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The idiotsí guide to Pashtun


Youíve been confusing your Pashtun with your Peshawar, your Uzbekistan with your Uighuristan, your Kashmir with your Kandahar. Shiite! Canít you get it straight?!

Thereís no need to hole up with an old stack of the New York Times' "A Nation Challenged" sections to figure out whatís going on. Just head over to the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, where a primer course on Pashtun culture is being offered next week. Jesse Gordon, a political writer for the Cambridge Chronicle who regularly leads lectures on adventure travel at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, will give a slide show and lecture on Monday evening for all us current-events-challenged folks. "Here we are fighting a war, and no one really knows who weíre fighting against ó or with," he says, over the phone. "Like Pashtun.... What the heck does that mean?"

We, for one, werenít quite sure, to be honest. But Gordon was quick to answer his own question, explaining how the ethnic group spans both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and what its headwear looks like. ("The Pashtun hat is that rolled-up tan hat. Itís really quite obvious.")

Gordon, who traveled in the region in 1993 and 1994 working on projects such as a researching books for the Chinese Church of Hong Kong and a German refugee group, has prepared a sort of Pashtun 101. "Iíll be showing a set of slides ó maybe 50 or 60 slides ó that are focusing on cultural issues, ethnic appearances, and a lot about geography," he says. "Most people donít really realize what the place looks like; itís ridiculously mountainous." In between the slew of slides of his trips, Gordon ó who happily shares that heís cozied up to a Kalashnikov rifle (visit to see a picture) ó will interject analysis and explanations.

Even if youíre a slave to CNN and a devoted reader of the Times and the New Yorker, Gordon thinks he has a thing or two to teach you. "I think that watching the news, you wouldnít get the cultural stuff, you wouldnít get the ethnicity stuff, you wouldnít have a sense for what itís like to be there," he says.

He offers an example of a detail that he thinks really captures the cultural differences: "You go to Pakistan and you see these decorated trucks. They dangle bells and stuff like that. But itís not just a couple things stuck on it; the entire trucks are decorated with dangling things and bells." He pauses. "It makes you feel like youíre in a different world."

Jesse Gordonís slide show and lecture on Pashtunistan will take place Monday, January 14, at 8 p.m. at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, 56 Brattle Street, Cambridge. Tickets cost $2. Call (617) 547-6789.

Issue Date: January 10 - 17, 2002

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