When I heard Pasha recount the story of her trip to Afghanistan in 2009, I was blown away by her description of this country. I assumed that Afghanistan was a war-torn nation full of traumatized people, but what she told me painted a very different picture. She described a people who had learned lessons of enlightened living probably due to the fact that they were under the constant threat of death. I hope you enjoy her accounts of her trip: Pasha Visits Afghanistan.
You may read some things in her story that you admire, that you find funny or that you are appalled at. You will read her first hand impressions of what she saw and experienced while there. What Pasha says will probably contradict what you have read about in the news. It is likely that both accounts are valid, just as someone visiting a ghetto in the Bronx may have a different impression of America as someone visiting a wealthy home in Hillsborough. Pasha has given me permission to tell her story. I kept my edits to a minimum, so that you can get the flavor of her speech. You will not regret taking the time to read Pasha’s amazing story.
In the spirit of friendship,
Deborah Olenev CCH RSHom (NA)
Pasha visits Afghanistan: Her Amazing Story
My brother met me in Pakistan. We took the train to Quetta and then went to Afghanistan over the Khyber Pass. It was so scary. The roads were all gravel. The driver drove 80 miles an hour minimum otherwise we would get shot by the Taliban.
We went to Kandahar and Kabul. We stayed there for four days. I met with family I had never seen before. I experienced two bombings while I was driving through and I found out that 100 died at one place and a 150 at another. You won’t see a soldier without a ton of weapons. I was thinking I would be scared out of my mind if I had to walk on the streets like that, but they didn’t care.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are very clean countries. The people are full of dignity and they do not beg. People fight for their dinners and to make ends meet. Afghanistan is at war and everyone you see is so happy in their lives. They don’t have too many choices; they know that life can be taken at any time. They might as well live life in happiness.
They wake up in the morning saying, “Okay, God gave me another chance, another day. We are not guaranteed to live tomorrow.” Here we are always saving for the big house, the better car. The time spans we think in are so much longer. It helped me appreciate my life so much more.?The kids are just raised on the streets. Everyone has 15 or 16 kids. Here we can barely survive and be okay with one. Over there kids are kids and they will be raised one way or another. Who cares if they are educated. It is okay if kids don’t read or write. There is no fear of the future no matter what it holds. They are accepting it willingly.
My son enjoyed it so much. He was just like this is great. Once in awhile he would come and say this is really disgusting. It was a good experience for him. His biggest concern was that parents don’t care for their kids. A three year old girl that nobody knew walked in and sat down and had her dinner with us. At 10 p.m. she said she was tired and went home. I worried that people could kidnap her and my brother said, “Don’t worry, no one wants anyone else’s kids.”
Their spirits are amazing. Everyone is so much happier and this is a war zone. This is a country that has been at war for the last forty years.
The food was just amazing. Everything just tasted so much better than it does here. The chicken is tiny. The whole family eats one chicken and there are leftovers. They have no refrigerators. They give the left overs to neighbors. Everyone has a family feeling. Your neighbor is your family.
The people are very trusting. They look out for each other. There is no selfishness. We found out that my nephew’s wedding would be in two days. Jacob had no clothes. He didn’t know where the shops were. There are no shops. Someone has something in their house and they give it to whoever needs it. He told a person on the street that he had no clothes for the wedding. That person took him to his house, gave him clothes, took him to the barber and then to the river and showed him how to clean himself. The water is freezing cold and no one gets sick.
I wanted to take a shower and a woman in the village, whom I did not know, invited me to her house and set up a bathtub in her bedroom. People boiled water and brought it for me in buckets. She gave me clean clothes and she rubbed and washed my back. It was awesome.
Everyone looked and felt like they belonged to each other. That sense of belonging was really nice.
It is very cold over there. At night it goes down to 28 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit and during the day, the sun is up, but the water is freezing. You stop feeling your hands, but they are not affected at all. My brother in law slept under one blanket and I had four. They don’t care about the cold.
