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Postcard From a Lost Kabul
32 Years Later, a Look Back at Afghanistan's Capital

listenListen to Marika Partridge's "postcard" about the city and people of Kabul then and now on All Things Considered.

Marika Partridge and brother ride elephant

Marika Partridge (left) and her brother ride an elephant on a stop on their trek.
Photo: Marika Partridge

Oct. 31, 2001 -- In 1969, Marika Partridge and her mother, father and brother took a year to drive from India to Europe, camping along the way. For 13-year-old Marika, one of the trip's most memorable stops was a shining city above the clouds, at the foot of giant peaks, a place steeped in history -- Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan.

Marika Partridge grew up to become a director and producer for All Things Considered, posts she held for 16 years before leaving last May. The family recorded their adventure on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. She dipped into her tape archives to report on a family trip that ended 32 years ago, but draws new relevance from the current war against terrorism.

Each member of the family took turns capturing ethnic music, conversations and their own thoughts. On the tape, Marika's mother declares, "We like Kabul better than any place we've been on this trip. It's a beautiful town and the people are so nice and friendly, and the air is so good."

Mosque in Kabul

The Partridge family marveled at "old walls and fortifications… mudded walled villages, huts, houses… and a new Hilton, and a new mosque (above). It's a city of contrasts. This place is kind of magic the way it's coming to life!"

Photo: The Afghan Tourist Organization, 1965

Lost and Found Sound Listen to Partridge's report on her family's entire journey to Europe.

In her report for All Things Considered, Partridge went back to her family's tapes to hear her herself and her family describe a city of "old walls and fortifications… mudded walled villages, huts, houses… and a new Hilton, and a new mosque. It's a city of contrasts."

In 1969, Afghanistan was rushing to catch up with the rest of the world in many respects -- most notably, women's rights. Outside the city, women still wore the traditional full veil. But in Kabul there were women in skirts, women in universities studying to become doctors, women eager to adopt Western ways.

This once-proud city now lies mostly in ruins, pounded by decades of war -- first with the Soviet Union, then between rival clans and shifting political factions, and now between the Taliban and the United States and its allies.

In 1969, in Partridge's mother's words: "This place is kind of magic the way it's coming to life!" But now, 32 years later, Partridge wonders if the promise of Afghanistan will ever be realized.

In Depth

Listen to Partridge's report on her family's entire journey, as broadcast in a December 1999 edition of NPR's Lost and Found Sound.

Read and listen to the latest dispatches from NPR's correspondents on the front lines in NPR.org's America Responds section.

Other Resources

Afghanistan Online features photo galleries and exhibits of a land that once was -- including lost treasures from the Kabul Museum, bombed in 1993, and the giant statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, destroyed by the Taliban.

Afghan Network also features multiple photo galleries, focusing on the fighting between the Taliban and the Northern alliance -- and its human toll in Kabul.

• Facts about Kabul from the Encyclopedia Britannica.