The stargazer

This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Name: Yunus Bakshi Age: 40 Ethnicity: Hazara Province: Shamali Plains, Kabul  Yunus Bakshi, the founder of Afghanistan’s first astronomy association, is a small, soft-spoken but energetic man, who moves between a conservative family and liberal-minded friends.  Having studied in Russia, he has ...

Jeffrey E Stern/Author Photo
Jeffrey E Stern/Author Photo
Jeffrey E Stern/Author Photo

This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Name: Yunus Bakshi

This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Name: Yunus Bakshi

Age: 40

Ethnicity: Hazara

Province: Shamali Plains, Kabul 

Yunus Bakshi, the founder of Afghanistan’s first astronomy association, is a small, soft-spoken but energetic man, who moves between a conservative family and liberal-minded friends.  Having studied in Russia, he has friends who sided with the Russians, friends who spied for them, and also, friends who fought against them.  We meet in a small office he keeps ostensibly for his astronomy club, but which at any given time also serves as a base camp for one or two drifters, friends of his in some state of transit.   Recently returned emigres, or those about to depart; people generally inclined towards the life of the mind but without work; writers, filmmakers, and poets.   Here, in a dark office with a few bare fluorescent bulbs hanging from the ceiling, over small sour cherries and cigarettes, he begins…

The following are the words of Yunus Bakshi, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern.

I grew up in a religious family. Muslims, like Christians, they believe that the world was created by God and everything that we see is perfect, and nothing is change-able — this kind of idea.  And in Islam it is stricter because you don’t have the right to ask the cause of the creation of the universe.  But when I read my first articles about the universe, it started some kind of mixture inside of my mind.  I discovered that what the religions were saying is completely wrong. 

And I feel that this kind of question could exist in the mind of every young Afghan.  But on the other hand I discovered that if you learn more about the universe — if you know that besides the earth there are many planets, hundreds billions of the stars — then you as a human, as a Hazara, or Pashtoon, you’re not even a tiny grain on the vast shore of the universe.  And this has a very good application: to accept the differences in the world, accept the other peoples, accept the different ideas, different colors, religions, everything. And that to my mind was a very good means to change the people’s minds, to teach Afghans that we should live in coexistence with the other people in the world. 

We are not the only or the best nation, or the best people, in the world.  We are the same as Americans, or Russians, or any other people.  And the people who were introduced to astronomy, their mind definitely changed completely about this.  For example, most Muslims think that, ‘it’s ok if we don’t have financial ability, or if we’re poor, because we will have a good life in the afterlife in the heavens.’  But when you read astronomy you begin to understand that everything that happens in this world is a result of our actions.  God has no interference in our future or in our actions. The only one responsible is you.  And that forces you to make changes for yourself.  That helps you to manage your life in a better way.  I think, to my mind, this is the best benefit from astronomy. 

Since the announcement of this withdrawal date, my perception about the whole situation beyond 2014 several times has already changed.  It shows that we are not sure, in Afghanistan, what will happen. 

Even not considering the security situation, we have concerns.  For example, unemployment. Because as international organizations leave this country it automatically creates more unemployment, many people will be sacked from these organizations and will be looking for jobs.  Some of them are used to working in organizations with a good salary.

As for myself, I am more concerned about my future and my future employment than I am about the withdrawal of the international forces.  And this points to a very serious concern, if you have this huge army of unemployed young people, that in itself creates chaos in Afghanistan. Many people are ready to do anything just to feed their family. Just to keep their life as it is. 

And many people have weapons.  I don’t want to say exactly what they would do, but indirectly I want to say that some of them may even go to create some kind of gang, and this is just one of the problems. 

My main concern is my family: my children, my wife, my mother. I’m looking for a safe haven somewhere, even outside of Afghanistan, if it is possible.  Because I’m sure even if we have secure and stable government in Afghanistan, at the same time, unemployment, lack of any services, they all can create a very, very difficult situation for us.

I’m dying to give a good — even if it’s expensive — a good education to my children.  Because year by year searching for a good profession will become very difficult. I want to say that the main concern of every Afghan like me is employment, and to earn money to keep your family and a safe future.  And day-by-day it gets harder. Because day-by-day I witness my friends who before had jobs are now unemployed.  Because many organizations, they’ve already closed.  Many NGOs already left the country. 

Now I worry, if I flee the country, what would happen to my telescopes? To whom should I give them?

Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.

Jeffrey E. Stern — www.JeffreyEstern.com — is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has been published by The Atlantic, The New Republic, Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.  

 

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