Goat Grabbing and Sweet Tea? | 9 Questions You Have About Afghanistan But Are Afraid to Ask

Bloom where you are planted.
-Afghan Proverb

For Americans, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is merely a country where we have been at war the longest in U.S. history. It has been under military occupation by the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Alexander the Great, Mongols, and Western nations.

Ever wonder what life’s all about there? What are Shiites and Sunnis? How different are we from each other?

1. What are some basics facts about Afghanistan?

Goat Grabbing and Sweet Tea? | 9 Questions You Have About Afghanistan But Are Afraid to Ask | Aiken Bella Magazine

Landlocked between Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, this country lies north of India and the Arabian Sea. Rugged mountainscovered with snow most of the year give way to dry deserts; most people live in the fertile valleys. Unexploded mines lie hidden in the countryside where unaware children herding animals are often killed after stepping on them. Most children attend schools that are in rubbles from war. The capital is Kabul, the country’s only city with more than a million people. The city of Kandahar is often in the news because it has the busiest single runway for flight in the world. The official Afghan languages are Pashtu and Dari Persian. The average life expectancy is only 51.3 years.

2. Afghanis / Afghans?

It’s easy to get the two mixed up. If you’re talking about the residents, they are Afghans. Their money is called Afghanis.

3. What is an Islamic republic and how does that affect the country?

Afghanistan is a nation ruled by Islamic law; there is no separation of religion and state. Every aspect of life is under this law; personal, political, and economic.Most businesses are closed Fridays, their holy day. Unless you are sick or a foreigner, it is mandatory to fast and pray during Ramadan, the ninth month of their year. Ramadan is observed to commemorate the occasion when the first verses of the Quran were given to Mohammed.

4. What is the difference between a Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslim?

In Afghanistan 80 percent of its residents are Sunnis and 19 percent are Shiites. When Mohammed the Prophet died in 632 A.D. there rose a conflict between two religious sects as to who should be his successor. The Shiites believed this should be a man related to Mohammed but the Sunnis wanted it to be a righteous man chosen by them. They continue to do things differently, like praying (Sunnis cross their arms in prayer three times a day and Shiites hold their arms by their sides praying five times daily) and Shiites have a more elaborate hierarchy than Sunnis.

5. What are some unique facts about Afghanistan?

In the small city of Harate, people congregate for poetry night every Thursday evening. They read and share ancient and modern writings while eating and sipping sweet tea. Afghans lay claim to the world’s first oil paintings; the artworks discovered in caves were drawn around 650 BC. Another curious fact is there only seems to be one Jewish resident living in Afghanistan. Zablon Simintov runs a restaurant and trades Afghan carpets. He is 58 years old. But the unique thing is the game called buzkashi, or goat-grabbing. Touted as the world’s wildest game, riders on horseback compete to grab a goat carcass, gallop at top speed ahead of the others, and drop it in a circle. This game was once played by powerful warlords, and is now financed by private airlines and Afghan mobile phone companies. Afghanistan would like to see buzkashi become an Olympic event.

6. So they have mobile phones? 

Despite being one of the countries with the lowest access to electricity, mobile phone business should reach 90% in 2017.

7. Is the Taliban still there?

In 2001, the Taliban, a group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslim militants living mostly near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, was ousted after an invasion led by the United States. Since that time there have been presidential and parliamentary elections. The current president is Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban has made a comeback, but ISIS or IS (Islamic state) dominates the terrorist arena using this country for their operations. ISIS is fighting against the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Goat Grabbing and Sweet Tea? | 9 Questions You Have About Afghanistan But Are Afraid to Ask | Aiken Bella Magazine

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8. Has life gotten better for women there?

Life was brutal for women under the Taliban. They were forbidden to attend school and were publically beaten if they left home without a male escort of if they did not wear their burqa (a long outer garment with a veiled opening for the eyes). Women were often abused by their husbands with nowhere to go for help. It is still a dangerous place to live as a woman, with almost nine out of 10 women suffering from abuse. Many families still force their young daughters to marry men often 40 to 60 years old. The best hope for Afghan girls and women is supporting organizations that provide their education and protect their civil rights.

9. What businesses thrive there?

Farming is the mainstay of their economy. Afghans are known for their delicious pomegranates, apricots, melons, grapes, and dry fruits. It was the first producer of opium in the world; as much as 11 percent of the country’s revenue is derived from the sale of it. Afghan rugs are sold around the world. They also export nuts, fruit, opium, wool, pelts, hides, gems, and cotton.

He who goes to the blacksmith’s shop comes home with scorched clothes. And If you sit with us, you will get like us; if you sit beside a cooking pot, you will get black.

Although spoken or written a little differently, Afghans have sayings that reveal how much they are similar to us:

Too many butchers spoil the cow.
(Too many cooks spoil the broth.)

He ran out from a leaking roof and sat in the rain.
(Out of the frying pan and into the fire.)

The mud of one country is the medicine of another.
(One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.)

A porcupine speaking to its baby says, “O my child of velvet.”
(Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

He who goes to the blacksmith’s shop comes home with scorched clothes. And If you sit with us, you will get like us; if you sit beside a cooking pot, you will get black.
(If you lie down with the dogs, you get up with fleas.)

Only stretch your foot the length of the blanket.
(Don’t live beyond your means.)

The seeker is the finder.
(The early bird gets the worm.)

It’s the same donkey, but with a new saddle.
(Clothes do not make the man.)

Don’t take off your shoes before investigating the water.
(Look before you leap.)

Hearing is never as good as seeing.
(One picture is worth a thousand words.)

Blood cannot be washed out with blood.
(Two wrongs don’t make a right.)

He hasn’t time even to scratch his head.
(He’s as busy as a one-armed paper hanger.}

We are similar when we sip our sweet tea. We are different when Americans get excited over watching men charge into and pile on top of each other trying to catch a pigskin, while Afghans compete fiercely in goat grabbing.

And remember this Afghan saying: The butcher should not be trusted who has missing neighbors. Even in hard times, Afghans turn to humor. In that way, perhaps, we should try to be like them.

Afghanistan is a fascinating country struggling with warring factions and oppressive occupiers. Their determination to survive these adversities is to be admired. Let us appreciate our differences and celebrate our likenesses.


Phyllis MacLay

Phyllis MacLay is a published writer of articles in Country Woman Magazine, Parent Magazine, Easy Street Magazine, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, newspapers. Originally from Pennsylvania, Phyllis moved to Aiken from Texas. She has published children’s plays and is now selling online and at Booklovers Store in Aiken her latest novel, A Bone for the Dog, the chilling story of a father trying to rescue his little girl. (Visit www.PhyllisMaclay.com) Her latest published work Sweet Brew and a Cherry Cane appears in the anthology Nights of Horseplay by the Aiken Scribblers.