Marta Smagowicz, cooperation and photographs: Maria Amiri
Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in Central Asia. A mountainous and upland country – mountains constitute approx. 80% of its area. The climate is diverse within Afghanistan, it is harsh, subtropical continental – dry and extremely dry, in the mountains it is chill. Heat and sandstorms caused by a strong, hot and dry wind blowing from July – bad-e sad-o-bist ruz (the wind of one hundred and twenty days) in
western Afghanistan cause serious damage destroying sowings and crops. Winter in the north is long, cold, with strong snowfall, winds and blizzards. This country faces the problem of an insufficient quantity of water because the precipitation is very low (100-300 mm annually) and draughts result in the deficiency of food. Afghanistan has irrigation systems, underground tunnels dug at the depth of several meters leading for many kilometers. The largest of them is found in the valley of the Helmand River. However, war has caused much damages in the irrigation systems.
Agriculture is the basis of Afghanistan's economy. Cereals (wheat, corn, barley), cotton, oilseeds, pomegranates, fruit orchards and vineyards are cultivated mostly – raisins are one of the main export goods. The cultivation of opium poppy is also well-developed which is a big problem for the country. It is estimated that approx. 90% of opium in the world comes from Afghanistan. The drug mafia makes money on the cultivation of opium poppy. The government is trying to reduce the production of opium but it is difficult to provide alternative sources of income for Afghan farmers. The breeding of sheep, mainly karakul sheep (8,8 million), goats (7,3 million), camels and horses is well-developed. The most popular animals include donkeys, used first of all, as pack-animals. Afghanistan is one of the most poorly economically developed countries in the world. Despite international aid, which is provided on a great scale since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, 36% of the inhabitants live on the edge of poverty. Life expectancy is only approx. 49 years. Due to the economic situation and the fact that many families live on the edge of poverty, children often need to work in order to help provide for the family and they need to abandon education, even if education was possible.
Afghanistan is a mosaic of various ethnic and tribal groups which have mostly
lived side by side for centuries. These include: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq, Baloch, Brahui, Nuristani, Pashai, Pamiri, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Arabs. Additionally, Afghanistan has a high population of nomads and small groups of Indian people and Sikhs. Each group speaks a separate language or a dialect. There are approx. 57 ethnic groups, using nearly fifty languages and dialects. Some of them are known only to groups living in Afghanistan, some are also used in neighboring countries: Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan. Currently Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces inhabited by more than 33 million people. Afghanistan owes its diversity to its location at the intersection of historical trade routes leading to South Asia and South-Western Asia, including the Silk Route. Great cultures and interests of global powers clashed here over the centuries. Afghan people repeatedly fought for keeping their independence and, as prof. Jolanta Sierakowska-Dyndo writes: "Freedom for the Afghans seems to be more important than anything, it determines their honor, their existence. They have been paying the highest price for this idea for years".
The precise map of Afghanistan's languages and their dialects has never been drawn up, only fragmentary data exists.
Pashto and Dari are the official languages (they belong to the group of Iranian languages). The latter is the language of literature. Dari is mostly the language of the Tajik and the Hazara. It is used in the north of the country, inhabited by the Tajik, and in large cities. Dari is the former name of the Persian language officially adopted by the Afghans in 1964 instead of the previous name Farsi (Persian). Both the Persian language and Pashto are the carriers of separate systems of values preserved in poetry, legends, fables, songs, proverbs living for centuries in oral communication
Many uneducated Afghans can cite Persian poetry. Most of them have at least a rough knowledge of the works of the most classic Persian poets: Rumi, Jami, Hafez, Ferdowsi. Most of the educated and uneducated Afghans, regardless of the language they use (Pashto, Dari or the Turkic language) consider themselves to be poets. Oral poetry gives illiterate people similar possibilities to express themselves as literate people.
Ethnic and language divisions are not the only ones within Afghanistan's population. A significant division is also related to religions. Muslims are the majority in Afghanistan, among them Sunni Muslims from the Hanafi school of law, which include the Tajik, the Pashtun and the Uzbek. Shia Muslims are, on the other hand, a religious minority and they mostly include the Hazara. Religious minorities may also include the Sikhs and the Hindus.
