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Woke up early in the morning on Saturday so we could prepare for our hike in Istalif.
Istalif is an area about an hour and a half outside of Kabul. Istalif suffered greatly in the war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. It was occupied and then burned by the Taliban - trees were knocked down or burned as were houses and parts of the village.
Istalif had long been a retreat from the congestion of Kabul. Very much like going upstate is for some of us who live in New York.
Istalif was an early site of activity for Turquoise Mountain - partially because of the level of suffering and partially because of the history of crafts, most specifically pottery, that exists in the area. Istalif was famous for its pottery and when they began to rebuild one of the first things they repaired was the pottery center’s wheel and the kiln that had been destroyed.
We made our way to Istalif in the car with Zia, Shoshana, Judy and Ollie - one of the folks that works on the project in Murad Khane.
The beginning of the trip took us out of Kabul on a paved road.
About 40 minutes in we turned onto a bumpy dirt road and passed land that was beginning to be farmed and divided into different areas with walls made of mud brick.
The dirt road eventually thinned and we were grinding our way up the mountain on a thin path surrounded by walls of the village (or what remained of them).
We passed people along the way men, women and children walking along the road. They backed up against the walls so we could pass. The women were all wearing burqas and when we first approached they had them pulled back so they could play with their children or watch over them as they walked down the mountain. When our car approached - they turned toward the wall or pulled the burqas down over their faces.
We arrived in the village and went to meet Islam Muhammed - one of the sons of the top ceramics man in the region. He agreed to walk us along the river and up the mountain.
We began our walk along the river on a rocky wooded path - much tree growth has taken place since the Taliban left in 2002.
The river rushes along nicely and Islam points with pride at the rock houses being rebuilt in the mountain side.
We wind our way up the mountain and pass children leaving school and happen upon other children shaking branches for walnuts. Their father offers all of us walnuts and we use rocks to break them on the rock wall.
There are many rock walls throughout the area. They terrace the land for the planting of grapes, mulberries, and walnuts and also separate the land for ownership purposes.
The walnuts are a little under-ripe and therefore moist and chewy but still taste good.
Some of the children follow us for a ways. Hoping to get their picture taken or just interested in the group of strangers that are here.
We walk for a little under two hours and take a break in a shaded area by the river. We watch as one man carries sticks on his back up the mountain and another leads a donkey, weighed down with bags, across the river.
Soon a large SUV pulls up out of nowhere and two men get out and begin to wash the car with buckets full of river water. This is only the second car we have seen today (the third is one we later help to push up the mountain as the car load of 6 men stops to say hello and gets stuck).
We decide to turn back and begin our walk down the river.
Shoshana lets us know that Islam has invited us to tea in his garden. We soon turn and begin hiking up another part of the mountain – we jump over rock walls and duck under tree branches. We continue to climb and eventually come to a dry riverbed and climb another wall. We sit under a tree in “Islam’s garden” which is really much of the land we have just traversed. In front of us is a small patch of land that is a newly growing vineyard.
Islam leaves and returns with a blanket for us to sit on. Following close on his trail are a group of children – 4 boys all between 6 and 8. They stand precariously on the side of the hill watching us with wide eyes.
Soon a slightly older girl comes out with a silver tray with glass mugs for tea. She hands this up the hill to the boys and runs off again. Before we know it we have in front of us cookies, homemade naan, and hot tea.
We sit on the hillside and Islam’s uncle joins us. He is much older with a weathered face, little round hat and watery blue eyes.
Islam says something to the children and the boys all remove their shoes and walk across the blanket to greet each of us and shake our hands. “Salame Malakem.” Peace be on you indeed.