Note: This article was originally written in 2022.
It’s a rainy Monday in Berlin. I enter Café Solo Berliner with my heavy wet backpack swung on my back. I’m quite lucky that the backpack is waterproof, protecting my PC and a book – State Building in Afghanistan – I borrowed recently from a public library in Berlin. An empty American Walnut armchair next to a cute couple at the window side catches my eye. I move towards it, remove my backpack, sit, relax for a minute and then a smiley waitress dressed-in-dark-blue approaches; I ask her for an Espresso.
As I wait for the Espresso, I make quick glances at the people around me and the beautifully decorated cafe walls. Cheerful conversations go a bit louder than expected, roars of laughter penetrate into my thoughts, but none of it disturbs the tranquil couple chatting next to me. Lovely, they are. Peaceful, this whole place is. The waitress returns with a demitasse. I thank her. I look at the Espresso and hope it gives me a boost.
I open WhatsApp. There is a message from my sister asking about my plans for Eid-e-Qurban (Eid Al-Adha; the biggest Muslim celebration honoring the Quranic sacrifice of Ibrahim (Abraham), father of Ismael (Ishmael); this same story is narrated in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 22, with the difference that there Abraham is ordained to sacrifice Isaac, not Ishmael). “Did we not already celebrate this Eid?” Seems like I have lost track of time.
I scroll over Facebook to find out something about Eid (Facebook is the most prevalent social media platform among people in Afghanistan). And yes, I actually do. A few friends living in the west are sharing photos of Eid celebrations from previous years when they were in Afghanistan – cheerful young hopeful lively faces in those images. Positive energy runs through me.
Their posts aren’t as happy though. They seem to miss Afghanistan and their families and friends who are either left in the country or are suffering from acute depression in third countries awaiting their no-idea-when-happening evacuations. The remainees are the people who failed to make their ways through the thousands of desperate young skilled well-educated others in Kabul airport who tried to board a flight to somewhere safe; desperate enough to board the wings of the airplanes and fall down but not stay in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; aching enough to endure hunger for several nights until an explosion killed dozens of them and dispersed the rest.
Then I come across some other posts. Some friends are posting about the charity campaigns they are running to collect donations in the name of Eid for the needy.
Needy? Yes. Only a few days ago videos of people buying rotten bread and laborers complaining of not having earned 10 Afs ($0,11) were all over social media. That is not the whole of it though. Other such campaigns are run for the survivors of the deadly earthquake in Paktika province of Afghanistan which killed over 1,000 and left +3,000 wounded. 362,000 people were in need of immediate aid, the UN had reported. And there are also assistance
campaigns begging for donations for those who were lucky enough to live through the recent catastrophic floods in various provinces while having their lands, harvests, and dairy cattle demolished. Land and cattle, the chief sources of livelihood for millions in this poverty-stricken landlocked buffer zone.
Then there are news from the prior-to-their-coming-to-power world-sympathized government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Warning! This portion may consist of reports of brutality, but I will share the least violent one): The Taliban have heavily beaten three barbers in Zabul province of Afghanistan for having shaved their beards. What the heck! You feel me, right? What the heck!
I shut my computer because I already read about the ten thousand families internally displaced owing to the ongoing war in the northern areas. Besides, it has been more than a year now that school doors are closed for ladies and their protests are suppressed. Journalists are beaten and international media are banned in the country.
I gaze outside for a few minutes – disconsolate, squeezed with such agony, in need of being appeased. Pondering – misery upon misery. My people! My country! And how powerless I find myself amidst all this.
The waitress appears and asks if I need anything else. I ask for a bottle of water. I try to consolidate myself. I open my PC and start writing, hoping that it can calm me down. It usually does. And I decide to write about Eid. Maybe this way I can introduce Eid and how happy Afghanistan once was to others. Maybe that’s all I can do for my beloved Afghanistan.
Okay, wonderful (ubiquitous happiness from here onwards :)). So, how did we prepare for Eid? (What is Eid? Look above). Usually two weeks before the Eid, we would have the carpets washed (“we” implying most of the families in Afghanistan). Two weeks because it would take time for carpets to dry. Speaking of carpets, you probably already know that Afghanistan produces some of the best handmade carpets and exports them to the global market, right?
Besides, if the house required to be painted again, that would take place a bit earlier, like a month before the Eid so the lingering smell of the paint would vanish over time.
