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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Pashtuns at the Movies
June 10 , 2007

        While entertainment may not be the spice of life, it certainly makes a dull day better.

      Before I came back here to Doa China, I bought a couple DVD movies in Pashto at the Waza Khwa bazaar.  I bought them to play for the ABP, thinking they may enjoy watching something in their own language.  (I haven’t seen any ABP with a portable DVD player, or a TV, or anything other than a portable AM/FM radio out here – entertainment seems to be in short supply for them.)

      I didn’t predict the huge success this would be: every one of the ABP Soldiers stayed up to watch my movie, which I played on my little laptop computer screen in their hooch.  Of course, I didn’t understand a word of it, but it was interesting to watch, and I got some appreciation for Pashtun culture.

      The Pashtun region encompasses a large part of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It runs along the southeastern border of Afghanistan, and includes the mountainous region of western Pakistan.  Pashto is the language of this region, and both sides of the border embrace a distinctive style of dress and way of living.  In fact, there is even a code of behavior, the Pashtunwali code, which addresses most aspects of Pashtun life.

      The movies were created in Pakistan, which has a bit different dialect of Pashto than Afghanistan, but the ABP Soldiers were able to understand it well.  It was amazing to see how the filmmaker portrayed the Pashtun people – there was both drama and comedy (the films were obviously for entertainment, not documentaries or instructional films), using the music and behavioral idioms of Pashtun people.  The ABP could clearly see stereotypical Pashtun people in the acting roles: the wife, the husband (one good, one bad, one comical), bandits with guns, men with weapons (apparently common in Pashtun culture), and a good deal of singing and music.

      Pashtun music is unique; it’s also a bit of an acquired taste.  The music features a two-sided drum, a small keyboard instrument, a stringed instrument, and singing with a pronounced nasal quality (rather unmelodic by Western standards).  The people sing of love and life, and the ABP Soldiers love it.  They play it loudly from their trucks and play it on the few radios they have in the FOB.  It all sounds very similar to me, but they like each tune.  Some have cassettes with Pashtun music which they play a lot.  I have played some American music for the ABP, but they prefer their own.

      The ABP watched my movies intently, seeing stories of cruel men who are ultimately killed, tragic deaths, and farcical characters.  It was interesting to think of how small an audience there is for these movies – there may be 30-40 million Pashto-speaking people in the whole world, but these movies were made especially for them.  The movies appeared to be of good quality, using local scenes and costumes, without any real special effects or expensive scenery.  It obviously didn’t matter to the ABP Soldiers – this was their entertainment, featuring their language, their music, their unique ways, and they loved it.

      It’s too bad there aren’t many Pashto movies – they certainly have become a bargain for me!

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

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