Thursday, February 02, 2006

Afghanistan during peaceful times

A letter home from a PCV in Taloqan, 1973

The days are hot and dusty. The green of the earth wilts under the glaring rays of the noonday sun, but the morning and evening bring refreshing breezes. The cool waters of irrigation bring new life to the withered plants. Rugged mountains stand out, defiant of man, against the cloudless sky or shrouded in the dark clouds of a coming storm. They dare men to discover their hidden riches. Below the mountains are lazy valleys, friendly to man. Here man and beast, land and water, work in unison to create fields of wheat and rice, fruit trees, cotton, cows and sheep.

From the dusty land and wandering streams, man has organized fields where water flows from one to the next with seemingly little effort. Out of plentiful mud and scarce trees, he has fashioned houses that are dry when it rains; warm when the weather is cold and cool during the hottest days of summer. Men have lived under these mountains for a thousand years. Their cities stand above the surrounding fields on top of an ever-rising mound of clay. As an old house is finally washed to the ground, a new house is erected on top of the old and so it has been since people arrived in this valley. The present city lies atop the burial mound of the preceding generations.

Hidden in the surrounding hills are the remains of other people, no longer tending these fields. For some reason, they moved on or died and their hill is no longer growing. Under some of these hills are marble columns, the remains of Mogul kingdoms. Under others lie the victims of conquerors and marauding nomads. Alexander the Great passed through with his army. Genghis Khan murdered the inhabitants of entire villages for their Buddha worship. Archeologists have discovered Buddhist monasteries in every area and the two Buddha’s of Bamiyan were too great ever to be destroyed or hidden. Today, nowhere can a native Buddhist be found and the people care not at all for the history of the hills. Their religion is different now and besides, those other people lived under the same mountains, tended the same fields and built houses out of the same mud. Too little has changed for the past to seem interesting or important.

The pleasures of the people are simple and the pursuit of happiness is unhurried. Students, enraptured by the smell of a rose, dream on oblivious to the attempts of their teachers to enlighten them. Teachers spend their days playing football with the students. Administrators while away the hours watching their cows and sheep graze on the public lands surrounding the school. There is no need to hurry. Both problems and pleasures will wait. There will always be another chance. Life is not exciting but it has its' pleasures, pleasures that would be lost in excitement. What excitement there is comes unexpectedly and is quickly over, such as a chance encounter with two dogs fighting in the street or the killing of a chicken for the evening meal. The pleasure of the moment is important. The past is forgotten. Life will go on unchanged in the future.

The mountains remain unconquered, but man and animal, land and water, live on in pleasant harmony.

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