They start burning the wood toward 6 or 7 p.m. and stop at 8 or 9 p.m. and in their minds the house is warm. They go to bed at 11. They wake up at 5 for the morning prayer. They have breakfast at 6. Everything is on a schedule. There is tea and snacking all day long. They snack on dry food, on keshmesh (raisins), and paper almonds. The shell is light and is like a piece of paper. I never had almonds that crunchy and that good. They would have feta cheese and yogurt. Towards the evening they would have that with fresh mint and soaked walnuts.
No one talks about politics. No one cares. American troops would walk by and they just looked at us. No one wanted to talk about what happens there. It was almost like preferring to live in oblivion. I asked one of my so called uncles, why is it that you guys don’t want to know what is going on outside. “What is the point of knowing if it is going to prepare us for death earlier. Death is around the corner and we can’t run away from it. What is the point of knowing and stressing ourselves even more. Our kids are happy. They think this is life.”
“We are not interested in knowing how you live in America or if anyone will bomb us in the next 24 hours. We know there will be a bombing within a mile or two. As long as we are with our loved ones we don’t care.“ They knew their fate and they were ready for anything to happen and they were still happy. Even in that life style they still had elaborate weddings to their standards, giving birth to numerous children, not thinking where is this money coming form.
The wedding happened in a house that was tented and everyone just brought food. You didn’t have to call a cook. You didn’t even have to invite anyone. Everyone knew there was a wedding and let’s just go. It was like tons of people. There were at least 3000 people present at the house we were in, the wedding for the women and children. The wedding for the men was equally as big and equally as packed. They had only two days notice. They put a big tent around the house. In that freezing cold everyone was wearing sleeveless clothing. They had no tape recorder. They brought drums and I learned how to play. All the women who knew how to play drums started banging on them and sang folk songs. Kids were running around like crazy all over the place and no one cared. They wore make up that was painted on. They looked like clowns, but they didn’t care. They kept on complementing each other. It was a fun time.
Here you are constantly worried about material possessions. There they are so happy in their clay houses, walking barefoot in the cold and bathing once a month.
They don’t own a car. They are lucky if they own a donkey with a trailer. The high class people own a 1980 Toyota Corolla. Appreciation for life is so much more. They are not worried about materialistic belongings. They will wear a Chinese made shirt that has Guess on it and they won’t take the tag off because they think it should be there. They wear their clothes inside out just for the label. They wear glasses with the tags still hanging. They don’t take off the UV label from the glasses.
The cars are completely covered with their prayers and I wonder how they see through the window. There is so much stuff hanging form the mirror and it is no problem. Anyone who has a bike or a motorcycle decorates the bike with flowers like a Christmas tree. There is nothing wrong with it. I was laughing at everything I saw. Ninety nine percent of the population can’t even read and it was nice.
They pray five times a day. My brother took me to my mom and father’s grave which I had never seen. My father’s grave was cemented and held in by marble. He gave me four stones from my mom’s grave. He said, “You keep this, because mom is always going to be with you.” He gave me the stones with so much belief and confidence that those four stones would keep me healthy and my mom would be with me. I took them. The look on his face convinced me that nothing is going to happen to me.
The people survive in that environment because they believe they are going to survive. They have that confidence that nothing will happen to them. Our knowledge comes at such a high price. We continue to pay the price of happiness for knowledge. I experienced wisdom with all the people living there. The words were so wise. The actions were even wiser.
It was so selfless to know that you can give your dinner to someone else who is less fortunate than you, knowing that your kids may starve tomorrow. There everyone knows one another. They welcome guests like they are royalty. You go into anyone’s house and they will have a room ready for you. No questions asked.
You tell them you are a mosafed and they will let you in. There is no question of it, no paranoia. You could be there to kill them all and there is no question asked.
The people are hefty and big. I think it is their diet. Everything is organic. They don’t take medicine. They love homeopathic stuff. My brother would get up at 5 a.m., do his morning prayers, do yoga for 45 minutes, meditate and have a healthy breakfast. Breakfast consists of milk, tea, eggs, toast, and always fruit. It was just really balanced.
Lunch was at noon and everything was fresh. Lunch was always a vegetable and dinner was always meat. Dinner was at 7 p.m. They believed that what was eaten today was going to come out tomorrow morning and sure enough. They literally believed it was not going to stay in the stomach. They all cared about themselves and taking care of themselves.
