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A 'Cultural Reawakening' in Afghanistan
From NPR's Jacki Lyden, A Portrait of Life After the Taliban

click for more Read more of Lyden's essay, and view her Kabul photos

multimedia slideshow View a multimedia slideshow with music and photos

Shadow of boy over image of girl.
A young boy paints a picture of a girl at a street beggar's shelter.
Photo: Jacki Lyden, NPR News

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"Watching a people who had seen much of their identity obliterated try to emerge from 23 years of war and repression was a historical thrill."
Jacki Lyden

Mashin, in back, dances to the sounds of the traditional serena.
Abdul Rashi Mashin plays the traditional sirinda while another man dances in the background.
Photo: Jacki Lyden, NPR News

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April 11, 2002 -- Reporting on a culture like Afghanistan’s -- where the past is blurred and the future uncertain -- "involves a bit of cultural anthropology," says Jacki Lyden. The veteran NPR correspondent and host spent a month in the war-torn nation's capital earlier this year. Exclusively for, Lyden uses a personal essay she wrote, photos she took and music she recorded, to depict a country emerging from its devastated past.

By Jacki Lyden

When I was in Kabul earlier this year, the headlines were about war. But the larger story, in many ways, was the country's cultural re-awakening.

Some aspects of the Taliban's repression -- the suffering of women, the destruction of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan -- have been well documented. But more than that, the Taliban went after every aspect of the region’s culture -- doubly so, if the cultural expression seemed worldly or sophisticated.

Now, what was suppressed is being restored. In the span of just one month, I witnessed the first skit performed in Kabul’s destroyed theater after 10 years; the first time the country’s popular quiz show returned to the air; the re-grouping of Afghanistan’s remaining musicians; the return of its popular bushkazi horse games; the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as interim leader, and the fledgling attempts of his government to establish itself.

At this point, one can only hope that the Afghan government and its allies succeed, and that Karzai gets the international support he needs to keep the peace between warlords. The jury is decidedly out: The day my colleague and I interviewed Karzai at the presidential palace, 75 tribal elders were there beseeching him to send more foreign troops to "save us from ourselves." The scene looked like a Renaissance painting of an Old Testament tableau, with all the men in their turbans and shawls, beseeching the elder.

Yet no matter the shape of the political future, what I would not expect to see fade -- barring an unanticipated return to strict fundamentalist rule -- is the Afghan people's sense of cultural expression as a human right. Watching a people who had seen much of their identity obliterated try to emerge from 23 years of war and repression was a historical thrill.

I am not a photojournalist, and these are only a handful of the pictures I took while on assignment. But I hope they capture something more about Afghanistan than warlordism and the reign of terror. Those things have their validity -- but so does the human rebounding in which Afghanistan is engaged.

In Depth
Read more of Lyden's essay, and view her photos:

click for more Rebirth of the Kabul Theater.

click for more Bushkazi, the rough-and-tumble national sport.

click for more Ressurecting the Afghan music tradition.

click for more The Aschiana shelter for street children.

click for more Coming to Afghanistan's aid.

Click to search for more stories Browse more NPR reports by Jacki Lyden.