghanistan

  1. Meaningful post, Marilyn, especially since I’ve read about half of “The Dressmaker of Khair Khan” and have come to ‘know,’ admire and respect the Kabuli family at the center of this true (as much as I can ascertain in these times of shadowy literary truths) story. The value of education for the daughters as well as the sons of this family is one of the narrative driving forces, and I particularly loved one quote from the children’s father: “I look at you all with one eye,” meaning that his daughters would receive as much of his support for education as his sons. I too pray and hope for the country and people of Afghanistan.


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