Before the Islamists ripped it apart. ..
In 1967, Dr. William Podlich took a two-year leave of absence from teaching at Arizona State University and began a stint with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to teach in the Higher Teachers College in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he served as the “Expert on Principles of Education.” His wife Margaret and two daughters, Peg and Jan, came with him. Then teenagers, the Podlich sisters attended high school at the American International School of Kabul, which catered to the children of American and other foreigners living and working in the country.
Outside of higher education, Dr. Podlich was a prolific amateur photographer and he documented his family’s experience and daily life in Kabul, rendering frame after frame of a serene, idyllic Afghanistan. Only about a decade before the 1979 Soviet invasion, Dr. Podlich and his family experienced a thriving, modernizing country. These images, taken from 1967-68, show a stark contrast to the war torn scenes associated with Afghanistan today.
“When I look at my dad’s photos, I remember Afghanistan as a country with thousands of years of history and culture,” recalls Peg Podlich. “It has been a gut-wrenching experience to watch and hear about the profound suffering, which has occurred in Afghanistan during the battles of war for nearly 40 years. Fierce and proud yet fun loving people have been beaten down by terrible forces.”
More of Dr. Podlich’s images are available on a website maintained by Peg’s husband Clayton Esterson. “I have taken on the role as family archivist and when Bill Podlich gave us his extensive slide collection, I immediately recognized the historical significance of the pictures.” says Esterson. “Many Afghans have written comments [on the website] showing their appreciation for the photographs that show what their country was like before 33 years of war. This makes the effort to digitize and restore these photographs worthwhile.”
“I grew up in Tempe, Arizona, and when my dad offered my younger sister, Jan, and me the chance to go with him and our mother to Afghanistan, I was excited about the opportunity. I would spend my senior year in high school in some exotic country, not in ordinary Tempe… Of course, there were loads of cultural differences between Arizona and Afghanistan, but I had very interesting and entertaining experiences. People always seemed friendly and helpful. I never got into any real difficulties or scrapes, even though I was a fairly clueless teenager! Times were more gentle back then.” – Peg Podlich (Pictured at right). #
“In the spring of 1968, my family took a public, long-distance Afghan bus through the Khyber Pass to visit Pakistan (Peshawar and Lahore). The road was rather bumpy in that direction, too. As I recall, it was somewhat harrowing at certain points with a steep drop off on one side and a mountain straight up on the other! I remember that, before we left Kabul, my father paid for a young man to go around the bus with a smoking censor to bless the bus or ward off the evil eye. I guess it worked – we had a safe trip.” – Peg Podlich. #
Mr. Bahir (Left), Dr. Podlich’s counterpart at the Higher Teachers College of Kabul, and an Afghan teacher (Right). “The Higher Teachers College was a two-year institution for training college-level teachers, located at Seh Aqrab Road and Pul-e-Surkh Road (on the west side of Kabul, near Karte-Seh).” – Peg Podlich #
Afghan girls coming home from school. “Afghan girls, as well as boys, were educated up to the high school level, and although girls (and boys) wore uniforms, the girls were not allowed to wear a chadri (burka) on their way to secondary school. Able young women attended college, as did the men.” – Peg Podlich #
King’s Hill in Paghman Gardens. “If you look at photos of the devastation of Europe or Asia after WWII and compare them with what you see nowadays or from pre-war times, you can get a similar feeling while looking at these photos from Afghanistan in the late 1960s… Perhaps looking at these old pictures when Afghanistan was a land of peace can encourage folks to see Afghanistan and its people as they were and could be. It is important to know that we have more in common with people in other lands than what separates us.” – Peg Podlich #
A residential hillside in Kabul. “For the year that I was in Kabul, my family lived in a house in Shari-Nau, up the road from the Shari-Nau Park.Ä My parents had lived in Denver, Colorado in the 1940s. My mother would say that Kabul reminded her of Denver: about a mile in altitude, often sunny, with beautiful mountains in the distance. I thought it seemed somewhat like Arizona because of the arid landscape and lack of rain. Since I was born [in Arizona], it was very easy for me to appreciate the stark beauty of the landscape there in Afghanistan.” – Peg Podlich. #
