From KL to Kabul
AFGHANISTAN. Mention the country, and many images come to mind, most of them probably negative. Rolling deserts and extensive cave networks. Armed conflicts and bloody uprisings. The iron rule of the Taliban.
The country is probably pretty low on most people’s travel list. Not so, however, for writer and journalist Zan Azlee, who decided to visit the country a few years ago.
No, he didn’t have a death wish. Just a keenness to find out more about the country, and what it was like living there.
Zan’s adventures in Afghanistan can be followed in Adventures Of A KL-ite In Afghanistan, a graphic novel penned by him, with illustrations by Arif Rafhan.
Sometimes funny, sometimes heart-warming, the book is a light-hearted travelogue filled with interesting situations and larger-than-life characters.
Through the story, readers will meet nosy Afghan villagers, sinister yet noble policemen, ridiculously handsome ministry officials, as well as Zebulon Simantov, the last Jew in Afghanistan.
A large segment of the book is devoted to Zan’s experiences as the first Malaysian journalist to be embedded with the Malaysian armed forces in Afghanistan. Most of the contingent, he finds, is on a humanitarian mission, with the majority being military doctors and nurses.
“The Malay word sepakat embodies everything here,” Zan writes about them. “They work together, play together and pray together.”
Most of Zan’s adventures are humorous: the author struggles with wearing a bulletproof vest, for example, and bonds with people through kampung fried rice.
Yet Adventures is also lightly peppered with poignant moments. At one point, Zan visits the National Museum of Afghanistan, with its hardworking staff doing their best to restore artefacts destroyed by the Taliban.
He also encounters a convoy of Afghan national police badly wounded by a Taliban ambush, a grim reminder of the nation’s constant turmoil.
The art style is simple yet effective, its black and white cartoon style nicely reflecting the stark conditions of Afghanistan.
The book’s main weakness, however, is that it is extremely thin, and can probably be finished in an hour.Adventures also feels majorly lacking in depth: it would have been nicer if Zan had gone more into detail regarding Afghan culture, for example.
Regardless, the graphic novel is still fun to read: a first-hand look at a fascinating country still woefully misunderstood by most of the world. Perhaps you too may be inspired to visit after reading. And, not being embedded in any sort of military operation, you probably won’t need to put on a bullet-proof vest at all.