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Folklore. Normal Life.

KABUL - Marjan, may he rest in peace, was a lion and is the most famous resident of Kabul Zoo. Born in 1976, he was brought to Kabul just before the Soviet invasion. He survived those years, killed a man who snuck into his cage, was blinded by grenades thrown by the man's brother (the brother was then killed by persons unknown). They say he died the day of the US invasion October 7, 2001, but Wikipedia says he survived all the way to January 2002.

At a restaurant I found a magazine called "Afghan scene", targeted at expats. It has both tongue-in-cheek advice and real advice for the large number of aid workers, NGO workers, and foreign contractors in Kabul. A list of recommended places to shop includes Chicken Street, where you can find shops for tourists that rival anything in Agra or Jaipur.

[A clothing shop on chicken street]

Lapis Lazuli eggs and maps of Afghanistan, traditional Kuchi (nomad) clothing, carpets, and shopping malls with all the usual things. Artists paint Kabul streetscapes and rural landscapes in contemporary styles. Street sellers who follow me start with Dari, then switch to Urdu/Hindi, and reading my incomprehension, switch to English.

I took pictures of about 10 wedding halls, which look from the outside like giant hotels with glass facades. Weddings are massive events, *the* big party in social life here.

We also took a tour of the Macroryan, the massive Soviet-built townhouse complex, hardy buildings that held up under all the shelling of the mujahaddeen destruction of Kabul, where families still live.

We drove past a black market, currently called Bush market (some are apparently calling it Obama market), where you can buy US goods. It's been renamed more than once. In the Taliban era, when Western films were banned, people managed to watch James Cameron's Titanic, and it was much-loved. So much so, that when the market flooded at some point in the 1990s, it was named Titanic market (before that Brezhnev market). Apparently a Taliban mullah gave a lecture on the radio in which he explained how infidelity led to terrible results, using the Titanic as an example (proving he'd watched it).

Went for a walk at Babur's Garden. Babur, the Mughal emperor, liked Kabul so much he requested his body be brought back here from Agra to be buried. A tiny bit of his tomb has survived. The rest of the garden was of course destroyed by the Mujahaddeen, but rebuilt in 2004 with help from the Aga Khan Trust and others (including the US Embassy).

[The view from Babur Garden]

[Crafts store in Babur Garden]

I watched a satire show on television, which captured an experience I had, twice. A fellow has an appointment with an important official at 5:00pm. He gets there on time, but has to pass through 12 layers of security, each of which delays him. By the time he reaches the person who he was supposed to meet, having been stripped down to his underwear and lost his shoes to security, it's 5:30pm, and the official complains that he waited for him for half an hour and now he has to go. Come back tomorrow, he says, then turns to an assistant and says: "book me a flight to Dubai for tomorrow morning". The next satire by the same troupe satirized a Pakistani mullah (I think Tahir Ashrafi) who said that bombings in Afghanistan are OK, but that bombings in Pakistan are not, imagining him on an Afghan talk show. The comedian playing the mullah held his beard on while it kept falling off, and broke into Dari at the end, unwittingly saying: "As long as I am here, you will not enjoy a day of peace".

[The old palace]

When I first started thinking about going to Afghanistan years ago, I picked up a very old Lonely Planet Guide to Afghanistan. The Lonely Planet tour guide writing style, with highlights like: "Have ice cream at the top of the mountain in Charikar", was a striking contrast with how I imagined a place of war and tragedy. But yesterday I definitely had ice cream somewhere up the mountain in Charikar.

[A fruit market in Kabul]
This place is part of a region, and earned a reputation for many things, natural and cultural. People live here, and they will continue to live here. They've been through a lot, and survived. Their country was a hub, a place lived in, visited, and loved by many. And I think it will be again.

Justin Podur visited Kabul in March.

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