Christmas on the Road to Kandahar
Brightly lit houses, last minute shopping specials, stuffed turkey and ham, elves wearing green tights next to Santa Clauses with white beards, long shopping lists, the Grinch, cards sent and received, family and home. My friend and I listened to the familiar carol, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams….”
Our reverie was interrupted by a request to translate the words into the local language. As our Afghan friend understood the meaning of the song, he responded, “Don’t be sad. You also have a home here.”
Our smiles confirmed the accuracy of his words.
Afghanistan was not a word I associated with “home” until recently. Previously, Afghanistan evoked images of Talib warriors, poverty, devastation and political agendas. Drawn here after 9/11, I tasted the richness of the culture, experienced the abundance of Afghan hospitality, and saw fresh hope on the faces of the people.
Christmas. Neither the day nor the season is acknowledged here, but our day was rich and full. Many traditions were absent. But in the simplicity of the wrapping, I experienced the substance of the Gift we celebrate. And in surroundings similar to the land of Jesus, I found shepherds watching their flocks, bright stars and silent nights, laughter, turkey and cranberry sauce, Christmas caroling and special gatherings.
Afghan friends called to wish me “Christmas Congratulations.”
Friends and I spent a day making gingerbread houses. One unfortunate mishap resulted in a collapsed gingerbread roof, so we decided to showcase this one as the Kabul masterpiece in our gingerbread village, using Jolly Ranchers and red licorice to reveal where a rocket had done its work.
In spite of all their troubles, Afghans have not lost their sense of humor.
I had planned to fly to Kandahar on the morning of Christmas Eve to spend Christmas with some ex-pat friends who live and work there. A frozen turkey had been flown in for the occasion. Marshmallows had been imported for s’mores and white elephant gifts had been wrapped in red cellophane paper from the bazaar.
Air travel is always iffy, so we began calling early in the morning to confirm the exact time of our flight. Departure times can change here without notice. After several hours and lots of phone calls, we learned that the flight was unexpectedly cancelled for reasons unknown to the passengers. Such is not unusual, so we made spontaneous alternate plans to celebrate in Kabul. Other friends, knowing the capricious nature of in-country travel, had invited us to join them on Christmas Day as a backup plan.
We heard Christmas carols led by a multi-national choir and feasted on a huge buffet, complete with hot wassail served at a local hotel.
The following day we made the trip to Kandahar and donned our “gay apparel” – in this instance, burqas – to travel through this conservative area. It was my first trip to Kandahar and my first time to wear a burqa. Seeing the world through a mesh lattice without the benefit of peripheral vision can only be described as intense.
Camels on long barren stretches of desert were the “traffic” as our van drove into the city. Some of my Afghan women friends assured me that they wear the burqa by choice, as it gives them freedom and the ability to move about the city unhindered. As I clumsily maneuvered my way in and out of vehicles, unaccustomed to impaired vision and yards of flowing material, “unhindered” was not the word that came to mind. But I did experience the freedom of anonymity as we traveled through the city.
Christmas in Afghanistan.
As I pondered the birth of the Prince of Peace in this land so similar to His own, a young Afghan girl said, “Peace is not sold anywhere in the world. Otherwise I would have bought it for my country.”
My heart's hope is that she finds it.
Love to all.
PS – Yes, I'll be there on March 29th, ready to share a few stories about my life in Afghanistan. I'm fairly certain a very interesting and articulate Afghan friend will be able to come as well. I feel certain he'll be an addition to the party. See you then. – Susan
Susan (in blue shirt with horizontal stripes,) was one of the Poky Litter of Puppies, a hyper-intuitive Magical Worlds group in March, 2004. None of us knew at the time that Susan, an MBA, would move to Afghanistan and open a business to stimulate the economy there.