So, Saturday was the big day! The trip to the Kabul Museum.
The car from the PARSA office where I am staying took me to an intersection to wait for the bus coming from the House, and once it arrived I clambered up into the front seat and turned around to see 31 scrubbed and excited faces, little ones sitting on the laps of the older ones, everyone chattering and cheerful. Somehow that bus of 31 kids was not as loud as was a bus of just 15 of my students last year!
The drive to the museum was far, about half an hour, but I enjoyed it because it went through an old neighborhood where I used to work, where I did some teacher trainings with the Ministry of Education and near where Mostafa and I used to live in an area called Karte Se. It was a very busy area this time, full of fruit vendors with gorgeous mounds of apples, pomegranates, grapes and carrots. There were bakeries with windows full of cookies, and hardware stores selling rope and wire and tools, and a man with a cart selling gigantic fluffy pink, white, and blue teddy bears.I wish I had gotten to see one of those stern turbaned Afghan men buying a giant pink teddy bear for his daughter.The streets were full of people out shopping and working, walking and selling. I found it very appealing and lively.
Eventually we turned onto Daraluman Road, a very long, straight and famous road that used to be lined with beautiful trees before the wars. It veers off into the distant hills if you keep going, but before then, the road heads straight to Daraluman Palace. This massive place on a slight hill at the end of the road was the home of King Amanullah about 60-70 years ago. He was known as the modernizer of Afghanistan. His palace was obviously quite glorious and impressive. Even today, with half the roof missing and the bare scaffolding visible on the turrets it is solemn and imposing. It is hard to take your eyes off of it as you approach; it overwhelms the area, which I suppose is the point of a palace. We came very near to it, because the Museum was directly across the street. It has been beautifully restored after the destruction of the wars, and now it’s a clean, neat, light blue stucco building with white trim surrounded by bed after bed of roses.
The bus pulled up in front of the Museum, and Fahim went inside to check on everything first. Once he returned, the kids piled out. They had instructions to pair up, one older with one younger, and they all walked in hand in hand. There were 6 of us adults: Fahim, Nik Mohammad, Amjed, the two teachers, and me.
The group got in for free, but I had to pay 100 Afs as a foreigner, and 200 Afs for camera privileges, which was fine since all museums always need money. By the time I had my tickets and caught up with them, their tour had already begun. They had a woman guiding them, which was a surprise to me, that there was a guide. I was very happy that there was someone to explain details and point out things about the artifacts. The older children had brought notebooks and they immediately began taking notes and drawing pictures.
The museum was very well done, things were nicely displayed and most things had signage and explanations. I think what I enjoyed most was seeing the kids really learn about other aspects of Afghan heritage. They were fascinated with the old clothing, and some very unique wooden sculptures from Nuristan that looked like cartoon characters. The boys were of course drawn to the guns (and that is NOT just an Afghan thing. I had the same experience with boys in Connecticut at a museum). I was also very interested to see how they reacted to the Buddhism in Afghanistan exhibit, which was a special exhibit on display and was very timely since Mostafa had just finished his book on this subject. The exhibit was very very well done, of Western standards, with excellent lighting, colored backings, really beautifully displayed statues of Buddhas and decoration from Buddhist structures from the 2-4th centuries. The guide also did a terrific job of telling about Buddha and Buddhism, about the principles of the religion such as the 8-fold path, and about Buddhist practices like stupas and circumambulation, and didn’t make comparisons to Islam. She spoke very respectfully and openly, and that was a very good sign. It was so important for the children to become aware of this aspect of the past, that Afghanistan was not always Islamic, and that these things come and go. I felt that the children spent more time looking quite closely at the statues and carvings than they did in other areas, perhaps because it was displayed better. I circulated and chatted with them about what they were looking at, what they saw, if they had read the signs. It was good too that they were freer in that section to walk around on their own and look. They were impressed by the age, by how old these artifacts were. I imagine also that because they weren’t Islamic artifacts, they seemed much more exotic.
After an hour or so the little children were getting tired, and we were carrying some of them as we made our way slowly back outside.
But first we took a bunch of group pictures in front of a GIANT black marble bowl that represented the melding of Buddhism and Islam. The bottom of the bowl was decorated with a lotus flower design, while the top part was inscribed with lines from the Koran. I liked the symbolism of taking group pictures there in the Museum, in that place of a crossroads between the past and the future.On the drive back to the House the kids began asking for ice cream, and Fahim, being a softie, started looking for a place that sold it. We pulled over at a fruit shop that had a soft serve machine, and the HoF men and the two older boys, Waheed and Basir, got out to make arrangements. They brought delicious-looking cups of soft-serve to the windows of the bus, just two at a time, since the shopowner’s machine didn’t work very well. Gradually almost everyone had their ice cream, and Fahim was making one last headcount of how many were left. They needed 4 more. He went back out, they brought two, then one, only one more needed – and then at that very moment the electricity went out! So the machine stopped working, and poor Basir didn’t get his ice cream. Waheed offered him his, but of course Basir said no; he’s a gentle and easygoing guy.
We got back in time for a late lunch and playing in the yard afterwards. It was an extra nice day also because they were all together. With the split school schedule, it is rare that the entire group is together at the same time. That made it special, and we took a lot of whole group pictures. It’s also a special time because of the upcoming holiday and everyone’s getting excited, and plus the weather has been changing, getting much colder, and snow is more frequently seen on the mountaintops. I heard that snow is predicted for Wednesday! I am not quite prepared for that, but I will still love it if it comes, and the kids will certainly love it too.