Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring! Nau Roz in Afghanistan

This is Mr. Ashraf. He was my driver.

After all these years, that's still fun to say! :)

Between 2003 and 2005 I had the most amazing and spectacular opportunity to work in Afghanistan. I was working for a nonprofit at the time, and they were one of a group of organizations selected to basically rebuild Afghanistan's entire health care system. After years of civil wars and fighting, they were basically starting over from scratch.

My work as an editor focused on helping them create the materials used to train the country's midwives. It was awesome, awesome work.

The first day of spring marks the day of the new year--Nau Roz--in many cultures. In Afghanistan, the holiday is often celebrated by a buzkashi match--a game played on horseback that is sort of like polo but played using a dead calf or goat instead of a ball. If you've never seen the 1971 movie, "The Horsemen," with Omar Sharif and Jack Palance, please do rent it one weekend. The acting is a little slow at times, but the scenery and horsemanship displayed in the movie is stunning. (You can watch clips of it on YouTube).

People also celebrate Nau Roz by leaving the cities and having large family picnics. Our office took advantage of the occasion to travel about an hour north of Kabul to the beautiful village of Istalif, which is nestled in the foothills of the famous Hindu Kush mountains.

The village consists of narrow dirt roads that wind up a steep hillside dotted with mud brick homes. Growing up in New Mexico, this reminded me so much of our southwestern adobes.

The day we visited was one of the first nice days of spring, and several women from the village made their way down to the stream at the bottom of the valley.

Afghanistan is such a photogenic place, and the people in particular are so beautiful. The children especially loved having their photos taken with a digital camera so that I could show it to them on the camera's screen. They were always posing, trying to get us to take their photos.

Like much of Afghanistan, Istalif has seen its share of damage.

But places like Istalif are rallying back. Istalif has become quite famous for its pottery. We met a very nice potter who took the time to explain the process to us. See that blue bowl on the table in the right of the picture? The one with the scalloped edges? It's mine now. :)

Now, back to that platter of grass that I mentioned earlier this week.

One of the great things about working in Afghanistan was the opportunity to meet other people from so many other cultures. One of my housemates, Sepideh, was a midwife from Iran. And one of our project's doctors was Nassim, an Iranian-American. In their culture, the celebration of the New Year includes growing sprouts of lentils or wheat grain on a platter. Nassim and Sepideh said that on the day of the New Year, this platter is then taken to a river and the sprouts are thrown in as part of their celebrations.

Sepideh started this platter of sprouts in our house, and we took it with us on the day we went to Istalif. We didn't want to disturb the women who were down by the stream, so we instead found this group of three children, and Nassim handed the platter to the girl.

You can tell by the look on her face that she was less than excited about it.

In fact, she was really quite skeptical.

But after Nassim explained its significance, and that it was our gift to her, she was happy about it and we even got a small smile out of her.

May you enjoy this first day of spring, wherever you live and in whatever way you choose to celebrate!


  1. I was waiting to read about the picture, you did not disappoint, what a great interesting story. I love to hear "real stories" about these places, when all we get is the media stories and that can be very one sided if even real. We have a cousin in Iraq doing special work right now and it really changes what you know when you hear about the world from someone you know. Great post, Thank you~Jacque

  2. I am so glad you posted some pics of your amazing experience in Afghanistan! Stunning. What great work you did for noble folks. The only thing I am not onboard with is the dead calf/sheep being knocked around. eww.

    Thanks for your work!!


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