Afghanistan - where kites are once again flying.
Kite flying is a sport that all boys in Afghanistan know. It is a centuries-old traditional game. The winner cut the lines of all the other kites, and has the last kite in the air. During the Taliban regime there was a ban on all sports including kite flying, there was also a ban on dancing, music, and all women should be fully covered wearing a burka. These laws are changed, and there is a kind of normality. Life goes on for the Afghans, the years of wars and occupations have not been able to defeat this proud people.
As part of my eight-month long journey of the ancient trade route along the Silk Road, I traveled as single female traveler through Afghanistan across the border from Turkmenistan to the country's third largest city of Herat. In the two weeks I traveled in Afghanistan, I visited the ancient Silk Road cities of Herat, Balkh and Masar e-Sharif.
So it can be done, but it took a lot of courage to enter the country mostly known for its Taliban regime and warzones. Traveling there was not done without defying a lot of strict warnings. First I took a deep breath, before I crossed the border, and suddenly I was surrounded by a huge bunch of manic staring man, all looking like the reincarnations of Osama bin Laden with big black beard, and all wearing sharwal kameez, west and hat wrapped with six feet long ragged turban. Just one look at the curious crowd was enough to convince me of the Afghans' inner will. They were smiling and friendly, yet with a firm look in their eyes. These proud warriors do not look like someone you want to fight against. There is a popular Pashtun proverb that says: "It's me against my brothers, my brothers and me against my cousins, my brothers, my cousins and me against the world." In principle, this means that they will all be inclined to join forces against all external enemies, and this unity has historically enabled them to win battles against force which were supposed to be superior to the afghans. In the past they were fighting against Alexander the Great, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and nowadays US forces and allied. The Afghans are not people who allow themselves to be defeated, and you can even see it in their eyes. They have a special look in their eyes whish they learn from childhood. There is another Pashtun proverb which says: "the dove eyes are beautiful, my son. But the hawk prevails on both sides, so cover your dove eyes and let the claws grow out"
I hadn’t been in the country for more than two seconds, before I got a certain respect for the proud afghan people, and at the same time I was blown away by the culture shock. The busting city of Herat seemed like a wild chaos of colorful people, women wearing blue burka, miserable houses, bumpy and dirty roads, old bumped cars, overloaded motorbikes, brightly colored and painted tuks-tuks, dirty and legless beggars, and all the life that belongs in a poor third world country, and much more. The city of Herat is Afghanistan's third largest city, and yet it is seemed like nothing more than an overgrown village. Very few buildings more than two-storey high, and the western pompous supermarkets are replaced by smiling street vendors and small workshops where tires and tin cans are creatively turned into sandals, buckets and boxes. There were smiling faces everywhere, lots of smiles and endless greetings. Lots of photogenic faces who loved to have their pictures taken. I was met with an overwhelming curiosity and hospitality. My first encounter with Afghanistan was hugely overwhelming, amazing and exciting. Afghanistan has some of the most beautiful mountain scenery, a thousand year long history, an ancient culture and beautiful old Islamic architecture and historic sites. There is much more to Afghanistan than all the bad news we hear in the media about wars, roadside bombs, and the Taliban regime. In the two weeks it became one of the places in the world that has made the greatest impression on me as a world traveler.