Did You Know These Amazing Facts About Poetry in Afghanistan?

No other nation has poetry flowing through its history and its soul quite as strongly as Afghanistan does. The rich tradition of poetry in Afghanistan dates back thousands of years, and historic and contemporary poems alike are cherished by just about every group in modern Afghan society. To learn more about the special place that this unique art form occupies in the hearts of Afghans, read on for a look at some fascinating facts about poets and poetry in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has produced countless famous and passionate poets.

Poetry has existed in the region that we now know as Afghanistan for more than 3,000 years. It’s therefore hardly surprising that, over the centuries, the region has produced some of the world’s most famous and passionate poets, many of whom are enjoying a newfound popularity with contemporary audiences. These poets include:

Rumi—The 13thcentury Sufi poet and mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi, better known simply as Rumi, is the most widely celebrated Persian language poet in the world. Born in Balkh in 1207, Rumi lived for much of his life in present-day Turkey, but is still claimed by Afghans as their own beloved poet. His thousands of poems, many of which were inspired by his friendship with the mystic and religious seeker Shams of Tabriz, are known for combining religious themes and imagery, and for exploring spiritual love and transcendence. Rumi’s most important work is the Mathnawi or Masnavi, a six-book spiritual epic that attempts to teach followers of the religious tradition of Sufism to become one with God.

Jami—Two centuries after Rumi, the Persian-language scholar, mystic, and poet Jami was born and spent his life in Herat, which was a noted literary and scholarly center for many centuries. His work explores complex questions of ethics and philosophy using what has been described as a fresh, graceful, and simple style. Many Islamic rulers of the time offered patronage to Jami, but he refused most of these proposals, preferring to live simply as a mystic and scholar rather than as a court poet.

Khushal Khan Khattak—Often referred to as the national poet of Afghanistan, as well as the father of Pashto literature, the 17th century Pashto poet Khushal Khan Khattak was both a poet and a warrior. A renowned military fighter who first served the Mughal empire and later turned against it, Khushal Khan Khattak spent the last years of his life promoting the cause of Pashtun nationalism through his poetry. It is estimated that he wrote some 45,000 poems in total, primarily on subjects such as honor, war, unity, and love.

Poetry readings are a common pastime.

In present-day Afghanistan, poetry is considered one of the highest forms of self-expression, so it’s not surprising that gathering to read and share poems, both old and new, is a popular pastime among Afghans.

In Herat, for example, members of the Herat Literary Association meet weekly to share and discuss their latest works. While these poets come from all walks of life, many are young people looking for an outlet to express their views on life in contemporary Afghanistan. Poems shared at the Herat Literary Association deal not only with weighty subjects such as war and peace, but also with love, friendship, and the realities, both positive and negative, of daily life.

In Afghanistan, poetry can be competitive.

Have you ever thought of poetry as a competitive sport? One of Afghanistan’s most intriguing poetic traditions is “sher jangi,” which translates as “poetry fighting” or “poem battle.” In this game, which is a common form of entertainment in Afghanistan, one person kicks off the contest by composing a verse. The challenger must then reply with a new verse or line which not only responds thematically to the previous verse, but also begins with the same letter as the last word of the previous verse.

The contest continues back and forth until one poet fails to come up with a coherent response. The tradition of sher jangi is at least a thousand years old: once performed by master poets at court, poetry fighting is now popular among adults at parties and gatherings, and as a game for younger boys and girls.

The Kabul Public Library was established by poets.

Of the handful of public libraries that exist in Afghanistan, the Kabul Public Library is the country’s only state-owned public library. It therefore seems entirely fitting that this library was established in 1966 by members of the Association of Poets. An organization that brought scholars, playwrights, teachers, and poets together from all across Afghanistan, the Association of Poets gave Afghan literary artists a sense of support and camaraderie that few had experienced before. The four founding members of the library transformed this wonderful poetic energy into a small but important literary hub that, today, is home to thousands of poetry books, among other resources.

7 Amazing Things You Can Find in Kabul

If there’s one thing you should know about Kabul, it’s that this incredible city is full of surprises. Current news stories usually reveal little about the Afghan capital. However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see a place that is home to some truly special and unexpected features.

Some of the most unique things you can find in Kabul include:

Evidence of a long, rich history

Did you know that humans have been living on or near the site of Kabul for over 3,500 years? The first mention of a settlement here appears in the Rigveda, an ancient Hindu scripture which dates back to the year 1500 BCE. The city then makes a further appearance in the writings of the Alexandrian scholar Ptolemy, who lived in the second century CE. This long history makes Kabul one of the oldest settlements in the world, and evidence of its amazing past can still be found in the centuries-old monuments and buildings that survive to this day.

High altitude

Tucked into a narrow valley between the soaring peaks of the Hindu Kush mountain range, Kabul is one of the world’s highest capital cities (only 10 other capitals are located at higher altitudes). Kabul’s elevation is an impressive 5,873 feet above sea level; this is about the same elevation as the city of Denver, Colorado, which is popularly known as the “Mile-High City.”

A century-old bird market

In the heart of Kabul’s old city lies the Ka Faroshi Bird Market. Tucked away behind a mosque, the market occupies a narrow alley that is lined with stalls selling all types of birds. For many Afghans, keeping birds is a passion and a much-needed source of solace and comfort in challenging times. Birds that can be found at the market include canaries, finches, fighting cocks, roosters, and doves, but a particular favorite is the elegant chukar partridge, a reddish-gray bird with a red beak, black stripes on its side, and a distinctive black band across its eyes and throat.