Then the Friday before the Eid we would start having the whole house cleaned. Friday I say because in Afghanistan Fridays are off and Saturday marks the start of the week. So, we all could be together. It definitely took a lot of time and effort, but it was all so joyful. From my late grandma to my beautiful little sister, everyone would enthusiastically participate. Eid was coming after all. Eid! New clothes, blessings, meeting relatives and friends, fun, picnics and feasts.
Two days before the Eid, we would make sure to have everything ready. Only the new Eid-specific mattress and curtains needed to be placed at home. Carrying all of those mattresses was arduous, but still everybody willingly did all that. Meanwhile, we would make sure to have our new clothes ready by then. All Muslims dress in their best attires on the Eid days.
My father and I prepared white Perahan tunban. Basically, Perahan tunban is the traditional male clothing popular among men in Afghanistan but also worn in parts of Pakistan and India, too. Perahan is the top of it which is long, wide and loose with similar wide sleeves. The length and different styles of Perahan varies from region to region. The tunban is the trouser which is hanging and loose. On Eid days, almost all Afghan men wore Perahan tunban, mostly white, but also in other colors, and in different appealing styles. Some of them had special embroidery on the front side of the Perahan which in some regions of the country extended down to the knee. A multitude of styles were applicable to Perahan tunban, ranging from wearing it with vests or coats, to different types of hats and shaals (shawl) and of course footwears. I didn’t wear Perahan tunban on normal days because the tunban part of it is so difficult to handle. But on Eids, I was jubilant to put it on.
The females of our family, my much-missed grandma, kind aunt, beautiful mom, and gorgeous sisters had their own different colorful stylish clothes. Female attires in Afghanistan include, Gand, suits, fancy glittery long skirts and the likes. The landmark female wear in the country is the Gand-e-Afghani. This is Afghanistan’s traditional multi-colored vibrant female dress with long skirt, wide trousers and oversized head scarf. The whole attire is designed to be wide and loose. Artisans design Gand-e-Afghani with special caution by hand. Some of them include mirror work and embroidery on the sleeves, skirt linings, and chest which multiplies their beauty. Girls of Afghanistan look extra gorgeous in them <3
Meanwhile, by the day before the Eid, we would also make sure to have bought dried and fresh fruits, desserts (cakes and cookies) and the Qurbani (a sacrifice-animal). Speaking of fruits, Afghanistan’s dried and fresh fruits are most popular in Germany, Canada, the US, UAE, and India. Only dried fruit export comprises 31 percent of the whole exports in Afghanistan and stands second compared to the 45 percent carpet and rug export from the country. Afghanistan’s pomegranates, extra-sweet jumbo-size melons and grapes are famous in the global market. However, Afghanistan has its unique delectable desserts, too. My favorites are Halwa, Ferni, Jelabi, and Khajoor, while you may find Shir Berinj and Gosh Feel appetizing. Long story short, ask a friend from Afghanistan to host you for one or some of them and take care not to eat your fingers with the tasty dessert.
Besides, wealthy Muslims usually slaughter lambs on the day of Eid Al-Adha. Each family consumes one third of the meat of the lamb they offer, distribute one third among family and friends, and one third among the poor. The sacrifice tradition takes place in remembrance of the Quranic story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice. That is, Ibrahim was ordered by Allah to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to God and as a divine test. Ibrahim abides by the command; however, before Ismael is hurt, God accepts his sacrifice and provides him with a lamb to slaughter instead.
It is also narrated that while Ibrahim was preparing to slaughter Ismael, Satan attempted to dissuade the family from succumbing to the will of God. However, Ibrahim threw stones at Satan and drove him away. The stoning of Satan’s house while performing the Hajj pilgrimage takes after this portion of Ibrahim’s story; pilgrims throw stones at Satan’s house.
Most importantly, the day before Eid is called the day of Arafah. Arafah is the second day of the Hajj pilgrimage. In the early morning of this day, pilgrims move towards Mount Arafat. History has it that Prophet Muhammad delivered one of his very last preaches in this place. Non-pilgrims all over the globe regard Arafah as a sacred day and most of them consider fasting.
The night before the Eid was special, too. Back then in Kabul, when families were not split in different continents, when children’s starvation was not the first thing on every parent’s mind – selling their kidneys or babies as the mere solutions – and when the prospects of another civil war was less of a preoccupation, my mom used to cook delicious Kabuli Palaw (Pulao), Qorma (Korma), Sabzi (Vegetables), and fries. This, with a little less or more, would be the normal dish any family had the night before Eid. People would share their meals with neighbours. Television channels had special Eid-specific programs including games and concerts, and sometimes guest singers from neighbouring countries. Girls would decorate their hands with red-brown henna in different beautiful styles. People would go shopping until late at night and Baharistan’s (name of a place in Kabul) ice cream wouldn’t be missed anyways. The night would end with little fireworks either live or on TV and people would sleep to wake up early on the first (out of three) day of Eid.
