As a student at the University of Connecticut several years ago, Ali Seraj told another student he was from Afghanistan.
"She said, 'Oh, this is very nice.' Then she asked in what part of the United States is Afghanistan," Seraj recalled.
"I decided then I would make it my business to let our American friends know about our country. But I never thought Afghanistan would have so much publicity as in these dark days."
Local Afghans, many of them refugees, gathered at McLean Gardens this weekend to explain themselves and their culture. The have joined with Americans who have lived in Afghanistan to form the Afghanistan Relief Committee, and held the weekend fair to benefit the approximately 1 million refugees who have escaped to Pakistan.
Seraj stood under a brilliantly colored tent as Afghan music sounded from a hand-held organ and drums. Before him passed a parade of young men and women wearing the traditional flowing garb of the nomadic people whose country, they say, has been overrun and largely destroyed by the Soviets.
"The music is quite strange when you get right down to it," said Edward Jackson, after polishing off a lamb kabob. He and his wife Mary Ann had come to the fair from Garrett Park, Md., because their daughter had visited Afghanistan two years ago and "she loved it."
"free Afghanistan" T-shirts, depicting a Russian bear attacking an Afghan hound, and small wool caps called gagi were on sale at the Afghan Boutique" underneath a tree.Nearby, Betsy Amin-Arsala, formerly Peace Corps volunteer Betsy Thomas, was selling boulani , an Afgahn dish similar to a fried turnover stuffed with potatoes and green onions.
And as young, dark-eyed boys played karombol, and Afghan board game, their fathers, many wearing a pajama-like peran-tomban, greeted each other with kisses and muttered about "The Russians."
The Afghan people are very warm and friendly," said Mary Ann Dubs, whose husband Adolph Dubs, American ambassador to Afghanistan, was murdered by terrorists in Feburary 1979. "But by the same token, they can be very hostile," she said, noting the determination of Afghan rebels to turn back the Soviets.
William McCulloch, head of the Washington Afghanistan Relief Committee, said misunderstandings about Afghanistan thrive in the White House. "There are very few politicians in the United States, particularly President Carter and [national security adviser Zbigniew] Brzezinski, who understand the situation there. He [Carter] doesn't know why the Russians went in, and he doesn't know how to get them out."
McCulloch spent 3 1/2 years in Afghanistan as counsel for the Afghan Ministery of Commerce during the mid-1960s. He predicted the Soviets will never completely control Afghanistan and said that ethnic civil war in the northern provinces may spill over into the U.S.S.R. and spark revolutionary fervor there.
As for the Olympic boycott, most said they were in favor of it.
"At least it shows that they [the United States] care about it," said one woman. "They [the Soviet Union] took Czechoslovakia and nobody said anything. It's something. Something's better than nothing."
Most of the Afghans at the fair had left their country long before the December invasion. But one woman, who would not be identified because she still has family in Afghanistan, described her escape through Pakistan after the December invasion. She paid a smuggler $1,000 to get her out and spent three days in hiding in deserts and on isolated farms.
Another Afghan, a 22-year-old graduate of an American college, said his parents and two sisters are still in Afghanistan and there was little he could do to get them out. He was dressed in the costume worn by the freedom-fighting rebels and held a 19th century rifle, like those still used to fight the Soviets.
He said that if he were in Afghanistan he probably would be in the mountians with the rebels. And he said he would like to return someday, but only to visit. "I'am going to be an Afghan-American. But I really miss my home. I can never forget that."