Although almost 50 years have passed since arriving in Afghanistan, Julie Hill of Rancho Santa Fe still vividly remembers her unforgettable moment of joy and discovery that she spent in this “beautiful but confusing” country.
She now shares her experiences of living in Kabul from 1973 to 1975 with her husband Arthur, representative of the United Nations Development Program, in her recently published book, “Another Afghanistan: A Pre-Taliban Memory”.
“I lived there in a time and space that no longer exists,” said Hill, 85. “This book is part of my memories and, in a way, it is part of my heritage. All of these things were in my heart and my mind and I had to let them go.
Hill’s writing style is engaging and immersive, painting vivid images of places like Kabul’s bustling Chicken Street Bazaar, the smell of lamb skewers, and the visual feast of fruit stalls filled with pomegranates and pomegranate. pistachios. Living in Afghanistan during a period of relative calm, the book shares his affinity for the country’s bazaars and carpets, scenes from his diplomatic life, glimpses of his travels across the country, and memorable interactions with the Afghan people, including the meeting of nomadic caravans and camels on mountain passes and desert tracks.
“There is a justification for a book like this, because a generation of people grew up with images of Afghanistan at war, full of bombing, bloodshed, refugees and misery,” she wrote. .
Hill was born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents. She came to the United States to pursue graduate studies at the University of Minnesota where she met her husband Arthur, an Australian. Together, they lived all over the world with missions in Thailand, the Philippines and Western Samoa before arriving in Afghanistan.
A resident of Rancho Santa Fe for over 30 years, she has traveled the world since retiring from her executive career for AT&T, visiting 127 countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia and Syria. Treasures from his travels adorn his Whispering Palms home.
Writing became a hobby after her husband passed away in 2002. She sat in front of a computer like a blank canvas and the stories of her life and travels spilled over her. His most personal work, “In the Afternoon Sun: My Alexandria”, was published in 2017.
“I love to write because it keeps my brain active,” she said.
“Another Afghanistan”, his fifth book, is taken from his diaries kept during this period.
For their two-year mission, the Hills lived in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, in a house that looked like a Bavarian chalet. They didn’t have clean water and the electricity was spotty, but in most cases it was a very privileged life, she said.
While the city was not particularly picturesque, she wrote about the beauty of the country of Afghanistan with its snow-capped mountains, dramatic valleys and the “brightness of the light from the sky.”
“The sky stretched wide and blue, the light pure and crystalline, shortening the distances,” she wrote. “In this light, no one could take a bad photo.”
Hill spoke Farsi, Arabic, French, Greek, Italian and took private lessons to learn the Dari language. She spoke very little Dari to converse with the locals, remembering in her first winter that she did not know the word for snow and described it as “very cold white cotton from the sky”.
In the book, she recounts her interactions with the extremely generous people of Afghanistan, her experiences in Kabul and on various trips, visiting hospitals and schools and, memorable, in one chapter, visiting a family with four. women.
“The local people opened my eyes so much,” she said.
The book details her time representing the UN at the Organization of Diplomatic Wives and attending diplomatic events with her husband most days of the week at the 22 embassies in Kabul. One of her funniest and favorite chapters tells the story of a dinner with the German Ambassador when she mistakenly served camel fillet.
“We couldn’t cut it or chew it,” she said. “It was horrible.”
With unrestricted travel at the time, the book shares his travels across the country, crossing the Khyber Pass, seeing Ai-Khanoum, the city founded by Alexander the Great, and the giant Bamiyan Buddhas located in the cliffs of sandstone, unfortunately exploded by the Taliban in 2001.
She wrote that she walked through the Salang Tunnel, a slightly spooky 1.6 mile long tunnel that cuts through the Hindu Kush Mountains. She recorded the emergence across the tunnel to juniper-covered hills, snow-covered peaks, streams and a valley of butterflies and bees among alpine flowers. She wrote that she could still smell the wild roses and the snow when she thought of where she and her husband had a picnic in “a slice of paradise”.
While in Afghanistan, she witnessed rising tensions between east and west, but noted that she had never heard the word Taliban or the name of Osama bin Laden. Four years after leaving Afghanistan, Russia invaded, the start of a nine-year war.
Hill has never returned to Afghanistan and in an epilogue she laments the cultural heritage and rich history of the country which has been lost due to invasions and war.
A great traveler of the world, Hill was unable to travel due to the pandemic, but she continues to mentor international students at UC San Diego, enjoying learning about different cultures and sharing her own.
After his fifth book, Hill thinks it was his last. Like her other books, the proceeds from the sale will go to the Scripps Research Institute, a place where she marvels at the work done.
She keeps a close watch on Afghanistan, faithfully reading several international news publications.
“My heart is bleeding for what is happening today,” she said. “It’s chaos and it’s misery.”
In an afterword to her book written in August 2021 after the Taliban took Kabul, she says she fears that peace will remain elusive for a long time.
“Historians have called Afghanistan a ‘graveyard of empires’. It should come to our attention today as a graveyard of innocent people and their hopes, ”Hill said. “Afghanistan has survived and outlasted the empires and conquerors who passed through and plundered it. It is a universal space and spirit that can be rock hard and soft as starlight, imbued with intrinsic worth, for if it hadn’t been for any value it wouldn’t have been so fiercely. dispute.
The book is available on Amazon.com.