When I first came to Kabul, I had, like so many others, known it through war. Moments like these forced me to ask myself why it should come as a revelation that a 3,000-year-old city has layers that are diverse and different from its present. It says something about the way we perceive and talk about Kabul. Perhaps it is just human nature to ignore what is buried and only pay attention to what is apparent and overt. But occasionally, the city raises an aspect of its past almost as if to prove that it did exist, as a reminder of how much is lost, and how much remains within.
• • •
These links to the past are so fragile, made of clay and dust. So easy to break, so easy to return to the earth they came from. Yet these are also the objects that remind the forgetful world, and Afghans themselves, of what they used to be, of the confluence of ideas and civilizations that formed their khak, their ancestry. When I asked Zafar why he works so hard to excavate and preserve the material remains of Afghanistan’s history, he replied flippantly, “Because I am in love with Buddhism, and archaeology.” If so, it is a fraught romance, as the country’s past has been erased over years of war, and now, over an uncertain, uneven peace. Zafar has learned to be like the patient lover of a volatile partner. He cherishes what he has, without asking how long it will stay.