I spent some time in Afghanistan, mainly Herat, in 1973/4. I was 19 years old. Every day was an adventure. I’d love to find others who were there around that time to share memories.
Hi Gina ,
It was almost two decades before I was born and have never been to Afghanistan or indeed anywhere in Asia.
But I would love to hear some of your memories about being there , what was it like ? what was your strongest memory ? your favourite food / drink ?
Also , how do you feel about the history of what has occured in that country since the 70’s ?
It was life changing. Every person I encountered was kind and warm and helpful. I befriended 3 brothers who owned a shop in Herat. I would join them often for tea and a meal. I would be a typical stressed American and say “I need to get this done” or “I need to go here” etc, etc. They would tell me “relax, go tomorrow, now have tea.”
This was so contrary to my western mind, but so good for me to learn. There’s always tomorrow.
The bread was what I loved to eat. You could smell it baking in the mornings and for 2 afghanis you would buy a large loaf resembling naan. If it was baked on hot stones, sometimes there were little pebbles in it. That kind was my favorite.
But this is just a few memories. I have so many more. Going to a concert that lasted forever and being the only woman there, driving from Kabul to Herat and being flagged down by an old shephard asking for water (I gave him a jug), breakfast in a hippie hotel of eggs, jam, bread, and butter (that was a feast), getting to my hotel one evening and finding a wedding taking place - the young girls wanting to put make up on my face, and everyone wondering how I could be 19 and not married with children.
Oh, there are so many memories. And it makes me so very sad to think about the Afghanistan of today. I often wondered what happened to the 3 brothers who were so kind.
Thanks for the reply Gina ! It sounds like it was an incredibly formative experience for you to see the country and its people.
I think it is especially interesting to hear about this snapshot in time of life in Afghanistan in the 1970’s because of what has happened in the decades since , but I think some things you experienced will probably always remain in the country as they are timelessly woven into the cultural fabric.
I have to ask , were you just travelling around the region ? or were you working there ? Also, did you travel to any of the neighbouring countries of the region ?
My Grandfather, Joseph Gregory, spent quite of time in Afganistan helping launch their new airline, Ariana. He trained pilots and helped purchase aircraft. I know he was there around 1967, as I have calendars from Ariana around that time. But I know he went back frequently.
Wow. I flew Ariana, I believe from either London or Frankfurt. I had a 7 day-4 month ticket from NY-Kabul. It was purchased thru Pan Am and cost $430. It’s strange how you remember certain things. I spent more than 4 months, but somehow talked my way onto a flight home. I got back to NY and the first thing that struck me was cars lining up to buy gas. It was the oil embargo of 1973-74.
That was about the time I read an article in a short lived travel magazine about a woman crossing Afghanistan alone on a motorcycle in the '50’s. It made me aware that Afghanistan might be a place I wanted to see. At the time it was on the Marine Corps list of places forbidden to visit while on leave which added greatly to the appeal. Later they made expense paid excursions there compulsory which greatly diminished the appeal. Recently I communicated with an paleontologist who discovered a tiny remnant of Ice Age ibex in Afghanistan and is struggling to organize efforts to preserve it. As you may guess such a monumental task is made even worse by present circumstances there even with the cooperation of local residents who take pride in such a living world treasure. Thanks for reminding us that there is beauty and wonder to behold even in the worst of times and places.
I was just travelling. Those were hippie days.
I did visit Iran a few times. Tehran, Mashad, Isfahan, Kerman, Bam. It was also a very beautiful country except for the ultra-modern parts of Tehran, at that time. It seemed like everything was lit up in neon! The people my age were always smartly dressed. There was definitely a Euro vibe. But the old city part of Tehran was really nice, and very interesting. I remember going to the Iran America Society. I think there was a cafe there. I believe it was bombed in the late 70’s.
Its amazing to hear your recollections Gina , and even more so because the tragic reality is that over the last four decades these lands have been more frequently visited by soldiers and zealots than travellers. You have been an eye witness to a world that has disappeared.
On the subject of Afghanistan I wonder if you might enjoy this old documentary I saw last year. It’s from Nat Geo , made in the late 90’s, and shows the struggle of the brilliant guerilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud , “the lion of panshijir” (who also defeated the Soviet Red Army occupation) against the Taliban. It was filmed only a few weeks before his assasination by Al Qaeda and his message to the West is prophetic and haunting because of what has happened over the past decades. It is beyond tragic that no one listened to him or heeded his warning.
