Friday is kite-flying day. Their bright colors swirl into the cloudless blue sky. Some are shooting straight up reaching, soaring. Many are hanging, appearing motionless, stationary in an ocean of glaring blue. The vast majority are active, they dance across the sky performing loops and dives and spins, all manner of daring acrobatics.
I have lived and worked in Kabul, Afghanistan for six months now and every day I witness the incredible spectacle of this nation’s favorite pastime… kite flying. The vision is really something to behold, hundreds, oft-times, thousands of multi-colored kites stretching, reaching towards the heavens. They really are quite amazing, built of nothing but brightly colored tissue paper and bamboo sticks. Some are constructed or reconstructed of plastic shopping bags and all manner of replacement materials.
On Friday, the only day off during the week, the “holiday”, the sky is literally filled with kites. From very early in the morning, even before the sun peeks over the horizon, there is an excitement, a feeling of anticipation amongst the children as they ready themselves for the day. Small kiosks and street shops are buzzing with animated children buying kite line, spools, transparent tape (for repairs), little foil stickers for the corners of the kites and of course, the kites themselves. In anticipation of the “rush”, shops are stocked with everything necessary for the kite enthusiast. There is laughter but also seriousness…decisions have to be made, sizes, colors…do I have enough line…and of course the heated negotiations over prices. Another nuance, easily missed by the casual observer, is the sizing up of the competition. In addition to being fun, kite flying is also serious business. Kite flying in Afghanistan is competitive. My guess is that since most of the flyers are young boys and young men, there is a spirit that one must dominate. A discernable “flexing” to be the first to successfully prepare and launch, to reach higher, to perform the best tricks, to gain a solid kite flying reputation. There are even huge competitions where flyers “fight” with kites.
One of my close colleagues says, “I just don’t get the kite flying thing”, but I do. For me kite flying represents a metaphor for entrepreneurship. There is investment, planning, strategy, competition, and certainly risk. There is in almost every tree and tangled around the few power lines and telephone wires that exist, the telltale signs of risk. There are faded and shredded reminders that until skills are more developed, until one learns to read the environment, until one can coax his kite beyond the lurking danger, there is a distinct possibility for failure. Like Charlie Brown and the “kite-eating tree” from the Peanuts comic strip made famous by Charles Shultz, there is a constant element of risk…yet Charlie Brown still strives to get his kite airborne. Like the children of Afghanistan it’s the hope of success that keeps them trying to fly.
In a place like Afghanistan, which for so many years has been ravaged by wars, kites also represent hope and freedom. It occurs to me that at the end of each one of those beautiful kites are children who strive for the wind to fill their sails, for their kites to take off and fly. It is as though the kite line is tied directly to their hearts, reflecting the yearning to break free from the dusty ground, to rise up and view the world from a higher place. Perhaps with the introduction of democratic practices their hopes can truly soar.