Ian Pounds Witnesses the Dichotomy of Kabul

Darul Aman Palace has been abandoned, gutted, burned,
and bombarded over the course of ninety years.

There are reminders here and there, like wounds never stitched, a wall, a castle, a fountain, a tomb.   But these are so faded as to be ghosts.   Most prominent specter is Darul Aman Palace.   Sitting just above the fray in the western fringe of the city, it has been abandoned, gutted, burned, and bombarded over the course of ninety years.   Yet it has not been beaten into submission like those other scars.   It stands as a sentinel marking the span of time between now and an era of legitimacy, progress, liberation that was Afghanistan in 1920 under the leadership of King Amānullāh Khān.

Today there are forces aimed at rebuilding the palace, but it would come at an astronomical price.   Given the problems in the streets, the poverty and insecurity, that notion seems fanciful and by most standards irresponsible.   More compelling to me is the aesthetic issue.   The shell that stands is a reminder of the insanity of war, what has been endured and sacrificed, but also as a monument to survival.

Still 7
In simple contrast to Darul Aman Palace are 22 orphaned girls streaming from a van onto
a neatly manicured soccer field, donning shiny new uniforms and cleats, half of them white
and blue, half red and brown, and for the first time in their lives, running.

 

By way of setting that stage do I entreat you to imagine the magic if not merely the simple contrast of twenty-two orphan girls streaming from a van onto a neatly manicured soccer field, donning shiny new uniforms and cleats, half of them white and blue, half red and brown, and for the first time in their lives, running.   Though at first, like birds released from some rehabilitation clinic, many huddled together.   What to do with such distance, such freedom?   Others bolted away down the field and back again, again and again.   Soon they all ran, in circles, in dashes, screaming in delight of space, and right behind them, witness to change, the ruined palace on the hill, and to the right of that the sun bowing low over the American University of Kabul, all of it bathed in air still cool and clear from the previous night’s thunderstorm.

Still 3

 

After netting the goals the two teams lined up and faced the oddest couple in Kabul: a small, thin Pashtun man with severe brow and black hair championing the spirit of Coach, dressed in a white uniform shirt too large for his compact frame, and a clownish, tall pudgy, freckled, curly haired American of Scotch blood dressed in a blue uniform too tight around his paunch.   Jamshid gave them their first lesson.   “This is a ball, this is a goal.   You kick the ball into the goal to win a point”¦”

“Kaka Jamshid, how do we know which goal to kick it into?”

Still 2

After basics we all ran in single file around the soccer field twice.   I had a tough time finding even the most remote part of my cellular structure that could remember running the Marine Corps Marathon only a year and a half ago.   Many of the girls were likewise winded, but not at all disheartened.   Their excitement was unflappable.   They lined up again for a final primer, then they decided upon captains and names.   White team chose Manizha as their captain (she is the oldest) and unanimously claimed the appellation of Simorgh, a mythical Persian creature with the body and wings of an eagle, the legs of a lion and the tail of a peacock.   Red team chose Sosan as their captain, and answered with another of the classic bird-symbols, Shaheen as their mascot.

Jamshid asked me to lead them in a warm-up routine.   I obliged with a series of stretches, possibly warming the children up more by provoking their laughter at seeing me do toe touches and cross-legged extensions.   Jam took over again in leading a shot-on-goal exercise.   It was of great amusement to the teams that their fearless leader kicked ball after ball high over the net, attempting to illustrate how to score a goal.   (Granted, the balls are lightweight and not particularly official).   Each team took their turns.   Some kicked the grass more than ball, some kicked the ball a few meters, some found their mark and threaded the corner of the goal.   All did their best and cheered one another on.

Then it was time for a taste of the real thing.   After positioning every player for a scrimmage, Jamshid and I smiled at one another as both teams in their entirety (save the keepers) immediately clustered to the ball, a regular rugby match without hands.   Such happiness I witnessed along with that old skeleton of a palace, as I pray I will never lose sight of.   Soon Jam took sides and started assisting Simorgh.     Parwana, a tall, athletic Pashtun girl with a strong competitive streak marched up to me and gestured at the injustice, demanding I join Shahbaz.   Which I did.   An hour later, the sun setting, half the girls collapsed in exhaustion, we pulled the nets and finished the water off.   Score: 3 to 3.

I remember glancing at the driver of the van, a man who generously slashed the price of his rental for our purposes.   His eyes were wide with amazement, his head nodded slowly.   To see those girls in uniforms, to see their bare arms and their legs churning for position, battling for momentum, must have been dumfounding for this denizen of a land where still a woman is oppressed beyond measure.   Twice a week the two mythical birds will clasp talons, week after week.   Upon their shoulders they will lift humanity a little higher, as they once did in the imagination of ancient poets and painters of mythical tapestries, a time when the universe ruled imagination, and the stars incited wonderment and the question of what could one day be.

To read more of Ian Pound’s work, see his Kabul Journal.

Ian Pounds
ian.pounds@gmail.com

Issues: Eyewitness
Ian Pounds Witnesses the Dichotomy of Kabul Rev. 1

Kabul, Afghanistan. Kabul is Mars.   It is a great gaping mouth.   Its tonsils are clay, its tongue is imbued with polyps, and its teeth are brown, chiseled, not made to crush but to gnaw.   Even so, five times every twenty-four hours it sings a most reverential, haunting, beautiful song, like that I once said in this journal of certain creatures in the sea, only here the trajectory is not the depths but the heavens.

