What a terrible month it’s been in Afghanistan. We’ve watched photos, film and news reports coming out of Afghanistan as the Taliban regained the country, finally gaining control of Kabul this week. We’ve seen shocking scenes at Kabul airport where thousands of frightened desperate people have tried to secure a flight out of the country. Some female university students even turned to Twitter, appealing for other countries to take them in. A female Paralympian, stranded in Kabul when she was en route to Tokyo, called for help to get out of the country.
Overnight the first flight of refugees airlifted from Kabul by Australia arrived here in Western Australia.
I was in Afghanistan as a traveller in 1976, and today I’m reposting my May story and this photo of a mother and son that I took in the markets in Kabul. It was a thriving and vibrant place back then and in my brief time there, I fell in love with Afghanistan. At times I felt like I’d stepped into ancient times, and yet it also had an encouraging modern vibe developing. Things then felt like they were really happening for the best in Afghanistan.
The first Taliban takeover and the Russian invasion had yet to happen. Russia and American were both vying for Afghanistan’s favour. An Afghani told me both superpowers were providing support with projects and finances, almost competing with each other. He assured me with a smile that Afghanistan could walk the fine line successfully between them towards a strong independent future.
University life was thriving in Kabul, and not all women in the streets were covered like this one in my photo. No one seemed to be concerned that I wore no head cover, and walked the streets in jeans. Women, head covered or not, were out in public and seemed to move freely about.
I became acquainted with an Afghani woman who worked at the main telephone exchange. She had been nursing in Scotland, and returned home because she felt the country had entered its modern era, with an excellent future ahead. She wore Western style clothes at work, and was on the front reception desk. I often wonder now what happened to her.
I was able to move around safely – although, as in all places I travelled to, I was cautious, careful and dressed respectfully. I travelled on public buses in regional Afghanistan, and lived for several weeks in Kabul by myself.
A local Afghani Hazara took me to an American centre in Kabul where I watched on television Jimmy Carter being elected to the American Presidency on November 2, 1976. Afghani Hazara are a group of Shia Muslim ethnic minority oppressed in Afghanistan. They claim descent from Genghis Khan. Since the ‘70’s, many of them have taken refuge in Australia and are praised as model citizens.
My Hazara acquaintance was so optimistic about the future for Afghanistan. He was a bit of a puzzle to me though – working as a waiter at the hotel where I was staying, although he seemed too educated and urbane for that role. One of those ‘braveheart’ patriotic sorts who appeared to have some interesting and mysterious connections. He was kind, helpful and courteous to me, and came to my rescue when the hotel manager came knocking on my door in the middle of the night, with clear ill intent! It seemed strange that a hotel waiter could put a hotel manager in fear. I instinctively felt he was one of the good people in life, and trusted him. He also assisted me in safely travelling in Afghanistan. I instinctively felt I shouldn’t ask too many questions about who exactly he was. I hope he is safe in the world somewhere.
Within two years of this photo being taken, Afghanistan was plunged into a continuous series of wars. And now the Taliban are back to rule the country with Sharia law.
I have fond memories of my time in Afghanistan and the country that it was then. I hope that one day it can get back to the optimism of those times.