My first night in Kabul was filled with anxiety. I was scared a little and I noticed a door leading to the adjacent room which I didn’t notice before. I heard male voices and the whole night they were talking and laughing and sometimes knocking on the door. I didn’t know who was there but I wished they would stop talking. I didn’t want to think negative after seeing a bit of Afghanistan and their culture but what was ingrained in me by the media took a toll on me. The negative images of the Taliban rule kept coming back. I woke up in the middle of the night to the laughter of the occupants of the adjacent room. Beads of sweat broke out on my body; another knock on the door. Because I sleep light, I was pulled out of sleep several times that night, each time scared of not knowing what was behind that door.
I woke up to the call of the mullah from a mosque in the heart of Kabul. I read a few pages from a book I had taken with me as it was still early to get out of the bed and it was cold too. At 7 I stood on the verandah, looking over Kabul, admiring its beauty. It is like Thimphu but bigger; the valley stretches and looms up into mountain on all four sides. The mountains are without trees unlike like ours but stubble of brown grasses grow on them. Houses on mountain slope are a common sight on the outskirts. People jogged and walked in the park below. I went out again at 8 and I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. The mist had lifted off Kabul and given way to a pale blue sky and hues of red around the sun. Group of clouds floated across the sky. I stood there for a long time.
I had the whole day free because others had not arrived. Jawed had said he had plans for the day and that he would call me in the morning. He called me at 8.30 am. He said he had waited in the lobby for one hour because my door didn’t open and he assumed I was still sleeping. Jawed came with the Afghan top, that was given to be altered the previous evening. I cleaned up and got ready to go. When I asked Jawed where he was taking me, he said, ‘Di, I show you beauty of Afghanistan euo dun’t see on TV.’
After informing Dr Shams, CP coordinator in Afghanistan, we walked out into the crisp Kabul morning. It was a beautiful day and a light drizzle caught us before we got to the car which was parked at the second checkpoint.
Down in the town, the driver bought us a picnic. After that we visited Jawed’s office and colleagues in the Ministry of Counter Narcotics. The scars of the 30-year war pronounced loud on the walls of the buildings around. The people inside were very friendly and were curious to know my views of their country. They invited me to lunch with them but I had to refuse them because we had to visit.
We drove on for quite some time. The houses changed to one storied mud houses and I knew we were on the outskirts of Kabul. Life seemed normal as if there was no threat or the country has never been in war. We left the dusty road of Kabul and entered a hilly area. Every turn in the road revealed a new sight, so beautiful that one might refuse to believe a war area to be that beautiful. Hills with grasses and red flowering trees and flowers decorated the hills. What lay at the end of the 9 kilometres is a sight that will leave a person transfixed –the Kargha (Qargha) lake. We drove over the bridge, parked and went down the steps. We went boating on the lake. On both sides of the lake are gentle sloppy open spaces and on the right are colourful tents. On Fridays when the offices close, families go there for picnic. After boating we went to the bank of the lake and rode the colourful pay-horses. I was scared because it was my first time riding a horse. Jawed climbed on the horse and raced gracefully on the bank. I was surprised and the driver explained to me that all Afghan men know how to ride a horse, because Buzkashi (which needs horse riding) is a popular game.
We drove away from Kargha and went towards the mountain. I could feel the sudden change in temperature as we moved up. The road got difficult as we drove farther away. We were in Paghman area, another picnic spot for Afghans. Colourful tents by the river banks added to the cheerful surrounding. After driving in the river for a while, the car could go no farther. We got out of the car and walked. I didn’t realize how cold it was until I put my feet into the river; I could barely stay put for few seconds. We can to a small makeshift bridge made of logs. We crossed it and walked upstream and I couldn’t believe what I saw –snow. We were so close to the mountains. Flowering trees (peach or cherry) filled the valley and everything was just beautiful. It reminded me so much of home. Being brought up in mountains, I feel at home when I see mountains.
We returned to the car and drove towards Kabul. We stopped again after few minutes’ drive, at what Jawed called a historic place –The Victory Arch built by King Amanullah as a memorial to those who fought and died in the War of Independence in 1919. Jawed told me that was the place from where the war was started. He also told me that the arch was destroyed during the war and was restored after the war.
I had one of my best days of my life. After what I saw, the bad images shown in the media disintegrated and I was no more scared of suicide bombers. Afghanistan is beautiful. Be it in a peaceful country like ours or a war torn country like Afghanistan, beauty is beauty. Nothing can change or diminish the beauty of nature, not space, not time, not culture and tradition, nor war.
I wouldn’t blame myself for having low expectations of Afghanistan because I had never been there and what I knew of it was through the media and they painted an ugly picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone walked up to me and said that sun never rise in Afghanistan. Media has shown us bombs and guns and tanks but they have not shown us the beautiful Afghan sky, mountains, snow, mountain rivers, trees and the colourful fabric bazaars.
When I reached the hotel, my fellow Resource Persons from the Philippines and Pakistan had arrived.