Afghan people, attached to centuries-old customs and traditions, love to celebrate various holidays, including New Year's Day, namely Nowruz. New Year's Day is celebrated on the first day of spring - March 21. The tradition of celebrating Nowruz dates back to ancient, pre-Muslim times. It is celebrated in various countries, mainly in Iran, Afghanistan and in Central Asia
Nowruz represents the beginning of new life, it brings hope. Many Afghans are convinced that their entire year will resemble the first day of Nowruz. The New Year's Day celebrations last for three days. Afghans buy new clothes, clean their houses several days earlier and visit one another on the holiday itself. They prepare official meals for this occasion, give gifts to one another, depending on the family's preferences and financial possibilities. On this day the young visit elderly people within the family, relatives, friends and acquaintances. It is the obligation of each guest to give gifts to children in the visited family.
New Year's Day in Afghanistan is celebrated with the biggest pomp in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan. Thousands of people from all over the country come there to take part in the Red Flower Festival (mela-ye gul surkh) which lasts for the 40 first days of the year when red tulips blossom on the slopes of mountains surrounding the city.
For an Afghan, each opportunity is good for a meeting and a conversation over a cup of tea. The Afghans are a hospitable nation and offering tea is one of their basic customs. Guests should be served tea for each meal (green or black, brewed also with cardamom or saffron).
The Afghans have a specific sense of time. They do not like when foreigners urge, press them. They often say: "You have watches, we have time". They believe that they will have time to do everything in its time, rush is incomprehensible for them. Absolute obedience to older members of the family is important for the Afghans, especially to the man – the head of the house as well as showing respect towards other members of the family. Older siblings take care of younger ones. Children take care of their parents when they are old. Boys and girls can play together to approx. 7-9 years of age, the girls then start to wear a headscarf.
The world of women was always protected very well against contact with the external world (particularly against strange men) by men from a given family. According to the custom, girls are married off when they are young, although according to the Constitution they should be at least 16 years old (boys - 18). Marrying off determines honor and ensures respect of the environment, the family is no longer exposed to an unsettled opinion about the virtue of a young woman (which is not difficult because any bad opinion, even if only a rumor, may spoil the girl's reputation, and thus the entire family's).
Afghanistan is a country of men. Women can be seen in the streets in the capital and in large cities. They rarely travel in villages or valleys alone, they rarely may be seen away from home. When they leave they always wear burqas, covering their entire body and face.
In Kabul, many women wear jackets and long skirts or trousers, thigh-length or knee-length coats, loose shirts and trousers. They wear thin scarfs on their heads, almost falling on their arms. Women, especially outside the city, can often be seen traveling behind their husbands, brothers, fathers. It is the man who always enters home or the store first, the woman is always the last. In Afghanistan it is the men who go to the mosque, women pray at home. It is not common for women to go to the mosque, as in Iran or in Arab countries. In Kabul, there are mosques with a special part for women who come there only for important holidays.
At the beginning of a meeting with an Afghan, you need to shake his hand but you do not shake hands with women. A good conversation starts with a courtesy introduction: ask about the interlocutor's health and his family's health, e.g. famil-e szomo khub ast. Never proceed to the main topic during a visit or a meeting. Reaching the topic of the conversation in a roundabout manner is recommended, expected and commonly practiced by the Afghans themselves. the Afghans use numerous courtesy phrases, the so-called ta'arof, which may be misleading for people from outside their cultural circle, e.g. when we give lift to an Afghan and it is lunch time, the Afghan will politely invite you to his home but you should never accept the invitation. Instead, you should say that you will visit him another time or come for lunch.
"The food first, then the conversation" (Afghan proverb)
Two moments are important for the Afghans during the day - the time for prayer and the time for a meal. When noon comes and it is time for a meal (waght-e none czoszt), state offices, private companies, stores are filled with the smell of rice and mutton and most of the people are eating. This is a time of day when it is very difficult to organize anything. The Afghan cuisine is rich and diverse. In the past, Afghan cuisine was influenced by Persian and Indian cuisine.
Bread (naan) is served with each dish and meal. Naanwai, namely a bakery where nan is baked, can be found almost on each street. There is long naan with thick dough, and long naan with thin dough; there is round naan with "a needle" shape in the middle and there is round naan, slightly larger with plump edges. Warm, fresh bread is sold at least three times a day. A traditional meal takes place on a tablecloth spread on the floor. Meals are served with a thick yoghurt (mast) in which you can dip the bread and add it to rice, as well as with a fresh vegetable salad. The basic dish is rice with pieces of mutton or chicken. Spoons and forks are used for meals. Meals are served with fruit – watermelons, grapes and apples.
