I found out that there is no word in Pashtun for “toy.” In fact, in most of Afghanistan, there are no toys, either (so there is no need for the word).
I went to a local bazaar in search of some toys to buy and perhaps pass out on a future mission. I was surprised and alarmed to find that there were no toys to be found in any of the local stores. There was food, cloth, sundries, and cigarettes, but no toys. Not a one. I asked my interpreter what the word for “toy” was in Pashtun, and he gave me a variety of terms: “little cat,” “little dog,” “mouse,” or whatever happened to be the stuffed animal we had just passed out to some other villagers. There was no generic word for “toy.” The locals simply described what they saw come out of our box.
I asked our interpreter if he had toys as he grew up. I expected him to say he had, since his family lived in a better part of Kabul, the capital, and his father had worked for the government with a good job. I was almost shocked to find out he had never had any toys as a child, either.
It’s hard for me to imagine a land where children never get toys to play with. It’s like something out of a children’s story, with a villain taking all the toys from the children. It’s a stereotype in our society: the nasty grown-up that doesn’t want the children to have any fun, so they don’t like toys. But here, it’s reality, like a land without Santa Claus.
I have no idea how Afghans have not embraced toys for their children. I don’t see any prohibitions in the Quran against toys, but then again, over here, if it’s not mentioned in the Quran, it must be bad, and toys aren’t mentioned in their holy book. So I guess they think God doesn’t like toys. It’s a sad view of God to me.
I can’t get over seeing stacks and stacks of cigarettes for sale, and not a single toy.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
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,
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.