Buzkashi, dating back to the 10th Century, literally means “goat dragging” or “goat grabbing,” and is a rigorous sport played on horseback. It resembles a combination of American football and polo, with the “ball” being the whole disemboweled goat, minus head and hooves and weighing about 50 pounds. The big National games can use a small calf weighing close to 100 pounds, which takes incredible strength to “grab” while on horseback.
One day I went alone to Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium, where the Buzkashi play-off games took place. I wanted to photograph the riders and their steeds. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask my hosts if it was OK or safe to do so. I was still naive to the customs of where and when it was “acceptable” for women be in public on their own. Luckily, those were still fairly peaceful times and my venture was a success, even though I was definitely a curiosity, as no Afghan woman would have wandered into this “all-mens’ world.” Luckily, many were even kind and smiled for my camera.
After hearing about my venture behind the stadium, my host D’jan took me to a national Buzkashi play-off match at the Ghazi where he had prime, center seats. He he knew some of the famous Chapandaz (professional riders) and, prior to the big game, he escorted me to a tent where riders prepared for the match. I sat on the floor opposite the entrance and, once again, I was the only woman and the only Westerner, so I caused a stir. Sitting quietly observing, I managed to take a few photos—one of which was of the Chapandaz that D’jan said was “the champion.” He was sitting right in front of me next to his father, and had a very kind face that was unforgettable. It wasn’t until recently (35+ years later) that I learned that he was Ak Mohammed, the famous National Champion.
D’jan and I thanked the riders and left the tent. We walked back across the field and entered the grand Ghazi stadium for the national play-offs. At last, I was be able to see this game in action. It was exciting to watch as horse and rider grappled for the prize in an intense combat, boots flying in the air. Across the field from our seats was an enormous billboard, hovering above the bleachers, displaying then-president Daoud’s face. For me it was an historic moment.