The children played on the streets. They would play cricket. They would go down to the river and swim, and play under a tree. They had a swing hanging down from the tree. That was the big thing. There was no adult supervision whatsoever. They kids would go out in the morning, come for lunch, come for dinner and go to bed. The kids who did go to school would go from 9 to 12. It would be in a house with a basement. They would go and sit in the basement of a house and write on the walls.
I did not see one Taliban. There was no one teaching you how to be religious. Everyone talks about how fundamentalist Afghanistan and Pakistan are. I did not see any of it and I went to four provinces. Everyone is brutally honest. They thought my skin was too dark. They said take some busa, which is an herb that you drink. It cleans out your intestines and your skin becomes lighter. If they had something to tell you they would tell you. The whole honesty thing intrigued me. They said why are you speaking English to your kid. He should speak his own language. They weren’t afraid. It was great.
The kids were so cute. A lot of the kids I saw didn’t have parents. They had lost moms and dads. They were living at cousin’s houses, or some one would take care of them. They didn’t have to be related to their caregivers. They were just taken care of. There was no discrimination as to he is my kid and he gets the better treatment. Everyone was treated equally.
The women were treated like royalty. If the women weren’t educated, neither were the men. All the educated people who knew how to read and write had migrated out.
The first day was extremely strange for me, because I was trying to digest so much. In the United States I am stressed about everything. They have nothing to live for except the next few hours and they are super happy about everything. They want to have more and more children because they want to have people pray for them when they die. People get married at 15 or 16. They have children at 17 and 18 and pretty much retire at 25. They start marrying their children off by the time they are thirty.
They retire because the children take over. By the time the children are 4, 5 or 6 they are capable of taking care of the whole house. They know how to cook and take care of their brothers and sisters. For a girl by the time she is 12 she is ready to be married. They normally engage you at 12 or13, and you are married the next day. Her nephew was 17 and his wife was 16. They were engaged for two days. It was my brother’s son. The parents of the bride came to him and said I have raised my daughter for your son. Are you ready to marry her or not? There was no question of not.
The marrying doesn’t mean anything other than you are going to have a reception for everyone to see that the couple is now married. The reception shows that you are happy for the marriage. The bigger the reception, the more people show up, the more respect you get from the village.
By the time a woman is 25 she could have 8 kids. They think that when you reach 25, you don’t sleep with your husband when your kids are around. You live in this big old house with one room. There is no division in the house. Everyone just hangs out and for the woman and man to do their business after that is difficult. I saw a woman who was 65 who had a baby and she had great grandchildren.
Divorce doesn’t exist. You wouldn’t hear about it. Women are absolutely okay with their husbands getting married numerous times. It is such a norm. You become friends with that woman. Women actually go requesting…If the woman is married to a man and has 8 or 9 daughters, she thinks it is her fault that she can’t produce a boy for him and she gets him married to another younger girl so she can have children. The women live like sisters and fight like sisters. The children are raised like brothers and sisters all in one room. There were a ton of men that had more than one wife. That is what bugged me the most.
You can’t really blame the men, because the women were okay with it. The women went looking for new wives for their husbands. 13 and 14 year old girls would get married to men who had 3 or 4 wives. That was probably the downfall of the culture. To me it was so strange. Despite all of this there was incredible harmony.
The people were very proud. They would not take money they had not earned. There was a kid who made little artifacts to sell. I wanted to buy one of his things, but all I had was a 500 rupee note and it cost 20, so I decided I would just give him some change without buying anything. He would not take my money unless I bought what he made. He said, “Then you don’t need this,” and would not accept my money. I asked him how old he was and he didn’t know, he said 8 or 9. I was amazed by his reaction.
I am very grateful to Pasha for allowing me to share her story with my readers. Her story had a profound affect on me. Afghanistan certainly has its problems, but the people that Pasha met had something which many people in the United States lack: a sense of community and belonging, an ability to live in the moment without anxiety about the future, lack of materialism and unselfishness.
