Flatirons Men's Afghanistan Trip Day Ten - Monday, April 30, 2012
Can't believe we're already down to our last 2 days in Afghanistan. I know it will take weeks...months...a lifetime...to process what we've experienced here. What I do know for sure is this...and I can confidently speak for our team; we have fallen in love with the land of Afghanistan and its people. Our hearts have been opened, and broken, and filled up again by what we've seen here...and what we see God doing here. We finally get it now...we see why everyone comes home from this place different...and we see why everyone wants to come back, again and again.
But today was the clincher. Our trip to Istalif. Istalif is a little town north of Kabul that was decimated by the Taliban, and one of the first places to receive relief from out missions partner. The drive out to Istalif was slightly different than what we'd experienced so far -- in regards to scenery. We drove through an area we had only seen from a distance. The surrounding hills of Kabul are littered with the hand built brick and mortar homes that distinctively mark this entire region. These earthen colored, boxy homes seem to be stacked, one upon the other, stretching up the hillsides, until (as if held down by gravity) they finally peter out...to leave the hilltops exposed. Driving along the base of these neighborhoods, we see the Afghans who live here up close. There are literally hundreds of people hauling bricks, produce, and other wares in carts by donkey...or going to-and-from school...or sitting on their haunches in clumps...talking animately to each other. It's as rugged, and exotic and as beautiful as the rest of Kabul. But then there's Istalif. Where Barak Aub is a community sitting in a barren, dry expanse of a valley at the base of a mountain, Istalif is a rich, green, verdant village that sprawls out, and winds through the mountain base just north and across the valley from Barak Aub. If I thought the architecture and construction leading to Barak Aub looked like something from the Bible times, Istalif was that...only a thousand more. To say this place is "scenic" is like saying the Rockies are big -- it's great understatement. There are houses and neighborhoods leading to the center of Istalif that are lined with vineyards -- vineyards that were scorched and burned by the Taliban years ago, but are bursting out and coming back to life. "Life"...life is the best word to describe this place. It's bursting with life. Lush and green and screaming with new life.
After a visit to the clinic, and a meeting with some of the local leaders, we grouped together to eat lunch at the river that is formed by the streams that cascade off the mountain peaks. OH. MY. GOSH. I am NOT exaggerating. It was one of the best meals I have EVER eaten! And I've had some great meals in my time...just look at my waistline and cholesterol levels. We sat down on a large mat under (what looked like) a blossoming lilac tree and were served kabobs -- cooked fresh from a kabob vendor a stone's throw from where we were resting...at the river's edge. We were first served fresh, warm naan (the traditional bread) and then came the kabobs -- lamb, hot off the grill. My mouth is watering just typing this. We were joined by the governor of Istalif -- which is commonplace when you travel with our host. This man knows everyone! Everywhere we go, he is either cornered or greeted by Afghans... governors...elders...leaders...street vendors...everyone. He seems to know almost everyone in Afghanistan. Shortly after the governor squeezed in and joined us on the mat, the kabobs came, skewered on long metal rods, arrayed like this: meat, fat cube, meat, fat cube, meat. For those of us who are health conscious and trying to clean up our dietary acts...caution was thrown to the wind. We gorged like ancient kings...eating with our hands...ripping naan by the fistful...gnawing on roasted lamb and lamb fat...with the juices dripping from our bearded chins. It was amazing! Could it get any better? We ate and ate until we couldn't eat anymore. I confess...I sinned. I was a glutton. Then, with bellies full, and after Bob and John relieved themselves on a stone wall (we have the pictures), we visited the marketplace, then headed back to Kabul.
Teammate Jase Smith coined this phrase on our first day in Afghanistan. I asked the guys during our first morning devotional time what they expected from the day. When we got around to Jase (a man of few words, but when they come, they are either profound or hilarious), he said, "I don't know what to expect, but I know it will be the best day ever." We all cracked up. It was profound AND hilarious! And that's what Istalif was: the best day ever. On the ride back home I was overcome with this one thought: I love this place...and I love these people...and I pray that all of Afghanistan will one day experience the healing and renewal we saw in Istalif...and that everyday will be "The best day ever."