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The Land of Afghans

When I am asked “what’s Afghanistan like”, I need to pause for a moment; It seem like a pretty simple question, yet the answer is anything but.

First, you need to understand that Afghanistan isn’t a nation in the way we think of a nation; Afghanistan has only existed as a nation “on paper” since the early 1900’s…..and the notion of a National Identity is fairly weak by western standards. Afghan identity is strongly rooted in tribal affiliation…..Imagine asking someone from the US about their identity, and rather than responding with “I’m an American”, they reply with “I’m a Kennedy, Rockefeller , Hatfield, McCoy”, etc…that would be a pretty alien notion to those of us in the west. The tribe comes before nation…which is why I think we in the west have difficulty navigating politics in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is roughly the same size of Texas; shaped a bit differently, but the landmass is close….its landlocked, and has Iran to the west, Pakistan to the east….both Iran and Pakistan curve beneath Afghanistan to the south where they share a common border; To the north is Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan …yeah, it’s a lot of “stans”…stan, simply translated from Pashto means “land of, or place of”…so, Afghanistan literally translates to “Place of Afghans”.

Anyway…Its pretty big, but it’s not a single ethnicity or language...to the west, on the Iranian border, the most common language is Dari; Dari is a form of Persian Farsi. Dari is to Farsi as US English is to the Queens english…close enough to pass for one another to the untrained ear. As you go further west and south, Pashto and Urdu become more prominent ...sometimes a bit of Hindi, but not much.

To the North you begin to hear more Uzbek, Tajik, Hazaragi, and a few other less common languages.
Now, ethnically? It’s a huge fruit salad..Tajiks, Pashtun, Balochs, Turkmen, Hazara, and Aimaq, just to name a few……you can see why labeling everyone “Afghan”can be problematic…How would you feel if someone simply came to the land you lived in and said “You are all star bellied sneetches”?

Easier said than done.

All this and now we get to add a to the mix “tribal feuds”….yes, folks, codified revenge. All this falls under “Pashtunwali”…..Pashutnwali is ( loose translation) a “Code of life”; it is an unwritten ethical code of life, and covers many aspects of life…..including “Nyaw aw Badal”, which is “Justice and revenge”.

I will delve deeper into pashtunwali later, but its important to understand that there is NO time limit on revenge…seriously. I once had two students from different tribes that refused to sit in the same classroom because of a grudge that began when the US was still a collection of British colonies…..Hatfields and McCoys are bush league compared to Afghan grudges.

I know this has been kind of long winded, but I wanted to lay out the reality of Afghanistan, because the background is important to the present and future.

I came here a long time ago as a teacher; it took me a while before I realized I was also the student.
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