Sunday, 16 August 2009

A Tale of Two Summers and a Place In-Between

Some things burn in the back of your mind and for a long time, I have wanted to mention an essential piece of reading. Last summer, an old colleague of mine recommended a book that even beyond reading, I have continued to find inspirational. In fact, in many ways, it stands as an example of some of the things that I want achieve, InshAllah. The Places In-Between is a rather unconventional travelogue by Rory Stewart, a Scottish writer in which he documents the 2002 winter walk that he undertook from Herat* to Kabul (though his travels actually went beyond Afghanistan). He walked cross country at a time when bombs reigned down from the skies following the US invasion. Sometimes he was accompanied, often not; a non-Muslim stranger in a Muslim land, following in the intrepid footsteps of the Mughal Emperor Babur's journey across Afghanistan.

Rory Stewart now heads the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul which sets out to equip Afghans with the skills, knowledge and enterprise to bring commercial viability to traditional crafts. At a time when people have mixed feelings on the foreign occupation in Afghanistan, I take much inspiration from people like Rory.

And here is where this summer comes in. Exactly one summer ago, I made the decision that travel to Afghanistan was a possibility. Last week, just as I was about to depart for Kabul, the Taleban took control of a semi-constructed building in Pul-e-Alam, Logar and started firing missiles and rocket launchers into a nearby government target. This summer happens to be election season in Afghanistan, and violence has reached a dangerous level.

My destination was Logar where I intended to stay with a very dear friend who had been asking me to visit all summer. Three hours before I was due to board my plane from Dubai, I was advised by very well meaning Afghan friends, not to go. The irony? I, a Pashtoon, who can blend in and am ethnic Afghan, am caught in that place in-between.

*Qutb Shah father of my paternal ancestors, the Awan, was a ruler of Herat.

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