Afghanistan is a landlocked country jammed between Pakistan, Iran, and the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It has a panhandle that sticks east, barely touching against China. I was born in Kabul, the capital of this country, in 1948. My father had just come back from the United States where he had gotten a college education, one of the first half-dozen or so Afghans to be sent that far abroad. In those days, Afghanistan was mostly a land of villages. We Afghans knew we were brave, generous, good-looking–and remote.

Even in the cities, life was slow. Clock-time didn’t exist much, so what was the point in hurrying.?

Whether in cities or villages, Afghans lived in family compounds. Society was divided into a public sphere and a private sphere. When women went out into the public sphere, they clad themselves in chadris: full-body coverings with only a mesh to see through.

Islam was everywhere, but Afghan Islam was heavily flavored with Sufism, a kind of pantheistic mysticism. Sufism was closely associated with poetry; the graves of some well-regarded sufi poets often turned into shrines after their death. My ancestor Sheikh Sa’duddin, whose pen name was Shor-i-Ishq (“Turmoil of Love”) hahs a shrine devoted to his memory in the village where my father was born. Here’s what it looks like from outside.

Afghanistan in 2002   What I saw when I visited the country just after the fall of the Taliban. 

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