Did you know I actually started writing this column 35 years ago? When I was young, I accompanied my parents on a two-year Peace Corps term in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. They encouraged me to start keeping a journal, arranging with my teachers in Wisconsin for me to send articles for the school newspaper. I wrote of all the incredibly different sights, sounds, and smells I was experiencing. Now I hope to share with you some of what I absorbed living in a very different culture and economy.
Little did we know that someday Afghanistan would become a “current event”. At the time, most of my American classmates did not know where Afghanistan was, though some ventured to guess it was in Africa. Afghanistan had managed to remain obscure and generally uninvolved with international politics.
When we were there, before Russian involvement put Afghanistan in the news a couple of decades ago, before the Taliban made it newsworthy after 9-11-01, Afghanistan was simply “backward” and poor. Yet the people were mostly subsisting successfully on their resourceful farming of the desert land and some cottage industries. The people we met were curious and hospitable. Our family has been saddened by the war and destruction that have racked the country since then, and are hopeful that the situation is improving now.
I remember many walks across the Kabul River, where we saw the small but verdant irrigated fields, watered from the river by an ingenious and ancient system of hand-hewn waterways in the rocky terrain. Farming was done without engine power. I remember when we came upon a water-driven rice mill; an ox-driven sugar mill; a farmer proud of his steel-tipped ox-powered plow; and a farmer winnowing grain with a basket in the wind. The rocky hills were sparsely scattered with nomads’ herds of sheep and goats.
Camels, donkeys, and horse-drawn taxis were the common man’s transportation. There were a few cars and trucks, available for hire. Around town, freight was carried on wooden flatbeds the size of a pick-up truck bed, pulled or pushed by two strong men. The hard work that such people did for their meager livelihood made a deep impression on me as a child.
Now that I have reached the age of my parents when we were there, I see the adventure more completely than I did then. I am grateful my parents had the courage to go there to help improve medical service, and that they didn’t wait till their children were grown, but let us learn and benefit from the experience. Ever since returning to the States, I have a totally different perspective on materialism and what is important in life, on the universality of the human experience. I look forward to sharing more on these issues in future columns.
My husband insists that I include this photo my dad took of me with a baby camel we encountered on one of our walks. The nomad whose caravan was crossing the bridge obviously prized this 3-day-old white camel, and had it decked out in a colorful, new blanket and collar.
Winifred Frantz Hoffman
February 11, 2004
Reprinted by permission from The Ottawa (Illinois) Daily Times
The following only seems like a joke.
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. It used to be a
medical diagnosis for pathological homesickness.