Doucet: Afghanistan-The Unknown Country

Two weeks ago after reviewing the documentary on Afghanistan by Murphy and MediaStorm, I came across a film on the subject matter, which exposes yet another face of this wonderful country. Therefore this review:

For over a decade, Afghanistan has been a frequent guest of the global news coverage. But what do we really know about this country? In the 1-hour BBC documentary “Afghanistan: The Unknown Country” Lyse Doucet takes us on a journey through the parts of the vast Afghan land and its diverse culture to reveal another face of the country beyond the war – the country of ancient traditions and its beautiful people, who despite all its hardship and heartache, are still proud to call it home.

“Afghanistan: The Unknown Country” is neither artistic nor political. More than anything, it falls well under the format of a travel documentary. Unlike a typical protagonist of the classic travel documentary, however, Doucet, does not come in the shoes of a mere curious observer or a world traveller who likes to take a peek into the exotic or the foreign. BBC’s chief international correspondent, Doucet invites us to join her on the

journey through the country she has learned over the decades and has grown to love through its darkest times.

In the country where much has been lost, the sense of hope is found by holding on to the traditions. Starting off from the far north, Doucet onsets her journey in Mazar-e Sharif by welcoming Nawroz, a pre-Islamic festival. An Islamic banner Janda lifted by strong local men symbolically heralds the beginning of spring and the start of the new year. If lifted in one smooth motion, it is considered to be a good omen for a new year to come.

By stepping back in time, Afghans seem to find a path for inner peace and hope for a brighter future. Across the ancient Afghan city of Herat, Doucet discovered “the oldest of human desires to rise above daily cares to see what is beautiful and sweet and to celebrate what it means to be Afghan.” In the western city of Herat, the pearl of Afghan culture, poetry is cherished as a vital element of Afghan life. Afghan stories are told in verse and accompanied by the traditional herati music. Every Thursday, no matter age and gender – men, women, children, and elderly gather to share the verse, listen to music, and enjoy the sweet tea deep into the night.

Doucet too finds a sense of shared humanity in the small village Paicotal, which will never make the news. It is hard to fathom for a Westerner what a life under the poverty line looks like and how one could endure such arduous conditions – no running water, no electricity, and no roads. Nevertheless, for all the distance between the lives of local women and the one of Doucet, there still seems to be space for them to share moments of laugh and joy.

Courteous and ebullient, it was a pleasure to witness the journey of Doucet through the fascinating land of Afghanistan, a crossroad of cultures where East met West for thousands of years.

2011, BBC, 60 mins.

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Sevara Pan
Sevara Pan
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