As US troops plan their withdraw from Afghanistan by 2016, ending the longest conflict in American history, there are still so many things most Americans do not know about the place. They know it is different, with another culture, another way of looking at the world and it turns out, another kind of rosebush. Yes, rosebush.
If you ask any of the thousands of foreigners who have been to Afghanistan about their sharpest memories, most will probably not mention the roses that grow prolifically in just about every corner of the country. After all, the soldiers of the international forces there have other extremely important military things to concentrate on, and the other foreigners who work there are busy dealing with basic matters of survival as they try to do their jobs in a strange land. They probably did not even have the chance to see much of the profusion of roses that bloom from spring to the end of fall in Afghanistan because they usually can be found in places that are frequented by Afghans where they cannot go because of security concerns.
Afghans love their roses, taking them as a beautiful given in a land ripped apart by constant conflict. Roses can be seen lining the paths to government buildings, and, of course, in every private Afghan garden, but they also grow in empty lots, along roadsides and among the myriad ruins created by decades of war.
Now, to add insult to injury, these Afghan roses grow like weeds. They do not need the sprays and the constant attention that gardeners in other lands lavish on their roses, coaxing them with favored sites, careful watering and seasonal care that occupies hours. They can be seen hanging, roots exposed to the world, off the back of Afghan bicycles as they are transported prior to being placed next to small gullies in Afghan gardens where they will more than likely not be given any special attention as they provide hundreds of exquisite blooms. They thrive whether or not it rains, pushing their roots deep into the dusty, claylike mud that makes up most of Afghanistan’s soil.
Why even mention the roses of Afghanistan? After all, there are much larger issues to be discussed when it comes to that hot spot. The conflict into which the US and its allies was drawn after 9/11 has not stopped, and it probably never will. Border disputes with Pakistan, fluctuating international alliances, and trillions of dollars of virgin oil reserves and untapped mineral wealth that are to be had by the highest bidder, will be among the main focal points of discussions on Afghanistan for some time to come.
But it is nice to think that, in the middle of it all, the rosebushes of Afghanistan will continue to show that even in a broken place where constant war had scarred the land beyond recognition, a small, stubborn symbol of beauty and endurance continues to flourish. And maybe that is a lesson that can encourage us all.