November 3, 2005

The First Day of Eid (Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan)

Filed under: Uncategorized — dwmcloda @ 11:30 pm

As Afghans are little inclined to celebration, I was surprised to hear brass band music coming from the direction of Hazarat Ali’s shrine.  I ventured outside my decrepit hotel to see what was happening and found a convoy of military and police vehicles blocking the street in front of the shrine.  There was indeed a small brass band, but the celebration was short-lived and they had dispersed.  Thousands of devotees began to swarm across the gates to get kneeling space in the courtyards outside the mosque to pray and listen to the preaching of the local mullah.

Today marked the first day of Eid and the end Ramazan, the month of fasting and abstinence.  It has been announced by the mullahs at the first sighting of the first sliver of the waxing moon. 

I stood near a fence minding my own business when some guys in suits asked me, “What do you want?”  I had no answer to this odd question so some soldiers searched me and my bags.  These guys were unnecessarily rude and therefore ruffled my feathers more than normal. I demanded to be taken to the police headquarters since the curious group of onlookers that had gathered around me was very unnerving.  Instead, I was merely ejected from the park.

The novelty of being regarded a suspicious foreigner was now warn away.  I desperately wanted to be regarded as a strange, clumsy, tourist again.

I decided I should check the Buzkashi field to see if I could get information on when the next game would be.  The grounds are a thirty minute walk directly south of the shrine along a paved road that abruptly ends in a desert. 

Being the first day of Eid and a major holiday, men and women were dressed very well.  Of course the ladies were all covered in burkas (some of them baby blue, the others white, but not one black one did I notice.)  Prepubescent girls were all adorned in cute little dresses and gobs of makeup.

Just where the paved road ends is a huge, yellow Russian-built silo and granery.  Behind this is the desert-like Buzkashi field, at this time completely empty except for a old plastic bags that stuck to the weeds and flapped in the wind.  I sat down on the wood bench next to a little shop built into an metal box that turned out to be an old trucking container.  These converted ready-made shops can be found all over Afghanistan’s cities.  This shop sold a variety of cheap colorful kites, along with some biscuits and soft drinks. 

A Hazara boy invited me to his house for some refreshments a few minutes away.  Behind, of course, a tall dirt wall, was a scrubby but clean courtyard, then two “houses” each one only a single room.  The interior of the room followed that plan typical of Afghanistan: thick cushions cover the perimeter and against the walls lay matching pillows for back support.  In the middle of the floor was rolled out a big sheet of vinyl and individual settings laid out of pistachios, raisins, dal and chick peas.  For lunch the boy’s little sister made us scrambled eggs wth tomatoes, and over tea we watched Iranian bootleg dance videos on the computer.  It seemed very Western and progressive with bellydancing girls wrapped in albino snakes in very elaborate sets.

In the evening, of course, I visited with Rafi but also met another tourist, Stano, from Slovokia.  He traveled overland through Iran and across the rugged central route of Afghanistan and was taking lots of photos with his nifty new camera.  I agreed to meet him in the morning to show him the Buzkashi fields.

• • •