My dream with journalism is to travel to the frontiers and send their stories to breakfast tables thousands of miles away. Join me for my first chapter, in Afghanistan, summer 2006. These are my letters to you.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Summer 1995: the Beginnings

"Afghanistan is a stark beauty, vicious and seductive." Christopher Kremmer, The Carpet Wars

Photo by James Hill
It wasn't an obvious destination for a family holiday. We were living in India at the time, however, the airfare was cheap, and the summer of 1995 found my parents, sister and me on an Ariana Airlines flight to Kabul. I came into the country a relatively innocent boy of 11. I left having shot off a tree branch as thick as my leg with a Kalashnikov rifle.

They have never left me, those first glimpses of Afghanistan. There was an indelible ink in the rusting tank carcasses on the side of the roads, the bullet shells in the dust at my feet, the village feasts under the mulberry trees. At night we looked into the sky and saw not shooting stars, but red and green tracer bullets streaking across the black. From a distance, they were silent and magical.

The pride of history was palpable in the country even to a boy. We traveled north from Kabul, winding through the Panjshir Valley in a Land Rover. Alexander the Great and his army had followed the same route, on horseback, over 2,000 years ago. Blue-eyed, blonde-haired genetic legacies of the invading army remain in the people of the area to this day.

We had arrived a year shy of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and the nation was relatively peaceful. There was still the periodic strategic grappling of the warlords, however; many of whom still control provinces of the country. We spent one night in a Kabul basement after we were awakened by jets roaring in from the north, tearing the sky in two. The muffled thuds of their bombs followed, along with the angry chatter of anti-aircraft guns.

But we still saw Afghanistan at peace. We were treated to orchard feasts in the villages, eating sheetfulls of mulberries for desert. There was no end to my curiosity of the Afghan spirit; famed as much for its overwhelming hospitality as its ferocity in war.

Yet there was much I did not understand in Afghanistan's eyes; a yawning gap between her fierce pride and boundless generosity. There were questions unanswered, and even then, I knew I would return.

Now 11 years have passed. I am 22 years old, and, as I write this, finishing up an exchange semester at the University of Aberystwyth, Wales. In early June I will return to the country that is still imprinted on my heart. I will spend two months working with the Open Media Fund in Afghanistan, set up by journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, and now overseen by the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society. I will be based in Kabul, and travel through the Northern provinces to work with Afghani journalists, editing their English copy, and writing articles of my own.

This website is an invitation to join me in my travels, wherever you may be in the world. Peruse it at your leisure and share it with your friends. I hope it will be a set of eyes and ears for you in a distant place.

Until the next time, khoda ru shokr; may God protect you.


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