Ten facts you may not know about Afghanistan
‘For a decade and more, one country has dominated the news headlines – Afghanistan. Mention this country and what comes to mind? Probably Taliban and terrorism, burkas and beards. But Afghanistan is much more. Beyond the headlines of war, there is another country where ancient traditions endure and a new country is emerging,’ says Lyse Doucet for BBC News Online.
1. Afghans celebrate their new year, Nawroz, on 21 March, the first day of spring. Thousands travel to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to welcome in a new year on the Islamic calendar. Local strong men raise a great Janda, an Islamic banner, to herald the beginning of spring and the start of the new year. If it is lifted in one smooth motion, it is seen as a good omen for the months to come. (You have to hold on to something when you live in a country that has already survived more than 30 years of war.)
2. Afghanistan would like its national game, buzkashi, or goat-grabbing, to be an Olympic sport. Regarded as the world’s wildest game, it involves riders on horseback competing to grab a goat carcass, and gallop clear of the others to drop it in a chalked circle. It has been played on Afghanistan’s northern steppe for centuries. The game used to be the sport of rich rival warlords but is now also financed by Afghan mobile phone companies and private airlines. But it is still not a sport for the faint-hearted, and women should not apply.
4. Poetry is a cherished part of Afghan culture. Afghans have told their stories in verse for more than 1,000 years. Thursday night is “poetry night” in the western city of Herat – men, women and children gather to share ancient and modern verse, listen to traditional Herati music, and enjoy sweet tea and pastries long into the night.
5. Alexander the Great was the first to build Herat’s ancient citadel when he captured the city in 300BC. The only woman to capture the heart of the Macedonian empire builder was the beautiful Roxanne, from the northern Afghan province of Balkh. She bore him his only son before Alexander died at the young age of 33.
6. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the poster boy for legions of young Afghan men. Photographs of a muscled Arnold in his prime hang from the walls of hundreds of body building centres across the country. Some Afghans say the action-star-turned US governor looks like an Afghan.
To read the full 10 fascinating facts about Afghanistan on BBC News Online, click HERE, or on the image above.