Thank you for that link. That was an amazing documentary. So heartbreakingly sad. I’m avoiding getting political here, but it is such a shame that Massoud’s words were ignored. He was a brave, intelligent, insightful man.
I think we would be about the same age today. It’s so interesting to think that he was a teenager when I was there.
No problem , I’m glad you found it interesting.
I think around that time he would have been studying engineering at Kabul university but within a few years he would be fighting the Soviet army as a guerilla in the Panshijir.
I was fortunate to make contact with some of the younger archaeologists from the university in Tehran who have continued to make new discoveries in the Zagros mountains of Western Iran dispite all the political conflicts in the region. The last major archaeological discoveries there were made in the 70’s by a French led team who were unable to do followup work due to the civil strife. Later I made contact with one of them from the University of Liege. Though I was only able to read those papers published in English, and sort of get the gist of those in Spanish, it was somewhat jarring to read in a 2010 publication that European stone technology originated in Western Iran over one million years ago. Moreover, this had been known since the early '70’s.
Though it will probably be impossible for me to visit the Zagros mountains in this lifetime, I was extended an invitation to do so and an offer of the most current report updates from the field on sites in progress.
As with my correspondents in Sudan and Afghanistan, it is uplifting to know that people from around the world persist making positive efforts in a spirit of cooperation despite overwhelming obstacles.
Thank you for that most clarifying refresher of the events in Afghanistan beginning with the Soviet invasion up 9/11/01. I had known the key elements since I began to watch them unfold in the latter quarter of the Soviet occupation. However, my information was fragmentary to say the least and the perceived motivating factors morphed drastically in light of later events. While this NatGeo version does gloss over some underlying factors it does offer a unified overview that, to my knowledge is factual in all essential elements.
Around 2004, my interest in Afghanistan and Central Asia was reignited as a result of background research for some historical articles I was writing at the time. I was fortunate to stumble upon some of the most detailed yet readable background accounts of the region by British journalist, historian and author, Peter Hopkirk, who visited most of the places he wrote about in recent times, and had served in the King’s African Rifles in the same battalion as Lance Corporal Idi Amin in 1949. I think what will appeal to most Atlas Obscura people is that his histories read like travelogues and the human personalities spring to life.
The first and most accessible is Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, the search for lost treasures in High Asia. which gives a good overview of the region with a sense of how and why cultures converge at this crossroad.
His next book, Trespassers on the Roof of the World, the race for Lhasa, expands upon the first with an emphasis on Tibet
The Great Game is his magnum opus, an almost encyclopedic account of European rivalry in Central Asia. Though massive, if you’ve been hooked on the first two you’ll find it a real page turner.
As a result of Hopkirk’s meticulous referencing, I also wound up reading Sven Hedin’s My Life as an Explorer, Aurel Stein’s Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan, On Central Asian Tracks, and Albert von LeCoq’s Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan, first hand accounts of their explorations in Central Asia.
Atlas Obscura members with an interest in this region will most likely appreciate Hopkirk more than most.
So many great stories and great information. Thank you all for this incredible thread!
Thank you for the reply Tex Arcana,
This is brilliant , I’ve been looking for some new exploration books to add to my reading list so I will probably check some of those out. I’ve been thinking about reading Wilfred Thesinger’s “Marsh Arabs” or “Arabian sands” for a while but havent got round to it though.
The only book on Afghanistan that I’ve read so far was one called “Ghost wars” by Steve Coll. It chronicles the history of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the aftermath leading up to 9/11. The thing I remember about it was throughout it all you really get the impression of how inept the CIA actually were in the 70’s and 80’s and how they created the problems of tomorrow by consistently backing all the wrong people in the Muhjadeen resistance. Not too mention putting waaayyyy too much power in the hands of Pakistan and not the right people like Massoud due to his independent mindedness.
I think its conceivable that there would have been no Taliban / Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan if Massoud had been given more support from the begining and more interest had been given to developing the country after the defeat of the Soviets. Unfortunately, that was never to be and the Afghans were once again just pawns in the great game of empires (and Pakistan) and not allowed to be the masters of their own fate/ self determination.