September 11th in Afghanistan is usually a non-event.  Afghans, for their part, have a remembrance day on September 9th for Ahmed Shah Massod, the “Lion of the Panshir”.  Two days before 9/11 Masood a military commander, cornered in the north of the country, but successfully defending it against the vicious wave of the Taliban was assassinated .  For Afghanistan, that was the beginning of the end, but nobody knew that then.

We were living in central Phoenix, working with refugees in the city, when we heard the news about Masood.  To us it was just a name, but a good friend of ours who had spent the 90’s in Afghanistan doing photo journalism and aide work, put his head down on our kitchen table and cried.  “It’s all over,” he said.  “The Taliban have won and there isn’t anyone else who can stop them.”  Never did we think that by the end of the year American tanks would be rolling down the streets of Kabul.

Thirteen years later, so much has changed in Afghanistan.  There were solemn ceremonies at mosques for Masood Day, but most people simply enjoyed the day off, much like most Americans enjoy a day off in February, but don’t do a lot to remember Martin Luther King Jr.  But the whole country was ramped up for Sept. 11.

Thirteen years ago there were very few televisions and even less electricity to run them.  Afghans knew the war planes from the west were coming, but had no way to find out reliable information and the fear and tension were palpable.

Tensions were running high this September 11th as well.  There is plenty of electricity and nearly every home has a television or a radio and families and friends were gathering around them buzzing with excitement.  For the first time the Afghan football team was playing in an international championship game — against four time championship winners, India.  A few weeks before Kabul hosted a game for the first time in a decade — in a stadium mostly famous for stoneings and be-headings during Taliban times (for a vivid description of the stadium in it’s darkest moments, I recommend “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hossseini).  We were happy to get a security update to avoid the stadium area — because of rabid soccer fans instead of mad men with guns.

photo from Afghans react as they watch on television the South Asian Football Federation Championship match

photo from
Afghans react as they watch on television the South Asian Football Federation Championship match

The night of the 11th I went to my friends house for our weekly girls night out of good food and Gilmore Girls (how did I miss this show when it aired?  Makes me nostalgic for that brief period in time when I was hip and fashionable).  As the sun went down we started to hear a dull roar of noise from beyond the compound walls.  Afghanistan had won the championship!  Everyone with access to a car horn was making good use of it.  Apparently, so were people with access to AK-47s as we heard gun fire throughout the night.  My friend is an intrepid Aussie and against all common sense, she loves driving here.  She was totally up for driving me home in the midst of all the celebrations, but caution won out and I stayed the night with her, enjoying my first slumber party with a friend since the 7th grade.

photo from  Kabul (and the rest of the country) goes crazy with celebrations

photo from
Kabul (and the rest of the country) goes crazy with celebrations

What a joy it was to see everyone celebrating a national victory.  Afghans needed this win on this day more than anything.  What a privilege to be here to witness the remarkable changes 13 years have brought.

photo from Afghanistan's players celebrate with the trophy

photo from
Afghanistan’s players celebrate with the trophy