image for enlargement
The children of Guldara, a village an hour north of Kabul, attend classes
outdoors as their school building is destroyed. The men of Guldara sided
with the Northern Alliance, so the Taliban decimated the village. Now,
the people have returned to rebuild.
still wear the burqa, but freely venture out into
the marketplace for the first time in quite awhile.
Just a few months ago, not a woman could be seen
on the streets of Kabul.
women and children of this extended Guldara family gather
in the kitchen of their newly renovated home. The women
are making nan, Afghanistan's staple bread, and the children
have just come home from school
mother and daughter out shopping in Karte Se, a neighborhood
in Kabul. Most women, afraid the Taliban might return
any day, still wear the burqa.
women, like this Hazara woman from Karte Se, test the
waters and wear their burqa pulled back to show their
making camp in Jalalabad.
on the move on the treacherous road from Kabul to Jalalabad.
A Kuchi camp with their livestock grazing freely near Jalalabad.
girls in Guldara have begun their first full school year
since the Taliban lost power. Many parents in Afghanistan
broke the law and educated their girls in secret. One
Jalalabad girl who was not so fortunate, however, said
she was too shy to go back to school. At 13, she would
only be in the third grade and was afraid the other girls
would make fun of her. Besides, said her mother, the
girl would be married in a couple of years.
As part of their curriculum, the children of Guldara are taught how to
recognized and avoid landmines, which are strewn all over their land,
just a stone's throw from where they study and play.
sampling of Kuchi jewelry purchased on Chicken Street
again in Afghanistan
Afghanistan - Most of the women at the birthday party kept
their chadors* on, although only one man was in
the room, and they all were related to him. The man was
the father of the birthday boy, whose mother threw on some bhangra* and
began to dance for her one-year-old son.
after this party, a rocket meant for the American Embassy
would fly off course through another apartment building in
this same area and near where I was staying. The explosion
was loud enough to cause alarm, but not so close as to rattle
party, however, the only loud noise was the music pumped
to an ear-pounding volume, accompanied by clapping and laughing.
As I had
suspected, Afghan women belly dance. Since this is Central
Asia (not the Middle East), and since Afghan women do not
dance in public (making the chance to see them rare), my
theory could only remain just a theory until I saw it for
As a journalist,
I took a month-long working vacation to travel to Afghanistan
this fall. I visited my friend Karen who works there for
a Christian human service NGO,* having returned this spring
after the Taliban put her under house arrest and kicked her
NGO out of the country just prior to September 11, 2001.
She is renovating a new home whose previous inhabitant suffered
a rocket through its roof. Karen speaks fluent Pashto* and
can get by in Dari.*
parents of the birthday boy invited us because Karen is a
family friend. Locals are excited to mix freely with foreigners;
the Taliban used to severely punish them for this. Music
and dancing also are legal now, but dancing is culturally
restricted. Afghan women may watch men dance at weddings,
but men may not watch women dance.
on toshaks* eating pilau* and ground meat
that sizzled with oil and was served with extremely fermented
local yogurt. Before they cut the cake, the mother of the
birthday boy turned on her boom box and egged on her sister,
a doctor now re-employed since women can work again, to dance
mother pulled me up to dance, I eagerly attempted to mimic
her style of belly dance. All the women exhibited horizontal
hip shimmies and twists, with some dancers making each hip
twist more staccato than others, almost stomping their feet
to obtain the desired affect.
of any kind were noticeably absent. An eight-year-old girl,
however, started doing a move common to belly dancers everywhere:
She slanted back, dropped her hip and kicked with every other
drop. I quickly realized the little girls were mimicking
what their mothers felt free to let loose and do at home,
but weren’t willing to do in a group where a man was present.
elbows bent, the women’s hands did not raise above their
heads. Their wrist circles were light and hands remained
cupped, fingers together at all times. The mother also would
do a forward hopping move that I’ve seen before: Left foot
flat on the ground, the ball of her right foot planted behind
her, she propelled herself forward and bounced up and down
women at the party began taking off their chadors as they
relaxed. Most Afghan women still wear the burqa although
they are not legally required to. Some women test the waters
by pulling the burqa back over their heads to reveal their
face. With most burqas being blue, the style produces a Virgin
Mary statue effect. Fewer women wear a chador, and a handful
wear small head-scarves.
degree heat, I wore a culturally-appropriate long skirt over
pants, sleeves past the elbows, and the chador, which kept
slipping off my head because I wasn’t used to it. While shooting
photographs, I finally whipped it off because it kept getting
in the way
parties are rare among Afghans. Preceding miscarriages and
the longing for a son, now finally born to our hosts, had
inspired this unusual, elaborate event. The women even wore
their dowry jewelry for the occasion, donning intricately
sculpted, orange-gold Indian-design necklaces, earrings and
bangles. The women prefer their gold dowry jewelry to old
silver Kuchi and Turkoman jewelry coveted by American Tribal
Style belly dancers.
items we see in the U.S. have been imported from Pakistan.
