Every day has been amazing (as you can no doubt tell) and this one was no exception (tomorrow will probably also be amazing!). Can you tell I’m not much of a seasoned traveller?
I think part of it has to do with the fact that there are hardly any Westerners around – other than our group and a few U.S. troops I don’t remember seeing any. So this trip has a really extraordinary feel – we’re getting to experience the country without the buffer zone of tourists. Which means beautiful opportunities like this morning just happen.
So today is Afghan New Year, or Naw Roz (literally “new sun”, or “new day”). It’s a huge celebration over the whole country, a public holiday and day of family get togethers. Unlike us, Afghans don’t celebrate at midnight, they wait till the actual daytime arrives.
And when it does they dress in their finest clothes – bright whites, reds, greens, and traditional dress. There are a bunch of customs to follow – buying goldfish to put in their houses, putting dried fruit in a bowl of water and so on (I don’t know why the goldfish but the dried fruit is like a symbol of rebirth).
And many people make their way to “TV hill” for a special mosque service (is that what they’re called?) and festival.
Some of us decided we would go and enjoy the Naw Roz celebrations on the streets, so with our wonderful tour guide Basir (also a photographer with The Third Eye organisation) we took off down the street towards TV hill.
Immediately the streets were thick with people, all pouring like a river in one direction. Occasionally as we were swept alo
ng we had to stop to keep everyone together. Today is not the day to get lost.
There was certainly mass security but we greeted each policeman or soldier with a warm smile and “Salaam aleikum” or “Sale now mubarak” (Happy New Year). A couple of our crew were frisked down but mostly as Westerners we were just allowed straight through roadblocks.
Before we knew it we were being ushered through crowds of people waiting to be allowed into the mosque which forms the centre of the celebrations, and into the grounds themselves. The door clanged shut behind us, and we were ushered further in, up onto theroof of the embalming room right next door! This is where all the press were stationed, taking video, photos, etc. Not only did we have a view over all of Kabul, but we were able to watch the mosque service in its entirety.
The mood was jubilant – listening to hundreds of thousands of people chanting the responses to the prayer calls was like the first goal
of a grand final – times ten.
At the end, a huge pole is raised, with flowers attached to the top, and people touch or kiss the pole as an omen of a good year ahead. People climb all over each other to get to the pole, and once there they climb over people to get as high up the pole as possible.
When all was done, we went and had lunch before making our way back. I took a call from the candlelight vigil crew, which was fantastic, and we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the AYPVs tell their story through interpreter Hakim.
I’d like to tell their stories (they gave us permission) but I think to honour them best I will tell them in person rather than writing them. Their focus is so much on relationships, I think it wouldn’t do justice to just have them written, and we have all become very close over the week. I will probably tell some of the stories of their actions on here in the coming days though.
Believe it or not (in case there’s not enough going on) in the early afternoon there was an earthquake here – not huge, but enough to rattle everything for about 10 seconds. Apparently they’re not unusual in Kabul.
I’ve now moved to different accommodation, closer to the centre of town and with 24 hour internet so I’m a bit more connected.
I’d ask for your prayers over the next few days as Der Spiegel (German newspaper) releases some photos of US soldiers mutilating dead prisoners. I’m just aware that the backlash towards foreigners may be severe, particularly Americans and those who might be mistaken for them (ie. me). I suspect there will at least be protests, and protests here do not usually end well for anyone, so pray for the whole country as they reel from yet more atrocities coming to light. Thanks.