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In the shadows of Bamiyan's Buddhas, it's showtime

Near Afghanistan's destroyed statues of Bamiyan, returning refugees enjoyed a cinematic treat.

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It's that scene where Buster Keaton manages to get his ramshackle homemade house off the railroad tracks, narrowly missing the path of an oncoming train, only to place it before a locomotive coming from the other direction. The train pulverizes the house. Keaton and his wife, downtrodden but arm in arm, walk off into the distance.

"That's the story of Afghanistan," says Mohammad Hakim, a minesweeper who is among the 350 or so residents who came out to the site of the destroyed Buddha statues of Bamiyan earlier this month for an evening of short films.

"Everything falls to pieces. Every time we build something up, something comes along and destroys it, whether war or fire or earthquake," Mr. Hakim says.

The setting is surreal. In the background are the former Buddhas of Bamiyan, the gigantic 115- and 175-foot statues blown to rubble by the Taliban last year as symbols of heresy.

In the foreground are a movie projector, makeshift screen, and an audience of locals. The people have gathered to watch a series of Afghan-made educational movies about women's health, landmines, and the loya jirga (the national assembly scheduled for mid-June), as well as the Buster Keaton shorts.

Up above, a spectacular cloak of stars covers the cool night of the Hazarajat, the ancestral home of the Hazara, the mostly Shiite Muslim Asiatic people who make up about 20 percent of Afghanistan's population.

The Hazara suffered cruelty at the hands of the Taliban, who considered them idolatrous infidels. In the face of a serious regional drought, many say the Taliban probably had designs on the Bamiyan Valley's lush farmlands.

Local aid officials estimate that up to 95 percent of the residents of Bamiyan province fled their homes and villages into the mountains and camps to escape the wrath of the Sunni Muslim and Pashto-speaking Taliban. Along the nine-hour drive from Kabul to Bamiyan lie countless crushed homes, burned-down businesses, and emptied villages.

Only recently have the Hazara begun trickling back from the mountains and refugee camps to their villages. They return to their shattered homes and businesses, they visit gravesites, they cry for all that they have lost. And slowly, they begin to rebuild.

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