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Story Publication logo April 27, 2012

Afghanistan: Snow in Kabul


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Anonymous and spoken, landai, two-line Pashtun poems, have served for centuries as a means of self...

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A young boy touts spand from an old can (called a 'spandee'). Spand is an herb found in markets across the country. When it’s burned, its smoke is believed to ward off misfortune and evil spirits. Image by Seamus Murphy/VII. Afghanistan, 2012.

The snow in Kabul renders it virtually impossible to move past the jazzy war-boom Toyota sedans. At night, we get stuck behind a U.S. convoy when it sends a spotlight up into a hillside neighborhood from which someone must have fired. Miles of vehicles slow to a crawl.

The only people who profit from the traffic are the young hawkers who line the roads and sell everything from plastic buckets to prayers. Some boys carry spandees, which are tin can smokers fueled by dung. When swung in a circle around a passerby, they guard against the evil eye.

Each hawker has a slingshot poking out of a pocket. Thanks to the snow, the boys don't fling their usual rocky ammunition. They have the chance to play while they work.

Fridays are slow days for reporting in Kabul, since they are holidays. Not long ago, photographer Seamus Murphy took me to a beloved Sufi mosque, where I was surprised that I was allowed to enter and sit at the edge of a circle of singers and chanters shaking themselves with increasing fervor as their prayers progressed. Sufis believe that they encounter God through the human heart. Their collective prayer is based around an individual, personal relationship with God. Each brotherhood has a slightly different way to pray.

One worshiper handed me a baggie of sugared almonds, which I pocketed not knowing if it was appropriate to eat them since no one else was. Upon leaving, I walked outside in the deep snow and marveled at the fact that men and women were wearing open back rubber shoes through the gathering inches of freezing slush.

I spied a group of 8-to-11-year-old boys clustered in the snow. "Haalllooo," they called to me. I made my way to them and doled out the small bag of almonds. I thought I'd made new friends. As I walked a way, a thwack hit the back of my parka: a snowball. Later that day, I tried out these unfinished lines as a poem.

Snow in Kabul

Instead of stones,
one boy flings snowballs
from his slingshot.

Another twirls
coffee can dung smoke
against the evil eye.

I pour sugared almonds
a Sufi gave me
into a third's frozen palm.



Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


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