Lush gardens

Among outsiders, Kabul may have a reputation as an arid desert city, but in fact, the capital is home to many beautiful green spaces. The largest and best known of these is Bagh-e Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, an 11-hectare oasis of peace and tranquility in the heart of Kabul. The gardens were founded in the early 16th century by Babur, the first Mughal emperor who used Kabul as his capital city for two decades. An avid gardener and nature enthusiast, Babur designed his gardens according to the traditional principles of Islamic gardens, which include key features such as a quadrant layout, flowing water, shade, abundant foliage, and perimeter walls. Although they fell into disrepair, Babur’s Gardens have been spectacularly restored with the support of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Open to visitors since 2008, the gardens stand today as one of Kabul’s most beloved public spaces, and a home for cultural performances and other special events.

A museum dedicated to land mines

Many of Kabul’s museums, such as the National Museum of Afghanistan, highlight and celebrate the country’s rich cultural history, but some also commemorate the more sobering aspects of Afghanistan’s recent past. Among these is the OMAR Mine Museum, which teaches visitors about the history of landmines in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. This museum, operated by the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, features displays about the different types of mines and military hardware that have been used in Afghanistan, and the ongoing work being done to remove mines and make the land safe for use again.

An unusual mosque

In the center of the city, just off the Kabul River, sits one of the most surprising examples of Islamic religious architecture to be found anywhere in the world. Built in the 1920s, the Shah-e Doh Shamshira Mosque boasts two stories, a lemon-yellow façade, and Italianate stucco detailing: all very unusual features for an Islamic place of worship. The design for the mosque was modeled after Istanbul’s Ortakoy Mosque, and some describe the overall effect as “Afghan Baroque.”

A skate park

When Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan first came to Kabul in 2007, they couldn’t have foreseen that over a decade later, they would be running a hugely popular skateboarding school and international charity. Today, Skateistan continues to pursue its mission of using skateboarding to engage Afghan children, and to help increase their access to education, health care, and cultural opportunities. The school and skate park, which serves around 300 students, is built on land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.

Featured Image courtesy Teseum | Flickr

6 World Bank Projects Improving Quality of Life in Afghanistan

For nearly 20 years, the World Bank has supported the ongoing reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Working closely with other bilateral and multilateral agencies to ensure the best use of donor resources, the World Bank has implemented programs and projects across a diverse range of focus areas—including institution and capacity building, job creation, human capital development, citizen engagement, infrastructure, and connectivity—all to help improve the quality of life for every Afghan citizen.

As of February 2021, more than two dozen World Bank projects are ongoing across Afghanistan. These include:

The Afghanistan Second Skills Development Project (ASDP II)

One of the key ways in which the government of Afghanistan aims to boost economic growth and development is by helping Afghan workers improve their vocational and technical skills. The World Bank supports this goal through the ASDP II. Like the original program, this second iteration of the ASDP focuses on strengthening the technical vocational education and training (TVET) institutional system as a whole, enhancing the performance of individual TVET schools and institutes, and ensuring that TVET teachers have the competencies needed to provide the appropriate training. Key achievements of ASDP II so far include supporting an in-service Technical Teacher Training Institute and redeveloping the curricula for a number of priority trades (such as construction and information technology) to better respond to market needs.

The Access to Finance Project

The ability to access credit when necessary is one of the most important factors that allows businesses to grow and thrive. However, many micro, small, and medium enterprises in Afghanistan struggle to access the credit they need because most traditional financial lenders are not well equipped to serve them. In response to this problem, the Access to Finance Project is working to build institutional capacity within the finance sector so that these smaller businesses will have more—and better— financing options. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as of the end of 2020, the Access to Finance Project (through its support of the Afghan Credit Guarantee Foundation) had provided loans of nearly $20 million to over 530 enterprises.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project

Over the last year, one of the World Bank’s major priorities has been to help Afghanistan cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the creation of the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project, the World Bank is working to mitigate the threat of the pandemic and improve Afghanistan’s readiness for potential future public health emergencies. Key components of this project include slowing the spread of COVID-19 by improving disease detection and diagnosis capabilities, strengthening the delivery of essential healthcare services, developing comprehensive communication strategies addressing social distancing and other mitigation practices, and providing an immediate and effective response to pandemic-related crises.

The Afghanistan Sehatmandi (Health) Project

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most critical health issue in Afghanistan for some time, other World Bank projects in the area of health care are still in operation. The most important of these is the Afghanistan Sehatmandi (Health) Project, which is a major multi-year initiative that aims to improve access to and quality of healthcare services across the entire country. By financing performance-based contracts for health service delivery, building and honing a performance management culture in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, and conducting extensive health-related outreach work in Afghan communities, the Sehatmandi Project aims to keep building on the considerable progress the Afghan health system has made during the past decade.

The Herat Electrification Project

In many areas of Afghanistan, demand for electricity has outstripped supply in recent years. It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), the country’s national power utility, to be unable to meet its customers’ needs, and power outages are particularly common during periods of extreme summer and winter weather. The Herat Electrification Project aims to address the problem of electricity supply in Herat province by giving DABS the necessary support to connect over 230,000 people and 1,600 institutions with new or improved electricity services. As part of this project, new transmission lines and substations are under construction, sections of the grid are being densified and extended, and a grid code for the Afghanistan power system is being developed. In addition to these activities, the project recently supplied and installed solar-powered backup systems for 10 COVID-19-designated hospitals in Herat province—a truly remarkable and life-saving accomplishment.

The Afghanistan Digital CASA 1 Project

Since 2018, the Afghanistan Digital CASA 1 Project has been working to bring all of Afghanistan into the digital era. The project’s primary aims are to increase access to affordable Internet for all Afghans, stimulate private investment in the sector, and support a regionally integrated digital infrastructure that will allow the delivery of digital government services. To achieve these objectives, the World Bank is working closely with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which is the implementing agency for this project.