It was on the 20th August last year that the chaotic Western withdrawal from Kabul returned Afghanistan to the rigid rule of the Taliban, precipitating the flight of millions. Yesterday, all over the UK, The Good Chance Theatre, Afghan Aid and Afghan artists, actors and sports people came together to celebrate the ancient art of kite flying in ‘an aerial act of solidarity’ against the harsh rule of the mullahs. And one of these gatherings was on Parliament Hill where this loan kite was twisting and turning in the wind.
From 10 to 4pm kites were the order of the day – although certainly not the only Afghan entertainment on offer. Here are the kite makers hard at work with coloured tissue paper and string creating delicate fluttering little kites for the kids.
Fellow Heath Hands-er, Terry, who I bumped into around the kite tent said that she had been to a kite making session the previous day where their instructor had told them that, way back, in strict households where lovers were unable to meet freely, kites were used to send secret messages painted onto their sails. What a lovely thought.
Next door Parwana Fayyaz, Afghan writer, poet and scholar of medieval Persian poetry, was leading a poetry workshop. Parwana and her family had left Afghanistan in the 1980s and she had been brought up first in Pakistan and then in Bangladesh. Moving to the US to study comparative literature she is now a research fellow at Peterhouse in Cambridge. The wonderfully evocative names that Afghan parents give their children was the focus of her workshop – and of her first book of poetry, Forty Names, each name conjuring up a story, a person, a landscape, a history: Fareeda – unique or a precious pearl; Qamar-gul – Flower of the moon; Mashal – Torch, light, bright fire; Deeba – fine silk or brocade.
Down at the bandstand by the running track later in the afternoon, she read several of her poems including the one which gave its name to the festival, Come Fly with Me.
Back up on the top of the hill Parwana’s poetry workshop was nearly drowned out by a somewhat noisier traditional music workshop in which the audience were urged to take part by clapping, ululating – and by dancing!
Over the brow of the hill a somewhat more serious discussion, laying the blame for the tragedies now unfolding in the country firmly (and rightly in my view at least) at the door of the western powers, was flanked by two ladies painting hands in a series of wonderfully intricate patterns.
Sadly there was a long queue so, having accepted the offer of a delicious almond biscuit I watched a few more fluttering kites…
and then headed off down to the café to get drink. And what did I find – but a game of cricket – the batsman dismissed by a fine bit of bowling, stomping dismally off the field.
A long way from the kites of Afghanistan? Well no, actually, as cricket has been one of the major good news stories to come out of Afghanistan over the last 20 years. For the full story see this post on the Bizarre Culture site but in essence, after a brief flurry in the 1830s century cricket was unknown in Afghanistan until the 1990s.
Following the Soviet invasion many Afghanis (like Parwna’s family) fled to Pakistan where cricket was (and is) a national obsession. Enthusiasm for the game spread through the refugee camps and infected Taj Malik, now known as the father of Afghan cricket, who conceived the ambitious plan of pulling together an Afghan national cricket team. This was not an easy task but by 1995 he was able to found the Afghan Cricket Federation – helped by the fact that although strict Sharia law bans all public sporting activities, cricket was eventually accepted by the Taliban government ‘because of its non-contact nature and modest cricket whites, which accommodated both religious and cultural requirements, unlike football, whose skimpy kit was seen as the marking of heathens’.
Since then cricket has flourished both at home and abroad. There are now over 500 cricket clubs in the country and Afghani teams have had success on the world stage – although the author of the Bizarre Culture post berates the ICC and test playing nations for failing to encourage smaller cricketing nations like Afghanistan to participate in more international test and cup events.
Down by the café crowds were beginning to gather around the bandstand where Parwana was to read her poetry and there was to be lots more music. Although this chap with his umbrella was not waiting for the music.
And in due course our traditional musicians from the music workshop were joined by a singer and her group – and very soon by a lot of enthusiastic dancers and a group of little kids craning to see the players – all enjoying the afternoon sun.
A lovely friendly celebration of Afghan life – so sad that it had to take place here rather than in their homes where it belongs.
And…… Lest they think that their contribution would not be noticed…. Here are our Heath Hands bosses busy all afternoon ferrying equipment, Persian rugs and performers around Parliament Hill and keeping everyone in order!