Day 5, Friday March 18

Friday is the day off work in Afghanistan, and so the traffic was not as busy as usual and families were out in parks to relax and enjoy the sunshine.

We went up Teppe Maranjan mountain, which overlooks a very old part of Kabul, now housing the Kabul stadium and many modern buildings. We wanted to see the monumental tomb of former king Nadir Shah (assasinated in 1933) and his son King Zahir Shah. We had a quick look at that but it was clear the main attraction was the hundreds of people flying kites, riding horses and playing sport on the mountain-top.

Colourful paper kites filled the blue sky (although it was hard to capture them in photos because some were quite high), some children rode horses, there were bright stalls selling kites and colourful string, as well as plenty of food and drink.

Here’s some pics which set the scene better than words.

Kite flyer in front of King Nadir Shah's tomb

Young horse rider

Ready to fly my kite

Coloured string for the kites!

About to launch

How about that smile!

 

Lunchtime!

In the afternoon we went to our space and met a few new arrivals from the US who had landed early in the morning. We had some more introductions and heard more about the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYFPS) and Open Society.

AYPV started three years ago in Bamiyan when a ‘peace’ workshop was offered at the Bamiyan College. Fifty students turned up and the course lasted 3 months. At the end of the workshop the participants came to the conclusion that peace is impossible in Afghanistan. The students were then challenged about what to do about that conclusion. Some accepted it and moved on, but an invitation went out to come together for another workshop and 16 people signed up. A core group formed committed to exploring ways to bring ethnic groups together and they went from village to village and picked up more boys along the way. They’ve undertaken several projects including establishing the Bamiyan Peace Park. They also held a 7-day vigil demanding a message of peace and reconciliation be delivered to US President Barack Obama.

Some of our new AYPV friends

The group acknowledges that the current military strategy in Afghanistan is failing to bring peace to the country. They say because the strategy is based on using violence to confront violence, it doesn’t work. The boys, aged 14 to 20, acknowledege that they may never see peace in their lifetime, but still believe is it worthwhile to pursue it. They support two Afghan leaders who are also promoting nonviolent options for Afghanistan Dr Ramazan Barshadost and former female MP Malalai Joya. More on the AYPV’s later as we continue to get to know them.

Open Society is a new group which started seven months ago with a focus on human rights and democracy. “We want to do something different to what has been done so far. There’s been a great deficiency. We want to approach it from the point of view of ordinary people and by promoting values,” they told us. They have already participated in the Festival of Human Rights in Afghanistan and put together a photographic display about victims of war and there are plans to establish a singing group to bring the message of human rights to people through song, especially in rural areas. They are also working in the area of film-making and have put up anti-war cartoons around Kabul which have received some attention as people gather to talk about them. Another plan is to train Afghans to use web-blogs to share their views about Afghanistan and peace.  Most funding has been personal funding because receiving funds makes the group answerable to the donor and less independent.                

Zahar – the female co-director says the group feels very much alone in their mission. The work is burdensome, she told us, “it’s a hard load on our shoulders because many Afghans are born in war and lived generations of war and therefore peace is strange to them and it will take time to move away from the war mentality.” 

She said the aim is to become more organised like groups in Egypt. But all revolutions in Afghanistan have been violent so people are nervous about change.

Zahar says it’s harder for women to be involved because many women are illiterate and not used to speaking out to express their views. But there’s hope, one woman who was anxious about yesterday’s peace march initially stood back, but when she saw the blue scarves and everyone moving together, she had the courage to join in too.

Today we also heard from Larry Warren, head of operations of Catholic Relief Services in Afghanistan. He told us about CRS projects in Bamiyan, Ghor and Herat focusing on agriculture, education, water and road construction. It led us into an interesting discussion about the corruption surrounding the delivery of international aid in Afghanistan – millions of dollars are unaccounted for. And also the issues of aid delivered by military via the PRT’s in each province (Provincial Reconstruction Teams). Members of the PRT will often turn up to a village in flak jackets, accompanied by soldiers and this is confusing for local people.    

Pilgrim note sent today to my email list:

Dear friends,
Greetings from Kabul, Afghanistan! I’ve been here all week now and have enjoyed getting around to see as much as I can and meet as many Afghan people as I can and listen to their views. Thankfully I have my own personal translator (Martin) which has been invaluable!
Take at look at my blog: www.pilgriminkabul.wordpress.com to see some pics and read what we’ve been up to. I’ll continue to update the blog in coming days.
Last night we met the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a very impressive group of young people who are calling for an end to war. You didn’t hear about a peace movement in Afghanistan? Well, yesterday these young people joined with about 40 others for a peaceful vigil in central Kabul, calling for peace in their country. They were met by riot police, but the group just smiled and held their banners calling for peace. One of the police said to the group: “I want peace too.”
The next few days will be very special as the Afghans celebrate the beginning of spring and the Afghan New Year with holidays and celebrations. The Afghan peace volunteers will hold various events to mark the occasion and to launch their campaign of peace and nonviolence: a march in Kabul, a tree-planting ceremony and a candlelight vigil. It’s amazing that all these events will be happening in war-torn Kabul! We are here to support these courageous young people and to help give them a voice and share their message with the world.
They will also participate in the Global Day of Listening which I hope you can also participate in – a great opportunity to listen to people in Afghanistan and around the world.
“The first duty of love is to listen,” Paul Tillich, theologian, philosopher.
Please check out the website http://globaldayoflistening.org/Home.html to see how you can be involved.
There are also solidarity events happening around the world including Sydney and Melbourne.
I’ll sign off for now, but will hopefully share some reflections about my impressions in the coming days. Martin and I are feeling safe and well, the sun is shining here and I’m even a little sunburnt! I’m also aware of the many Afghan civilians that have been killed in the past week, in violent acts around the country. Let’s keep everyone’s safety in our prayers.
Your pilgrim
Donna           

                               

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