Destination: Afghanistan

Buzkashi, Revisited

The Lunatic Express author and World Hum contributor Carl Hoffman looks at how buzkashi, Afghanistan’s goat-based national sport, has changed since 9/11.

What was originally a pickup game played at weddings and festivals has become a game of one-upmanship between rich big men getting richer and bigger every day. Who has the most horses? The most expensive horses, which can cost $50,000 in a country where the average annual wage is $370? The best stable of chapandazan? Players have always been sponsored—given good horses to ride for the glory of the horse’s owner and small profit for the rider—but now a few have made themselves the world’s first professional, full-time buzkashi players.

We published David Raterman’s story about buzkashi, aka buskaschee, in 2002. He recently drew from the story for a scene in his novel, The River Panj.

A World Hum Story is Novelized

David Raterman drew from his 2002 World Hum story Down by the Buskaschee Field about Tajikistan while writing “The River Panj,” described as “the first thriller to open in Afghanistan on 9/11.”

From a press release:

On Sept. 11, 2001, ex-Notre Dame football star Derek Braun is doing relief work in Afghanistan when his fiancée and elderly colleague are kidnapped along the border with Tajikistan. With no one to help, he goes in search. On this dangerous journey, he faces Islamic terrorists, heroin smugglers, corrupt Russian soldiers, Iranian spies and helpless CIA agents, witnessing an assortment of terrible acts that culminate in his own kidnapping.

The novel, which promises to be the first in a series, is available in paperback for $10.99 here and as an e-book for $2.99 on Amazon and iTunes.

By the way, you have to love a writer who devotes a section of his website to publishing rejections. They’re enough to give any aspiring novelist serious pause.

Rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas

The famous Afghan statues were demolished by the Taliban in 2001. World Hum contributor Joanna Kakissis reports on the painstaking rebuilding process for NPR:

Up to half of the Buddha pieces can be recovered, according to Bert Praxenthaler, a German art historian and sculptor, who has been working at the site for the past eight years. He and his crew have sifted through 400 tons of rubble and have recovered many parts of the statues along with shrapnel, land mines and explosives that were used in their demolition.

But how do you rebuild the Buddhas from the rubble?

“The archaeological term is ‘anastylosis,’ but most people think it’s some kind of strange disease,” said Praxenthaler.

For those in the archaeology world, “anastylosis” is actually a familiar term. It was the process used to restore the Parthenon of Athens. It involves combining the monument’s original pieces with modern material.

(Via @juliaindc)

New Travel Book: ‘The Minaret of Djam’ by Freya Stark

The 1970 hardcover of this Freya Stark classic has been out of print for some time, but a new paperback edition is set to hit bookstores on Dec. 21.

The book recounts Stark’s journey in search of Afghanistan’s Minaret of Jam; the 12th-century relic is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, though at the time Stark visited, it was a recently re-discovered archaeological find. The publisher’s description notes that “Djam is, even today, one of the most inaccessible and remote places in Afghanistan. When Freya Stark traveled there, few people in the world had ever laid eyes on it or managed to reach the desolate valley in which it lies.”

Three of Stark’s books appeared on our list of the 100 most celebrated travel books of all time.

The Wired Guide to Road Tripping in Kabul

Zach Rosenberg shares some lessons learned from four months of driving in the Afghan capital. The story includes some fascinating observations alongside the practical advice—Kabul’s most popular bumper stickers may surprise you.

High-mileage Toyota Corollas are so ubiquitous as to deserve a place on the Afghan flag. In fact, if you’re in Kabul, you’re probably driving one. Most of them are well-worn imports from Canada, the United States, Germany and other western nations and many bear stickers or flags identifying them as such. They often sport bumperstickers from their homelands. Logos of American universities are common. Less common but endlessly ironic are the occasional “Bush/Cheney ¹04,” “Jesus Saves” and “My Child is a Star Pupil At…” stickers.

P.J. O’Rourke Goes to Afghanistan

The occasional travel writer takes a fun shot at parachute journalism:

If you spend 72 hours in a place you’ve never been, talking to people whose language you don’t speak about social, political, and economic complexities you don’t understand, and you come back as the world’s biggest know-it-all, you’re a reporter.


Afghan Carrier Offers ‘Cheerfully Blunt’ In-Flight Magazine

Here’s something you won’t read in most in-flight magazines:

The rooms are individually air-conditioned, accessorized with amenities you will find in 4-star hotels abroad, sheets are clean, view from the room is nice, and—after the suicide bombing that took place—security measures have been implemented.

But, apparently, that sort of unblinking coverage is standard for Safi Airways, the Afghan airline whose in-flight magazine is profiled in this Wall Street Journal story. Says a Safi executive: “Anyone who is going to Afghanistan knows about these issues anyway. What would be the point of not talking about them openly?” (Via Julia Ross)

American Fool in the Khyber Pass

To impress a girl, Les Braunstein bought a horse in Afghanistan and set out for Pakistan. It was 1971. He was sure he'd be OK.

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Postcards From the ‘World’s Most Failed States’

There’s a Big Picture-esque slideshow at Foreign Policy, with some horrific and amazing shots from Chad, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and other unstable places. As Elizabeth Dickinson writes, sometimes you “only know a failed state when you see it.”

Interview With Greg Mortenson: One Traveler Changing Lives

David Frey asks the bestselling author about the "Three Cups of Tea" approach to travel and life

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Don’t Mess With My French Toast!

Don’t Mess With My French Toast! iStockPhoto

On the meal that grounds us in our home culture, even on the other side of the globe

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Photo You Must See: Sunset in Afghanistan

Photo You Must See: Sunset in Afghanistan REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The sun sets behind an Afghan man as he walks in the Delaram district of southern Afghanistan.

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A Tourist’s Afghanistan

woman in afghanistan REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

Cullen Thomas recounts an independent traveler's time in the war-torn country

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Photo You Must See: Burqas and a Baby in Kabul

Photo You Must See: Burqas and a Baby in Kabul REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Two Afghan women and a child walk down a set of mud stairs in Kabul.

Afghanistan: The View From 30,000 Feet

The New York Times’ At War blog has a compelling slideshow of black-and-white shots from the window seat of a flight to Kabul. Photographer Moises Saman writes in the accompanying post: “From the air, the impenetrability of this region becomes evident.” (Via @elihansen)