The Kabul in William Podlich’s photographs is an almost unrecognizable place — a bustling capital of modern cars, green parks, and nattily attired men and women, many wearing Western dress.
A place where women — Afghans and foreigners — could freely walk the streets.
A peaceful place where tourists, unconcerned for their safety, could take buses to the major historic sites in the country or across the border to Pakistan.
In 1967, Podlich, a professor at Arizona State University, began a two-year stint in Afghanistan with UNESCO, teaching at the Higher Teachers College in Kabul. He brought along his wife, Margaret, and Peg and Jan, his two teenaged daughters.
Podlich, an amateur photographer, recorded his adventures in hundreds of photographs that his family has shared with the world.
Podlich retired from Arizona State in 1981 and died in 2008 at the age of 92.
“When I look at my dad’s photos, I remember Afghanistan as a country with thousands of years of history and culture,” Peg Podlich told “The Denver Post,” which worked with the family to first publish the photos.
“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,” she said. “Fierce and proud yet fun-loving people have been beaten down by terrible forces.”
Clayton Esterson, Peg Podlich’s husband, who has assumed the role of archivist for the photographs, told “The Denver Post”:
“Many Afghans have written comments 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.”
”For the year that I was in Kabul, my family lived in a house in Shar-e Naw, up the road from the Shar-e Naw Park,” says Peg Podlich. “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.”
”In the spring of 1968, my family took a public, long-distance Afghan bus through the Khyber Pass to visit Pakistan (Peshawar and Lahore),” Peg Podlich remembers.
“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.”
The Bamiyan Valley (above), home to giant Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
“That was a bumpy, rough trip,” recalls Peg Podlich, “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.”
”I was in my senior year of high school and I attended the American International School of Kabul out on Darul-aman Road,” says Peg Podlich (pictured above at left).
“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.”
(Originally published by RFE/RL on February 4, 2013)