Written by Mohamed Ali
Five hundred years ago, in the city of Kabul, the Emperor Babu would nurture his beloved gardens. The green spaces, which contained a luscious mix of alluring plant life, was one of his favourite places to unwind when he returned from the battlefield.
As the centuries waned on, and conflict and war had besieged and ravaged the area, the Emperor’s once-proud garden became shabby and ramshackle. But now, in 2017, it has been attentively restored to its former glory.
In their heartwarming film ‘The Gardeners of Kabul’, the BBC follow the people who are determined to shape the Emperor’s legacy by maintaining the once-cherished gardens. The reporters get access to Afghans who find solace in the private gardens of Kabul as they lovingly tend to flowers and plants and vegetables using the process as a form of therapy and escapism. They make a powerful point about how humans have to adapt when they live in one of the most violent cities in the world.
One person we hear from in the film is 18-year-old Hamidullah, he allows the audience a glimpse inside the safe space that is his garden. He explains that one of the coping mechanisms that he employs in order to live a life with a backdrop of extreme violence is a passion for gardening.
“Gardening is a kind of temporary peace for the people,” he explains whilst moving a potted plant. During the civil war in Afghanistan, his family fled to Iran for their safety. When he returned, aged 10, he discovered his passion for gardening. “When we came back here I helped my father in the garden,” he says. “He showed me how to grow things.”
Hamidullah is no stranger to hardship. Upon returning to his homeland, he learned that one of his closest friends had perished after an attack orchestrated by the Taliban. “He was like a brother to me,” he said. “Part of the family.” The loss had a profound effect upon him: “I was so sad when he died, I just didn’t understand anymore. I couldn’t sleep for grief. When my friend died I decided to plant some flowers. When the flowers grew, it was like I had a new friend.”
In a place where not many people have access to mental health services or traditional therapy, Hamidullah uses the gardening to deal with a life of danger, bereavement and constant threats of violence. He is now studying pharmacology in Kabul and his story is a testament to the resilient nature of the Afghan people.
The Gardeners of Kabul is available on BBC iPlayer – click here to view it.