Saturday, March 17, 2007


Yesterday (last Friday actually), Phoenix put on an “Afghan Cultural Day.” The highlight was the Buzkashi match. We were told in our culture class that buzkashi was the forerunner of our modern game of polo. OK, I can see that. You play it with horses and the object of the game is to get the, uh, “ball” into the goal. However, unlike polo which is played with mallets and a ball, buzkashi is played with your hands and a dead animal; either a goat or calf. Yesterday’s game was played with a dead calf. Of course it’s gutted and it’s head is cut off but everything else is there.

So here are the basic rules of buzkashi. The dead calf was dropped at one end of the filed. A mob, literally, of 25 horseman then rushed the carcass attempting to reach down and grab it. The horses are pushing each other around trying to get their rider as close as they can. The rider has to lean all the way over in an attempt to grab the carcass, then lift it up and hold on to it for dear life. We actually saw horses biting each other and even rearing up on their hind legs in order to push the others out of the way. It was pretty physical. Someone commented that PETA would have a fit if this game were played in the States.

The rider will then lean to the opposite side of the carcass, just to hold on, wrap a leg around it to hold it against the horses body and then attempt to gallop to the other end of the field. Once there, he has to ride around a flag mounted on a pole and then ride back to the other end and drop the carcass in one of two rings painted on the ground. If he’s successful he wins a small cash prize. Of course the other riders are attempting to prevent him from doing all of this. They would try to push him out of bounds, try to get him to drop the carcass, anything to lose control. If it was dropped, the mob would again converge around the carcass in an attempt to pick it up.

When these guys were riding down field with the carcass they were not paying a lot of attention to where they were. One rider was in a tug-of-war with the one with the carcass. Neither one was paying attention to where they were going and almost ran into a huge cement pillar on the side of the field. Other riders almost ran into the ambulance at one end of the field. Another group almost ran into the spectators on the side of the field. That was funny. This poor SGT kept yelling through a bullhorn that all military personnel had to move back from the field to a designated spot. Did anyone listen to her? Of course not! But, as soon as they almost got trampled by the horses, boy did they scramble fast to get out of the way. After that “we” kept a healthy distance from the edge of the field.

It was funny to listen to the soldiers around me talking about how the rules could be improved this way or that way and how the game needed a little “Americanization.” I thought to myself that this game has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years and I’m sure it has its own set of rules, albeit not apparent to us.

During “half time” a flute player and a drummer took the field and entertained us with music. The referee jumped up and started dancing. It was pretty funny to watch him gyrating to the music. While the music was not to my particular taste it was interesting to listen to.

Then, not to be outdone, a young man and a friend began playing an accordion and a drum. The accordion was much more pleasant to listen to. One soldier dropped a dollar in the lap of the drummer and that opened a flood of dollar bills that descended down upon these guys. I’m sure they were happy to earn a little extra cash.

During half time I had a chance to look at the different players. One was dressed in a 3-piece suit. I was a little surprised to see that but figured it was his way of being civilized – sort of like an English polo player. OK, not really, but I was surprised to see him in a suit. Most of the others had leggings made of sheep skin or some other heavy duty material. All had boots. I even saw one guy who had on high-heel boots. Those heels must have been at least 4 inches tall. I wasn’t quite sure how he was able to get around in them but he managed. Others had coats that looked like they had been made from quilts. Most had hats that reminded me of something that you’d see Ghangis Khan wear.

This demonstration was individuals playing. We were told that when teams play the object is the same but that obviously played as a team. Someone asked if they pass the carcass back and forth but I didn’t hear the answer. I’m not sure how that would happen with very much ease but I suppose it’s possible. It would have been cool though, to see how the teams would play offense and defense, depending on who had the carcass.

Towards the end the chow hall brought out beef kabobs, rice, flat bread, cucumbers, onions and green peppers as well as fruit. It was a typical Afghan meal and was quite tasty. Later that afternoon, a band of local musicians was playing music. They were quite good. I didn’t take any pictures of them as it was too dark where they were.

All in all, it was an interesting day to be at Phoenix. I saw something that I’ll never forget.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I don't know why this isn't televised by ESPN--that is an amazing sport!