At this point, the litany of contemporary Afghanistan's problems is well known. The country has few paved roads, let alone computers; its population is poor and illiterate; it is blighted with poverty, disease, and violence. For the past 30 years, Kabul has been under the control of radicals, strongmen, foreigners, or some combination of the three. Only rarely can the foreign reporters who describe these conditions leave the safe bubble of Kabul or the back seat of an armored vehicle. As a result, Afghanistan's people, culture, and traditions remain woefully unknown to the world, or reduced to crude stereotypes.
"People outside of Afghanistan have no idea what really exists here," a deep-voiced 26-year-old blogger named Nasim Fekrat says. "I was searching for Helmand [on the Internet] the other day. The only things that came up were about terrorists and suicide and bombs. But there is another side to Helmand, another face. There is agriculture, art, museums, culture."
On his groundbreaking blog, Afghan Lord, Fekrat hopes to tell that to the world. Writing in Farsi as well as self-taught English, he has taken it upon himself to show Afghanistan's softer, more genuine face. Until recently, he feels, this face was nearly impossible to find.
"In 2004, a journalist friend of mine told me that he was using the Internet to search for an Afghan word. He kept on coming up with this picture of a dog -- an Afghan hound!" Fekrat says, laughing ruefully. "We didn't even know there was such a dog in Afghanistan."
Although he passionately hopes to bring Afghan art, culture, and music -- life, really -- to readers around the world with his blog, Fekrat certainly does not downplay the trauma of Afghanistan's recent history. Indeed, his life and his blog are very much a product of it.
Fekrat grew up in a religious family in a village in Ghazni province. His childhood, he recalls, was defined by hardship and alienation. In particular, the young Fekrat strained under the strictures of his father, who once raised his hands to the heavens and called on God to kill his son when he would not pray one evening. Fekrat was 11.
But Fekrat has always been strikingly intelligent, erudite, and resourceful. When he was a teenager, he fled to Kabul, then under the control of the Taliban. A local family took in the refugee and gave him shelter. Soon after, he found life there too onerous -- he gives no clear reason why -- and joined the peripatetic community of Afghan refugees moving from country to country. Along the way, he spent time in Pakistan, Iran, Pakistan again, and the United Arab Emirates.
While living abroad, Fekrat became a member of this literate and engaged, if disaffected, Afghan expatriate community. He discovered a profound love for poetry and classical music in spite of his lack of higher education -- he delightedly describes how he pulled together money to buy compact discs of sonatas, concertos, and religious music in the record stores of Islamabad.
Around this time, Fekrat also discovered the online Afghan diaspora. People applying for political asylum in the West, Fekrat says, started to find one another on the Web in Farsi and Pashto chat rooms starting around 1998. Fekrat was swept up by the virtual community.
"For me, the Internet became a portal not just for information" about Afghanistan and its people, but "literature, poetry, and music," Fekrat says. "And it did not just become a way to communicate. As much as I learned, I became more uninformed," he says, pausing to struggle with his English. "No -- that's not how you say it. When I'm online, I realize I'm not informed enough," he says, and chuckles.
In 2000, the year before the United States invaded Afghanistan, Fekrat contacted two people he found writing articles online in Farsi. They were both native Afghans applying for asylum and living abroad. In their online correspondence, Fekrat -- who had by then returned to his native country -- discovered blogging. It was a revelation. "I asked them how they were publishing online," he says. "And they said, 'No, no, it's a blog!' I went online and found the ready-made template. It was so easy. For me, it was amazing."
Soon after, Fekrat joined the nascent Afghan blogosphere. His first blog, founded in 2002, was an anonymous and sophomoric effort on poetry and music. Reading what he wrote, he felt dissatisfied with his work and changed his subject and pseudonym several times. Nevertheless, Fekrat delighted in expressing his own thoughts and feelings with a level of freedom virtually impossible to find in Taliban- or even U.S.-controlled Afghanistan.
Fekrat moved around between a few jobs in journalism, but it wasn't until 2004 that he decided to make blogging his vocation. Afghan Lord was born.
His first post reads, typos and all: "Who can believe that Afghanistan got its peace after an awful situation more than two ddecades war. The situation that human was killing human, brother killing brother, war lords were killing innocents people and lots of difficulties occurred in Afghan land. What was the reason? Who was responsible for all these? Who is guilty? Who was supporting them and armed them to kill each other for nothing? And what is going on now? To all these categories I will put my pen. I will try regularly post daily from Afghanistan."
It spoke to the trauma of the Taliban takeover, and the shock of the U.S. invasion. And it allowed Fekrat to begin speaking to the world.