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'Roll Call' Profiles RFE/RL Exhibit At Library Of Congress

"Roll Call" correspondent Daniel Newhauser describes the "Voices from Afghanistan" exhibit at the Library of Congress. On display is a selection of some of the thousands of letters and hand-painted scrolls received by Afghanistan's most popular radio station, RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

The entire article is available here. An excerpt is reprinted below.

"Letters From Afghanistan Reveal Elegant Heritage"

Daniel Newhauser | Roll Call


Americans “will learn the human face of the Afghans,” said Akbar Ayazi, Radio Azadi’s director. “The Afghan face is not only the terrorism, the violence.”

Because of an electricity shortage that prohibits widespread television use, about half of the country’s adult population — nearly 10 million people — tunes in to Radio Azadi to hear news, information and music, Ayazi said. The letters illuminate their everyday lives and also signify a rich culture that holds dear the traditional art of being a scribe.

“Thirty years of war has not prevented the people from the tradition of writing, literacy, poetry, art and learning,” said Ayazi, who was born in Afghanistan and is now a U.S. citizen.

Though written mostly within the past few years, the letters adhere to these centuries-old Afghan traditions in both form and content. The authors include poetry, philosophical statements, folkloric wisdom and information about health before moving on to descriptions of their daily lives.

“You need to do it to show you’re a cultured individual,” said Christopher Murphy, head of the Library’s Near East section. “Manners are really important.”