After Afghanistan became independent (announced by king Amanullah Khan in May 1919), the most important thing was to obtain the widest possible recognition on the international stage. Poland's popularity was enhanced by a similar geopolitical location – between two powers. Poland and Afghanistan were interested in developing political and economic cooperation. A treaty on the friendship between the Republic of Poland and the Kingdom of Afghanistan was signed in Ankara, Turkey on November 3, 1927. The opportunity to deepen the cooperation was king Amanullah Khan's three-day visit with his wife Soraya Tarzi to Warsaw in 1928
In 1938 the Afghan government issued a permission to establish the Polish diplomatic representative in Kabul. This function was nominal, with a permanent seat in Tehran. Embassies in Kabul and in Warsaw were opened no sooner than in 1962. The embassy in Kabul was operating until 1992 and was opened again in 2007
Poland has been involved in transferring aid to Afghanistan from 2002. More than 100 projects were completed in Afghanistan in the years 2002-2009, as part of the program of Polish foreign aid, for the total amount of approx. PLN 46 million. PLN 40 million was spent only in 2009, while in 2010 - PLN 35 million. Poland spends funds mainly on strengthening the structures of the state and the civic society, creating jobs, education, health protection as well as the development of the Ghazni province and city. Thanks to government scholarship programs, 16 students from Afghanistan came to Poland in 2005, 3 students in 2006, 15 students in 2007. Students invited to Poland studied on various majors, e.g. international relations and medical studies. Some of the invited students started living in Poland, others work in the Afghan administration and diplomatic service. Thanks to the efforts from the Society for Polish-Afghan Cooperation "Hamkari", the Polish- Afghan Parliamentary Group in the Polish Sejm was established in 2013 as well as its counterpart in Afghanistan.
Refugees and immigrants from Afghanistan were also coming to Poland. Afghan refugee were coming to Poland mostly in the years 1996 – 2000 (300 to approx. 700 people filed the application for a refugee status per year). This number amounted to approx. 100 applications over the recent several years.
The unstable situation in Afghanistan results in the fact that people applying for a refugee status constantly appear in Poland, although, as it seems from data presented previously, this number is much lower since the Taliban was overthrown.
Refugees coming to Poland after the US intervention in 2001 are people, often families, escaping the prolonged guerilla warfare and unrest in Afghanistan. Refugees also came from the Hazara ethnic group which is a religious minority in Afghanistan (Shia Muslims). Men, including juvenile boys (aged 13 -17) staying in Poland without their parents, have been a majority among Afghan refugees for several years.
Refugees from Afghanistan face numerous problems typical of this group of foreigners staying in Poland. As a result, they often turn for aid to non-governmental organizations specializing in working with foreigners. Many refugees who come to Poland wish to reach another country, they do not treat Poland as their target country. This is the case with Afghan refugees as well.
Afghan refugees include people who are not educated, do not know English and thus it is necessary to find an interpreter of Pashto or Dari when they are given aid, which is not always possible and makes communication more difficult. The difficulty in granting aid also results from the lack of understanding of basic legal concepts, and the procedure for determining the Afghans' identity and age often prolongs their stay in guarded centers even by several months. Refugees from Afghanistan may turn for aid to non-governmental organizations in matters related to the procedure, e.g. if they are refused the refugee status.
Many refugees, on the other hand, who obtained protection in Poland, try to bring members of their family, most often wives, to Poland and apply for a permanent stay. They face difficulties related to finding a job and an apartment in everyday life. As it seems from the practice of organizations helping refugees, Afghans start working, e.g. in restaurants selling kebabs, at building sites (often illegally) or as extras in the series "Misja Afganistan". Some start their own businesses. They sometimes live in uncomfortable conditions, several people in one room. They send some of the money earned to their families in Afghanistan or in Pakistan. People working with refugees from Afghanistan stress their persistence and determination in searching for jobs and in working as well as the great wish and motivation to learn Polish, as well as integrate with others in the group (during language courses).