The next morning people would wake up early. Sleepless as some would be, the excitement of Eid would keep them spirited and moving. They would first shower and then head to a mosque or Eidgah to perform the communal Eid prayer. In our mosque, the whole clanmates would gather, meet, perform the Eid prayer, and wish each other merry Eid (Eid Mubarak!). It was exhilarating seeing everyone in good spirits, talking, and laughing. Afterwards, butchers and men would slaughter the Qurbani and women would cook the meat. They would usually cook Liver, Shorba (yummy meat soup), and Dashi (another super delicious meal).
After distributing the meat portions, people would go visit the elderly in their houses. My family would first visit our uncle across our house. Then our family together with my uncle’s family would visit my grandma. Our circle would expand as we visited yet another relative. At the end of the day, our close relatives would most of the time gather in our house. Men would have fun playing cards, chess, or just chatting about politics – highly politicized the Afghan community that is, for valid reasons though. And women would have their own sort of fun. And children, they would play football in the green area, fly kites, play freeze tag or blind man’s bluff and similar games.
In the second and third days of Eid, people would again visit relatives who lived farther away, have feasts, and go on picnics. We usually hosted our paternal relatives. Everyone would gather in our house having fun visiting everybody after so long. I personally loved listening to elderlies’ tales of the past or analysis of the ongoing events. However, I would always be in a dilemma of staying at home or going out with friends. That is, making the most of Kabul’s unmatched gathering areas, and natural beauties of neighboring provinces was not something we could simply ignore.
In Kabul, people would amass in certain places and rejoice. It included, the historical flowery garden which hosts the tomb of the first Mughal Emperor Babur and a place for exhibitions – especially those of artisans and craftspeople – called the Gardens of Babur; the Chehel Sotoun Garden and Palace which were built around 1796 and where the controversial Durand agreement was signed (not to be mistaken with a palace with the same name in Iran); Qargha Reservoir with its fancy restaurants close to waterside where people enjoy boating, golfing, horse riding, eating local dishes (yummy kebab), or simply chilling beside water; Qoregh Mountain with its green wide hills where people enjoy playing soccer and toap danda (a local game similar to cricket), flying kites, drifting on their bikes, or simply hiking and watching all of Kabul from the top of the mountain and breathing its fresh clean weather; and the Paghman Valley with its unspoiled natural beauty, gardens, waterside, and mountain area. Youth would also enjoy rides and games in Kabul’s biggest amusement park, the City Park.
Some provinces which attracted thousands of visitors included Panjshir, Bamyan, and Kapisa amongst others. The breath-taking beauty of Panjshir’s mountains and valleys, the Buddhas of Bamiyan adjacent to Band-e-Amir lake, and the clean rivers of Kapisa were flooded with young people partying.
All in all, Eid was about coming together, revitalizing the relationships, sharing the happiness, and valuing the common beliefs and traditions. It didn’t matter if people went on picnics, or just had feasts at home. What really mattered was that everyone was together, enjoying their moments. Those times, Afghanistan was lively, everyone was happy, life was beautiful, the large black-red-green flag of Afghanistan still waved on top of Wazir Akbar Khan hill in Kabul; symbolized the unity of the people, gave them hope, and motivated them despite all the hardships.
Not that everything was perfect, NO! Afghanistan was far from being a utopia. Explosions still took lives, the poor still struggled, street children still populated the streets, not every family could enjoy Eid the way we did, not every family could make new clothes or simply cook all the delicious dishes that we did, not every family could go to picnics, BUT something was different.
With all that, families were together. They encountered atrocities as a whole. They were content with the little that they had and celebrated Eid in their own ways with their own little means. Their tiny beholding didn’t deprive them of their loved ones or their laughter. They had some freedom of expression and thought. They protested and aired their voices. Their grievances were more likely to be heard than suppressed. They queued in long lines early in the morning to vote. Everybody felt a nurturing belonging to Afghanistan. More importantly, their semi-functioning government inspired them. They at least dared dream of a better future. That was what kept them moving. They believed that someday peace and prosperity would prevail in Afghanistan. Parents would work all day long to send their daughters to get educated. But now, people in Afghanistan don’t live, they just survive. The lucky ones have been successful so far in their struggle to survive. But, every now and then it can be the other way round. A tragic turn of events and a more sorrowful ending to the story is more possible and expected than impossible.