Afghan pastime

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Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: With all the military and militant activity in Afghanistan, it's easy to forget the country is still a country. And as much as possible, people go about their business as they've always done. Here's an example, weekend in the capital Kabul, begin on Fridays, that's when people attend the mosque and spend time with their families. But there's another favorite past time of Kabulis, kawk fighting. The World's Aaron Schachter has this audio postcard.

AARON SCHACHTER: The sport of kawk fighting starts here, at Kabul's bird market. It's a narrow alley packed with cages, feed stores, and all sorts of birds, chicks, pigeons, colorful parrots, and kawks. A man named Mirwas pulls a kawk from under his jacket, and a wad of hundred dollar bills. He says he'll bet anyone foolish enough to challenge his bird.

MIRWAS: [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH] Some of these birds are like strong like Hulk Hogan, they could fight anyone.

AARON SCHACHTER: These birds seem more Pee Wee Herman than Hulk Hogan, yet even in this desperately poor country, some pay up to five thousand dollars for fierce kawk fighters. Hundreds of men gather each Friday in Shari Now Park, and form a large circle for the fighting kawks. Bookies wander around taking bets, two referees carry cages, which they occasionally drop on the birds to separate them. To other guys, sprinkle the birds with water. To others, fan them with small rugs. It's like sending boxers to their corners. Now at this point, you probably want to know what kind of bird a kawk is. Here's a hint.




AARON SCHACHTER: Yup, a kawk is a partridge. I'd never actually seen one before, but their not what you'd call big, muscular birds. And so, the fights are more ballet than battle. The birds peck at each other, and they twine their necks as if trying to hold a small, delicate egg between them. There's no clawing, no biting off the other guy's ear, if they had one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When one tries to run away and go to another cage, that means that he's lost.

AARON SCHACHTER: But can you tell who wins and who loses?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, when they would stop fighting, that means he's lost.

AARON SCHACHTER: It doesn't seem like much of a fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Others fight, maybe it's, you understand which one is run aways, which one is a winner.

AARON SCHACHTER: Other fights are more extreme?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AARON SCHACHTER: And sure enough, the next fight is just as sedate, though it was quicker and it was easier to figure out which bird ran away. Now, I'm not advocating blood letting, lets get that straight, but you'd think a sport that people spend so much money on, might be, well, exciting. But Afghans tell me that kawk fighting is just the tip of the ice burgh, people here will bet on any two animals they can. Rooster and dog fighting are the most popular, but on this warm, lazy Friday afternoon, it's the kawks that draw people out. For The World, I'm Aaron Schachter, Kabul.