Parking lot of the American International School of Kabul (AISK). The school no longer exists, although alumni stay in touch through Facebook and hold reunions every few years at different cities around the U.S. The next reunion will be held in Boston in 2013. “AISK’s last year was 1979, so the school had a 20 year history. AISK was located on the same campus that currently houses the American University of Afghanistan (on Darul-aman Rd in west Kabul). In 1967-68, there were about 250 students attending AISK and 18 graduating seniors.” – Peg Podlich #
A mosque building stands west to the mausoleum of King Abdul Rahman — in the present Zarnigar Park, center of Kabul — which was the Bostan Serai built by King Habibullah (son of King Abdul Rahman). Today is stands as a store room for the Department of Preservation of Monuments, Ministry of Culture. #
American International School of Kabul (AISK), Senior English class. Peg Podlich is on the left. “I was in my senior year (my final year) of high school and I attended the American International School of Kabul out on Darul-aman Road. In Tempe, I had walked four blocks to school; in Kabul a school bus stopped outside our home. Jan and I ran out when the driver honked the horn. On the bus, we were supervised by Indian ladies, wearing saris of course, and were driven with about 20 kids back through Kabul, around the hill to the west side of town.” – Peg Podlich #
Jan Podlich on a shopping trip in Istalif. Jan in a short, sleeveless dress and the woman to the right in a chadri (burka). “We arrived in Kabul one sunshiny morning in June… My dad met us and was able to whisk us through the customs. We proceeded into Kabul in a UN ‘kombi’ (kind of an old school SUV). I was tired, but I can remember being amazed at the sight of colorful (dark blue, green and maroon) ghosts that were wafting along the side of the road. My dad explained there were women underneath those chadris, and that some women had to wear them out in public. We never called the garments burkas… Depending on the country, women practicing purdah (Islamic custom requiring women to cover up) wear different styles of coverings, which have different names.” – Peg Podlich. #
Young men cooking kebabs. “… Don’t get me started about the smell and taste of lamb kebobs straight from the brazier! Yum! We had a naan oven not so far from the house. That was completely fascinating to watch the baker shape the naan, make slits in it with his fingers, pick up a stick and – in a quick, smooth motion – pick up the dough, bend over the hole in the top of the oven and plunk the naan smack dab on the side wall of the oven. After the correct number of minutes, he would reach in and tug the baked bread off the wall with the same stick and pull it right out. During that operation, he did not get burned by the fire, blazing away on the floor in the center of the oven. It was almost like a seated dance, really; the movements were that graceful.” – Peg Podlich #
A Buddha statue in Bamiyan Valley- a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The two largest statues (not pictured here) were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. “That was a bumpy, rough trip, but I’ll never forget how wide and green the valley was or how monumental those two Buddha statues were, carved into the face of the cliff… The statues were a magnificent sight, even to someone like me, who did not really understand the history or technical achievement of those statues.” – Peg Podlich #
According to UNESCO, “The cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley represent the artistic and religious developments which from the 1st to the 13th centuries characterized ancient Bakhtria, integrating various cultural influences into the Gandhara school of Buddhist art. The area contains numerous Buddhist monastic ensembles and sanctuaries, as well as fortified edifices from the Islamic period. The site is also testimony to the tragic destruction by the Taliban of the two standing Buddha statues, which shook the world in March 2001.” #
Dr. Bill Podlich on a hillside in Kabul. “My dad was a professor of Elementary Education, specializing in teaching Social Studies, at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona from 1949 until he retired in 1981. He had always said that since he had served in WWII… he wanted to serve in the cause of peace. In 1967, he was hired by UNESCO as an Expert on Principles of Education, for a two-year stint in Kabul, Afghanistan at the Higher Teachers College… Throughout his adult life, because he was interested in social studies, whenever he traveled around (in Arizona, to Mexico and other places), he continued to take pictures. In Afghanistan he took half-frame color slides (on Kodachrome), and I believe he used a small Olympus camera.” – Peg Podlich. #
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