I told Pasha’s story to Jimmy, my daughter’s boyfriend, and he told me that he had visited Columbia in northwestern South America, and that the people there were very similar to the people in Afghanistan. Both countries share a long history of being at war. This kind of psychology seems to be born of that type of experience. The psychology of living in the moment, accepting what comes, being happy with what you have, loving your neighbors as yourself, and unselfishness.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people could have this psychology minus the warfare which gives birth to it? I have a lot to learn from the Afghan people. I would like to learn how to have that happiness and acceptance in the midst of a fast paced technologically dependent modern life. If any of my readers have any ideas about that, please share them with me and I will write it about it in my next newsletter. God bless you all.
Comments on Pasha Visits Afghanistan
In my last newsletter, I wrote an article about Pasha’s trip to Afghanistan, and I invited comments from my readers about the article. Here are the comments I received:
Comment 1 from Mary Beth Corbin 7/27/10: I really appreciated the article from your client, Pasha. Living in the present, the moment, the here and now usually requires that one feel secure, safe and wholly satisfied from an ego place. And these remarkable people she met have found a way to feel safe within even as the without is dangerous and unstable. Pasha had a very special and unique experience. The U.S. way of living affluently, compared with most of the rest of the planet, often breeds contempt and dissatisfaction for this way of living. Sad state of living.
Comment 2 from Charles Corbin 7/27/10: I thank you for sharing the report from Pasha in Afghanistan. I have had direct experience of the lifestyle she describes by being born into the Great Depression in Kansas City. We were all one family living hand to mouth in the streets. Later, I served in Korea during the War from December 1950 to May 1954 interacting with the Korean people living each day as it was served up. I also lived in India and traveled through India for a year and a half seeing the same lifestyle as Pasha describes. And, I served among the ruins of Japan after WW2 as the people strived to rebuild their lives and traditions. I believe something seriously wrong has taken place in the US since the 1950′s. After my experiences overseas, like Pasha’s, I have felt like a displaced person here in the US. Thank you for your newsletter!
I was introduced to Afghanistan through Sufi writings. The last one I received was: ‘Light no candle at my grave, it could harm a desperate moth. Nor grieve a loving gardener by taking his flowers for my grave.” Sufi Khalili, died at 80 in 1987 in Pakistan after escaping the Russian invasion.
Comment 3 from Zahida Niazi 7/28/10: Reading the article about the Afghani people, I was so touched that I found myself crying. Perhaps, because I could relate to it. I feel there is a movement, a shift, an energy, the people of the East have had enough of all the put down and derogatory information being spread, and now have woken up and are speaking about themselves. It was this energy that got me to write the book. I am no writer and never aspired to be one, and yet I wrote this book with so much passion. People ask me if I will be doing aggressive marketing.No. the power that made me write, will do the marketing too and I see it already happening. The fact that you mentioned it in your newsletter proves my point. I must thank you for your thoughtfulness–I believe you are also part of this movement!
I have one little contribution to make for your request to share how to have happiness and acceptance in the midst of a fast paced life…
I have just returned from a 10 day Noble Silence retreat. It was a life changing experience. None of us expected what we learnt and experienced. As you had put it, ‘the psychology of living in the moment, accepting what comes and being happy with what we have,” were their key points.I would recommend it for every one. There are no charges, it is run on volunteer and donation basis and most of all it is non-religious. At the end of the course all the women wanted to send their children to this. In fact there was a young girl, just married, who was going to bring her yet to be born kids to this! Vipassana Meditation. www.dhamma.org
Comment 4 from Steven White 9/13/10: Deborah, I just got around to reading this to the end. You asked how to have this mindset in our technological society. I think that for us to approach it, we would have to convince ourselves that death is just around the corner. It really is, but we don’t believe it because most of us aren’t under a constant and obvious external threat like they are. But in reality, our lives are always hanging by a thread. I could choke on a piece of meat and be gone just like that. Or I could have a head on collision. My sister died in her sleep a few months ago without any warning. We think we have 70-80 years. But we don’t know that. So all religious traditions I know of say we should meditate on the imminence of death. Most people here think that would be morbid. But as the example of the Afghanis shows, it is really liberating. Here we prettify death and hide it away. We use euphemisms. Hardly anyone wants to think about it. By denying perhaps the most important existential fact of out existence, we become incapable of living fully.