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Picnics Under The Pomegranate Trees In Kandahar

The Baba Wali Ziarat, the elevated hillside shrine of a 15th-century Muslim holy man overlooking the Arghandab River west of Kandahar
I am well-aware of the image of my country as a war-torn society where people either live in the perpetual fear of violence or cheer it. I know that it's mostly violence and suffering that has made Afghanistan relevant to the global news headlines. The truth is that life goes on in Afghanistan, and people continue to engage in whatever recreation they can afford -- even in places such as my hometown, Kandahar -- which is mostly in the news because of violence.

There are four major parks in this southern Afghan city. Three of them have mausoleums of Muslim holy men. Men and women go there for excursions on separate days of the week. All the picnic spots around this city are exclusively reserved for women on Wednesdays, while men like to go out on Fridays.

Baba Wali Ziarat, the elevated hillside shrine of a 15th-century Muslim holy man overlooking the Arghandab River west of Kandahar, is my favorite hangout. Bagh-e Pol, another riverside park west of the city, is equally charming. The Ibrahim Khalifa Ziarat and Akhund Sahib Ziarat lie on the southern and northern sides of the city, respectively. Over the past few years, the former governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai, worked hard to add new lawns, lights, and swings to Baba Wali Ziarat, which has added to its beauty and popularity.

Every Friday, I head to Baba Wali Ziarat with my friends and spend most of the day eating food or playing different kinds of folk games there. Looking at the lush pomegranate and grape orchards on both sides of the Arghandab River is a treat in and of itself. Whenever I see youngsters performing the traditional Attan dance in swirling circles around a musician's beating drum or recorded music, I see peace and hope for my town.

Among the field sports Kandahari youngsters play during their picnics are forms of local wrestling and rugby. In such games the rules are simple and the strong usually win. Ghiaga Ieestal is a straightforward wrestling competition in which two opponents attempt to push each other to the ground. The one who falls down first with his back touching the ground is the loser. Personally, I enjoy Khusai more. It is a team sport in which two groups of five face each other. Each team member attempts to cross a line that is defended by the opposing team. It's as exhilarating as it is exhausting.

While picnicking, women spend their days singing songs and engage in a bit of commerce -- selling their beautiful handicrafts. Kandahari man love to wear the delicately embroidered shirt fronts, which can be cheaply bought by their spouses or other female relations during their weekly outings.

Afghanistan is by no means "normal." But, sometimes it can be.

-- Mohammad Sadiq Ristinai

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