Kite 'running' in a Kabul graveyard

David Foster writes about his experiences in Kabul; a city of contrasts.

    David Foster with the 'doctor' in Kabul's bird market

    Al Jazeera will be reporting all week from Afghanistan in a series of special programems and reports.

    David Foster, one of the channel's presenters, will be posting a daily diary on his experiences of Kabul, a city of contrasts.

    There is a dusty, beaten track that winds up from the centre of Kabul to a graveyard on the edge of this baking, sprawling capital city.

    And it is to here that we are taken by the bearded old Afghan with blackened teeth who says we must follow.

    He climbs the bank on which are planted make-shift flagpoles hung with green strips of cloth that signify the death of a martyr.

    It is close to dusk and this is the back-end of a pretty lawless city. We obey his beckoning finger, reach the top of the bank and see the headstones.

    He tells us what he wants – and what he wants is to teach me how to fly a kite! In a graveyard! Teapot on a tombstone too! Surreal!

    City of contrasts

    It is a city of contrasts. "Be careful. Do not stay in one place for too long," we are warned by our security man. But how can you not when all the Afghans want is to talk, ask about your country, shake your hand (again and again) and give you tea (again and again).

    They are hospitable, interesting and interested. And that is why we are here - to see and to show the sides of Afghanistan that you rarely do see. To explain how the people live and what their hopes are.

    Sadly too, we also have to show how they are dying, in increasing numbers. Last year was the worst for civilian deaths since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

    The smells at the bird market are extraordinary
    Preparations for four days of live broadcasts from Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan mean most of the team is in place before I arrive.

    There are those who live and work here full-time and the rest of us who have flown in.

    The flight I am on makes the approach to Kabul so close to one mountain that I am sure I can see a goat near the peak.

    Most of the snows have melted in the surrounding Hindu Kush and the dried-up river beds that meander to the valley floor remind me to ask about a drought that was predicted when I was last here in October.

    Thousands were at risk in the north of the country I had been told. How had they managed when so much attention is focused on the south where most of the battles are being fought?

    The dry plain reminds me too that this is the time of year when Nato, American and Afghan forces predicted a Taliban spring offensive and now hoped to counter it by launching one of their own.

    'Shoot Me'

    Kabul airport is filled with a barging, jostling, multi-national mass and as we wait to fight through immigration I see a man wearing a black tee-shirt with what appears to be a wild-west marshal's badge sewn on the breast pocket. Closer inspection reveals it to be just that.

    Embroidered around the marshal's star are the words Police Trainer, and in the middle, American. I wonder if he knows that anyone who conspicuously associates him or herself with the new regime is sometimes referred to as a 'Shoot Me'.

    First filming job of the day is at the bird market. The smells are extraordinary. Rotting, stinking waste and open drains mixed with the pungent aroma of the market's foodstalls. I don't know which is the worst.

    Handshakes and more handshakes wherever we put up the tripod. There is a great deal more than birds here.

    One man wants me to buy a baby tortoise the size of a matchbox. His sales pitch includes bringing out a grown-up version and standing on its back. No thanks, not today.

    The doctor - a former Olympic wrestler - says he
    can treat anything
    Then we meet the market's "doctor". 

    This huge man sits cross-legged in a dark cabin no bigger than a single bed.

    Tough love

    Next to him are his medicaments. One is in what looks like a paint pot, complete with brush and yellow splashes down the side.

    I can treat anything he says, from heart trouble to broken bones, and soon there is a patient lying down, having the oily remedy applied by huge hands.

    "Have you seen my pictures?" asks the practitioner. Through the gloom I glimpse photos of a young man in a wrestling suit.

    I took part in four Olympic Games he tells me, and his friends nod their agreement. More handshakes and we leave as the next sick soul arrives for a bout of tough love.

    Then off to the graveyard with the camera. We're here because kite "running" is an Afghan obsession and a book about it made the international bestseller list.

    Kite strings are coated with glass and competitors dance an aerial battle with their beautiful paper creations to see who can cut the other one's string first.

    They are about to release a Hollywood film based on the book and it turns out the old Afghan made all the kites for the movie.

    He shows me how to launch my kite and laughs kindly at my pathetic attempts to manoeuvre it into another kite-flyer's path.

    Then when I am not even looking skywards he announces that I'm the winner! I cannot even see who I've beaten. Maybe he's just being kind. And maybe that's just the Afghan way.

    Click here for more on Al Jazeera's news and focus on Afghanistan.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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