A tea in Kabul

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Simone Bardi

There are stories that are never told because they are far too ordinary. But if you happen to be invited by a stranger, an Afghan, in Kabul, then maybe you try to tell this story anyway.


KABUL  This is the story of a tea, sipped on a spring afternoon at a stranger’s home, in the capital of Afghanistan, once the center of life and fun for the entire Middle East, but now plagued by internal and external wars for the last two decades. As you can imagine, even if you have never been there, Kabul is very complicated and requires considerable adaptability and open-mindedness in order to understand all those social and cultural mechanisms that keeps it going.

But, as it often happens, a single episode is enough to make you open your eyes to a very different reality from what you read in books. So, during a mission on behalf of an NGO in the Afghan capital, I decide to deepen the knowledge of that place and to understand a little more what surrounds me. I am downton, in Flower Street. The street is crowded, full of shops and booths. People are busy with their daily shopping and children are playing.

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I pass by an apartment on the ground floor of a tumbledown building. Standing on the front door there is a man in his sixties, big white mustache, his beard is not too long. He is wearing a classic Salwar Kameez and the inevitable pakol.

As soon as he sees me his thousand wrinkles turn into a large unexpected smile. He greets me in the classic Afghan way that lasts about three minutes, asking how every single possible near and far relative of my family is. Fortunately this is one of the few things I know in Dari language (how to greet and how to respond to greetings), so I try to respond as best I can. With hand gestures he invites me in, he wants me to meet his family, he wants to offer me a cup of chai.

In the Middle East is like this, hospitality is an essential value, almost a boast. I have traveled enough to similar Countries to know that rejecting the invitation would be a sign of great discourtesy and rudeness, so I smile, thank awkwardly and follow him inside his house.

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The apartment is small and with low ceilings. The living room is covered with carpets and a dim light is filtering from a curtain that covers a glassless window. Many of the objects hanging on the walls are relics from the old war. The empty spaces are filled by old photos.

He introduces me to his wife and their children, whom I greet respectfully from a distance. He invites me to sit at the table, in the center of the room and he sits down with me. As soon as our mugs are filled with tea, we start a conversation that is far more than surreal. Stories, questions, answers, we talk about everything.
 

He does not speak English, I do not speak Dari, but none of us seems to care about that. We communicate with weird facial expressions, we use our hands to mimic awkwardly actions and objects, we repeat the concepts dozens of times until we are sure that the other has understood. But it’s all so natural, pleasant and new that we don’t care at all about any inevitable misunderstanding.

He has an amazing story to tell, a story about pride, sense of belonging, roots and rebirth. He tells me about his family, about the difficult years, the extreme poverty, the fear of the bombing, the family losses, but also about joy, weddings, births and feasts that last for days and days. He tells me about the simplicity of their daily life, about ordinary people who have nothing to do with the war and with all the political interests that surround it.

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Meanwhile, I start thinking about how his story is somehow similar to what our grandparents used to tell us about their childhood and the war they have unfortunately experienced. Just to prevent from any inadvertent and unwanted offense, we carefully avoid any discussion on religion. He asks me to tell him something of my Country, something that has made me happy. He tries to teach me how to prepare the naan and asks me if, as a good Italian, I can cook the pizza.

And when it’s time to say goodbye, we shake hands and we warmly hug, well aware that those few hours spent together have enriched our souls far beyond our expectations, beyond the ordinariness of the episodes we have told. Because at the end of the day, sharing your story can be a way to feel a bit less alone, less forgotten by the rest of the world.

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Kabul in pictures | www.simonebardi.net

Simone Bardi