"The mountains are our people." - Afghan proverb
When I first started this blog, I was simply aiming at a “resource” for myself rather than a “presentation,” in the stricter sense, where I was to share my views along others’ on a wide range of topics with only occasional dabs of Afghanistan here and there. But I realize now that there’s simply too much of Afghanistan in me and I find myself constantly pulled by a ceaseless current back to the mountains. And I know I’m not the only one.
I am reminded of a poem, whose author’s name has escaped me, I’d heard from my father which illustrates this idiosyncrasy of us Afghans. Briefly, the story of the poem goes as follows:
When Alexander the Great is taking too much time to subdue the regions in and around Afghanistan, his mother Olympias sends him a letter asking him why he couldn’t get himself out of the bog. He replies to her query, writing that he is facing “walls of steel” and that “every child of this land is an Alexander,” things you might have read on many other Afghan blogs quoted as “-[by] Alexander.”
He also sends her a number of captured natives along a bag of their homeland’s dirt. He tells her to follow his directions strictly if she wants to learn what kind of an enemy he was facing.
Olympias agrees. The natives are inundated with opulence and luxury and all the pleasures of the western world so much so that, in time, they forget about their homes, their families, and their wretched state of existence in a foreign land as captives. On a specified day, when the natives are returning from a hunting trip, the bag of dirt is strewn on their path. As the men are passing through, their expressions change. Instantly, the natives go mad, perhaps by rapture or sudden realization or incising nostalgia. In their state of insane recollection of a home from which they’ve been plucked away, they end up killing each other.
Olympias replies to Alexander that she now understands everything.
The story above is clearly apocryphal. But the work of a poet is not to show the “immediate reality,” but rather to paint the much elusive “ultimate reality.” Such a longing for home is not only felt by Afghans but also by other people of the world. Everyone loves their homeland. The people of a country are indistinguishable from its mountains and trees and rivers. We are the land. We are our countries.
Photos by Steve McCurry