05 March 2011

Waiting for buses near the traffic circle

KABUL, Afghanistan—My colleagues were in a photo shop waiting for passport multiples while I stood outside on the bustling street corner under a bright noonday sky and watched the movement of walkers, passengers, drivers and vehicles.

There may be no one in Afghanistan who has been untouched by the last three decades of violence, poverty and chaos, but the everyday business of life in Kabul and elsewhere goes on the best it can. Disruptions are common, but nothing stops for long and all the stops occur somewhere, not everywhere at the same time. Afghans who have jobs work them and those don’t—an estimated 35% of the population, U.S. Depression-era rates—look for them and hustle a living as best they can. There is no shortage of human industry and activity anywhere I have been.

Head gear, like the red skullcap on the right and the tight black turban on the left, usually identify some social identity, or qawm, an Arabic term for any solidarity based on ethnicity, tribe, place or sometimes occupation.

Contrast the local fashion with the “Argentina” sweatshirt worn by the boy. Outside the frame a young man wore a bright yellow jacket with “Mizzou cheer squad” stitched to the back. And just ten years ago Afghanistan under the Taliban was one of the most culturally closed societies in the world.

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