I had a strange experience today.
I was hosting Dr Masoudi, Director of the Afghan National Museum, for a quick lunch on our bit of lawn at British Council Kabul. We were discussing training for his 15 new curators, part of a programme of support resulting from the British Museum’s current exhibiting of the Afghan Bactrian gold treasures.
No-one has done more than Masoudi to conserve Afghan cultural legacy.
Those of you who know the story of how a devoted museologist secreted away Afghanistan’s most precious artefacts from Taliban hammers – that’s Dr Masoudi, a quiet national, and international, hero.
But what made the experience strange was what was going on around us on our barb-wired compound. As we ate our kebab, 30 Kabul University biology students were pottering in the flower beds, examining our indigenous flora, dissecting petals, testing soil and working out their own plant taxonomies.
Encouraging these budding botanists and environmentalists were the two directors of the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. This is a British Council higher education link which aims to improve Afghan learning and teaching capacity in biodiversity and plant conservation.
‘How arcane and recherché can you get?’ I hear you say. With all the dire needs of a ravaged Afghanistan, how can we be committing resources (modest as they are) to such floral flummery?
But what was happening in the flower beds around us was as much a rallying cry for the importance of cultural legacy as Dr Masoudi’s reclamation of the contents of his National Museum.
The indigenous species which form the landscapes and mountainscapes of this beautiful land as much constitute the uniqueness of Afghanistan as any collection of manmade artefacts.
Afghanistan has been destroyed by political crises for over 30 years, but these decades are just a blip in natural history and geological time.
And it is natural history and geological time that has created the defining beauty of this central Asian land.