Surrounded by bright-colored tissue paper and bamboo sticks, Afghan kite maker Halim Muhammadi and his children sit in their modest living room in Kabul assembling kites in preparation for the city’s flying season.
After selling hundreds of thousands of kites during the cooler months, particularly in spring when flying conditions are ideal, kite makers spend the rest of the year replenishing their stocks.
A single kite takes only minutes to make. Muhammadi, 50, expertly cuts a piece of delicate tissue paper into a diamond shape and glues it to a thin bamboo frame—skills he has honed since he was a child. He then passes the fragile object to his children—daughters Madina, 18, and Nigina, 15, and his 14-year-old son Shohaib—who adorn it with simple decorations and leave it to dry in their home.
While the main kite flying season starts in the winter and finishes at the end of spring, a breeze at any time of the year is enough to draw people of all ages to rooftops, dusty hills or cemeteries to enjoy one of the country’s traditional leisure activities.
Retailing for as little as a few cents each, kites are a cheap past-time in the impoverished country.
Banned during the Taliban’s repressive 1996-2001 regime, kite flying soared in popularity after the U.S.-led invasion, which enabled kite makers, such as Muhammadi, to reopen their businesses.
Afghanistan’s kite-flying culture was made famous by best-selling Afghan author Khaled Hosseini, whose 2003 novel The Kite Runner became a runaway global bestseller and turned into a film.
Fierce battles waged by kite flyers, who use string coated with crushed glass to cut down other kites, ensures many repeat sales for kite retailers. “My entire family, including my sons, daughters and wife, make kites [at home],” Masood, 40, a second generation kite seller, told AFP recently at his shop in the bustling Shor Bazaar in an old neighborhood of Kabul. “During the winter we sell between 100,000 and 300,000 kites. I make about 300,000 afghanis (about $4,200) in three months,” he added.
Inside the cramped kite stores in Shor Bazaar, huge piles of kites are testament to Afghans’ love of the sport. “People are crazy about kite flying here,” said Pahlwan Karim, 65, whose family has been making kites for nearly a century.
His kites are branded with a picture of a scorpion—after his kite-making brother’s nickname. “This market sells hundreds of thousands of kites every day in winter,” he added.