NPR : Scott Simon in Afghanistan

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Scott Simon's Reflections on Afghanistan
NPR Host Recounts Travels Through Ravaged Nation

listenListen to Scott Simon on Talk of the Nation.

listenRead dispatches sent home by Peter Breslow, the NPR senior producer who traveled with Simon and produced his reports.

Feb. 26, 2002 -- NPR's Scott Simon has worked all around the world, covering war and conflict from Sarajevo to San Salvador. Throughout that time, he has repeatedly observed history in the making. But Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday, never made history himself.

Scott Simon

Scott Simon attempts a moment of relaxation as he fights the bitter cold of Afghanistan.

That may have changed on his recent trip to Afghanistan. It was just after a deadly battle between rival warlords in snowy Gardez, in which some 40 people were killed. After the battle, the sides exchanged prisoners. They needed to write down the names, and one of them strode over to Simon and demanded some paper. Simon produced a notebook, handing it over to one of the warlords. Too late, he realized that the notebook bore the emblem of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists' Association -- an organization that Simon and his wife Caroline support, but which probably would not get much backing among Islamic warriors. On it was imprinted the slogan, "We're here, we're queer, we're on deadline!"

"I may have unwittingly become involved in a small piece of history," Simon said on Talk of the Nation, though he allows that the notebook isn't likely to wind up in some Afghanistan military museum.

Such amusing stories are few and far between in Afghanistan, the world's poorest country, devastated by two decades of war. The mere look of the place "overwhelms you immediately," Simon said, reflecting on the three weeks he recently spent reporting from Afghanistan. One neighborhood in central Kabul is "as badly ravaged an area as I've ever seen in this world," he said.

Bamiyan residents

The people who live in the caves surrounding the site of the now-destroyed giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan are facing dire poverty. Some have been forced to eat grass.
Photo: Peter Breslow, NPR

Wherever he went, "the threat of violence was always there," Simon said. "There are guns everywhere."

Still, the people seem mostly positive about what the United States did in Afghanistan. "Every indication we got was that they appreciate it a great deal," Simon said, adding that he and other Americans were followed by crowds of Afghans yelling "USA, thank you!"

Simon's coverage ranged from battles among warlords in Gardez to the destruction of giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan to the death of Marjan, the proud, tortured, one-eyed lion in Kabul's zoo, who survived decades of war and abuse before succumbing to age. Below are the stories Simon filed from Afghanistan.

listenA report from Bamiyan, where the Taliban destroyed 1,000-year-old statues of the Buddha.

listenThe Taliban effectlvely squashed most forms of art. This report focuses on the beginnings of a cultural resurgence.

listenNearly all women were forbidden to work under the Taliban regime, which worsened dire poverty among widows whose husbands were killed in years of fighting.

listenSimon reports on the killing of Afghanistan's tourism minister at the Kabul airport.

listenAfghanistan's new government is feeling pressure to abide by and enforce the rule of law. This report examines the legal philosophy of the country's new chief justice.

listenA report on a British doctor and his wife who are running a 50-bed clinic in a bombed-out hospital.

listenA report on the British-led peacekeeping force in Kabul.

listenA tense standoff between rival warlords in Gardez.

listenMarjan the lion is buried at the Kabul zoo. Marjan endured a lifetime of war and abuse, including having a grenade thrown into his cage by an Afghan guerilla.