Kabul is a strange human concoction whereby history has been swept from the surface and buried beneath layers of dust and humanity like Sisyphus scraping together once again the act of being alive.   There are reminders here and there, like wounds never stitched, a wall, a castle, a fountain, a tomb.   But these are so faded as to be ghosts.   Most prominent specter is Darul Aman Palace.   Sitting just above the fray in the western fringe of the city, it has been abandoned, gutted, burned, and bombarded over the course of ninety years.   Yet it has not been beaten into submission like those other scars.   It stands as a sentinel marking the span of time between now and an era of legitimacy, progress, liberation that was Afghanistan in 1920 under the leadership of King Amanullah Khan.

In simple contrast to Darul Aman Palace are 22 orphaned girls streaming from a van onto
a neatly manicured soccer field, donning shiny new uniforms and cleats, half of them white
and blue, half red and brown, and for the first time in their lives, running.

Today there are forces aimed at rebuilding the palace, but it would come at an astronomical price.   Given the problems in the streets, the poverty and insecurity, that notion seems fanciful and by most standards irresponsible.   More compelling to me is the aesthetic issue.   The shell that stands is a reminder of the insanity of war, what has been endured and sacrificed, but also as a monument to survival.

By way of setting that stage do I entreat you to imagine the magic if not merely the simple contrast of twenty-two orphan girls streaming from a van onto a neatly manicured soccer field, donning shiny new uniforms and cleats, half of them white and blue, half red and brown, and for the first time in their lives, running.   Though at first, like birds released from some rehabilitation clinic, many huddled together.   What to do with such distance, such freedom?   Others bolted away down the field and back again, again and again.   Soon they all ran, in circles, in dashes, screaming in delight of space, and right behind them, witness to change, the ruined palace on the hill, and to the right of that the sun bowing low over the American University of Kabul, all of it bathed in air still cool and clear from the previous night’s thunderstorm.

After netting the goals the two teams lined up and faced the oddest couple in Kabul: a small, thin Pashtun man with severe brow and black hair championing the spirit of Coach, dressed in a white uniform shirt too large for his compact frame, and a clownish, tall pudgy, freckled, curly haired American of Scotch blood dressed in a blue uniform too tight around his paunch.   Jamshid gave them their first lesson.   “This is a ball, this is a goal.   You kick the ball into the goal to win a point”¦”

“Kaka Jamshid, how do we know which goal to kick it into?”

After basics we all ran in single file around the soccer field twice.   I had a tough time finding even the most remote part of my cellular structure that could remember running the Marine Corps Marathon only a year and a half ago.   Many of the girls were likewise winded, but not at all disheartened.   Their excitement was unflappable.   They lined up again for a final primer, then they decided upon captains and names.   White team chose Manizha as their captain (she is the oldest) and unanimously claimed the appellation of Simorgh, a mythical Persian creature with the body and wings of an eagle, the legs of a lion and the tail of a peacock.   Red team chose Sosan as their captain, and answered with another of the classic bird-symbols, Shaheen as their mascot.

Jamshid asked me to lead them in a warm-up routine.   I obliged with a series of stretches, possibly warming the children up more by provoking their laughter at seeing me do toe touches and cross-legged extensions.   Jam took over again in leading a shot-on-goal exercise.   It was of great amusement to the teams that their fearless leader kicked ball after ball high over the net, attempting to illustrate how to score a goal.   (Granted, the balls are lightweight and not particularly official).   Each team took their turns.   Some kicked the grass more than ball, some kicked the ball a few meters, some found their mark and threaded the corner of the goal.   All did their best and cheered one another on.

Then it was time for a taste of the real thing.   After positioning every player for a scrimmage, Jamshid and I smiled at one another as both teams in their entirety (save the keepers) immediately clustered to the ball, a regular rugby match without hands.   Such happiness I witnessed along with that old skeleton of a palace, as I pray I will never lose sight of.   Soon Jam took sides and started assisting Simorgh.     Parwana, a tall, athletic Pashtun girl with a strong competitive streak marched up to me and gestured at the injustice, demanding I join Shahbaz.   Which I did.   An hour later, the sun setting, half the girls collapsed in exhaustion, we pulled the nets and finished the water off.   Score: 3 to 3.

I remember glancing at the driver of the van, a man who generously slashed the price of his rental for our purposes.   His eyes were wide with amazement, his head nodded slowly.   To see those girls in uniforms, to see their bare arms and their legs churning for position, battling for momentum, must have been dumfounding for this denizen of a land where still a woman is oppressed beyond measure.   Twice a week the two mythical birds will clasp talons, week after week.   Upon their shoulders they will lift humanity a little higher, as they once did in the imagination of ancient poets and painters of mythical tapestries, a time when the universe ruled imagination, and the stars incited wonderment and the question of what could one day be.

To read more of Ian Pound’s work, see http://www.hopeforafghanchildren.org/topics/kabul-journal/

TAGS: Afghanistan, American University of Kabul, Darul Aman Palace, Ian Pounds, Kabul, King Amanullah Khan

The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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