I bought most of my Kuchi items, however, on Chicken Street
in Kabul. Only a few souvenir shops exist in the city, and
Chicken Street is the place to go. My only fellow customers
were ISAF* soldiers.
bargaining for a good price, the real test became finding
jewelry that needed the least repair. One of my favorite
finds, a pair of bracelets encrusted with colored glass,
left an unidentified rubbery slime on my hands as I examined
it. I nicknamed this muck I found on most jewelry “Kuchi
goo.” Karen and her coworkers were amused I was buying so
much, and that I actually had a practical use for six-inch
into Afghanistan, I first had to get an Afghan visa in Peshawar
(always a crapshoot), then drive to Kabul. As we trekked
across the desert, the Kuchis came at us heading the opposite
direction, on the move from Kabul toward Jalalabad seeking
yet even warmer weather (!) for the winter.
has their story of a Kuchi woman walking along, then stopping
to squat and give birth right then and there, then catching
up with her caravan,’’ Karen told me. “So many people tell
a story about it, it probably does happen just like that.”
for toughness went far. The Kuchis also are strongly patriarchal,
but the Taliban never dared to force Kuchi women to wear
a burqa and even allowed them to sell wares in the marketplace.
to Kabul, we drove three hours from Peshawar, Pakistan to
Jalalabad, Afghanistan through tribal territory which belongs
to neither country. The tribes assign travelers a tribal
gunman, since this is a heavy heroin processing and arms
dealing area. So, we headed through the Khyber Pass with
our gunman in the front passenger seat, past endless shops
with scales shamelessly displayed in the windows for measuring
to Kabul, the drive is six-plus hours over treacherous unpaved
road. Halfway there, we ran into U.S. Coalition forces who
quickly realized the blonde girls waving at them from the
van catching up to their convoy were American. Because we
were vulnerable to bandits, our Afghan driver stuck with
the troops for protection. The soldiers were happy to oblige.
Later we found out those same soldiers were attacked after
we left them.
we headed up the Kabul Gorge into the city, someone tried
to enter at the same checkpoint we were heading for with
a fuel truck full of explosives. When we arrived, the military
was out in force and an Afghan army commander ordered Karen
and me out of our van to be searched, along with our luggage,
right in the middle of the road.
As it so
happened, I had woken up with food poisoning that morning.
When the army commander demanded my passport, I responded
by throwing up at his feet. Mortified, I started laughing
and threw up again! Vomiting turned out to be the best thing
I could have done - the army commander felt bad and decided
not to search us.
left Afghanistan, I flew out on a 16-seater plane over the
Hindu Kush. The flight took 40 minutes out, compared with
10 hours driving in. Because of a miniscule luggage limit,
however, I abandoned most of my stuff in Kabul. I took only
the clothes on my back, some borrowed chadors, my notes,
camera, and my horde of Kuchi jewelry. The jewelry got me
searched at every airline security checkpoint on the way
back to the U.S.
of strange-shaped metal will set off an X-ray machine every
time. A couple of female airline security guards even tried
on my Kuchi wrist cuffs.
Indian, Punjabi pop music
Chador: A large, light-weight, semi-sheer veil that women wear in Afghanistan
and Pakistan. The veil covers the hair and wraps around the shoulders and upper
Dari: Afghanistan’s main language
ISAF: International Security Assistance Force
NGO: Non-governmental organization
Pashto: Afghanistan’s second main language
Pilau: A staple Afghan dish consisting of rice with raisons, carrots and lamb.
The lamb usually is buried at the bottom and you have to dig for it.
Toshak: Floor mats and pillows which serve as couches in Afghan culture.
Kuchis: Nomads who are ethnic Pashtuns, from the same tribe as the Taliban
and former Afghan king Mohammed Zaher Shah, who was overthrown in the early
70’s and who returned to Kabul this year as a cultural figurehead, but not
a governmental leader.
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10-25-02 The Photography of Cynthia
F Cushman, Full size
photos (and files)
Dramatic choice photos of Leila, Dalia, Momo and Suzanna
of Delight, A History of Belly Dance in the United States Reviewed
by Bobbie Giarratana & Susie Poulelis
Photos of MECDA performers & layout by Susie, Third Annual Bay Area MECDA
and Style by Yasmela / Shelley Muzzy
ATS seems to be pushing Middle Eastern dance, at least in the U.S., back into
that safe and sexless area, sans the real knowledge of true folk movement
Travel Journal- "The Turkish Flim-Flam Man" by
...foodstuffs still glued on, --no black marks from
any recent explosion,--I believed it to be “working”...
of the Spirit by Sierra Suraci
Know what you are you contributing
- either to their dilution as a people or the strengthening
of their true image.