KABUL — US children's television favourite Sesame Street came to Afghanistan this week with the launch of a new series featuring familiar characters like Elmo and Big Bird.
"Baghch-e-Simsim" made its debut on a local TV channel Thursday and aims to improve education for children in the desperately poor, warring country.
It features Sesame Street's typical mix of Jim Henson's Muppets and short educational films and its initial run is for 26 half-hour episodes.
But some of the most familiar characters from the original show had to be cut from the Afghan version for cultural reasons, including the trash-loving Oscar the Grouch and The Count, a vampire maths whizz.
"Oscar the Grouch I had to minimise because his passion for trash did not translate well culturally here," the show's Afghan-American producer, Tania Farzana, told AFP.
As for The Count, she added that his fangs and fondness for bats would have proved problematic in a conservative, Islamic society like Afghanistan.
Producers also had to scrap a scene they tested in which shock-headed duo Bert and Ernie barked at each other.
"I can have them do lion sounds, rooster sounds but doing a dog is not acceptable," Farzana said.
"One of the worst words you can call someone in Afghan culture is a dog so to have kids barking like one is going beyond the line of what's right."
Farzana added that, unlike the US version of Sesame Street, dancing was not encouraged on the Afghan version.
Such activity in front of the opposite sex is seen as overtly sexual in Afghanistan, so Afghan children watching the show are encouraged to exercise to music instead of dancing.
"That way I don't get reprimanded by the parents because it's exercise and who can disagree with that?" Farzana said.
It is not the first time that the Sesame Street format has been exported.
A version of the show came to neighbouring Pakistan earlier this year, funded by the US government's international aid agency USAID, while co-productions have also screened in Bangladesh, Egypt, Mexico and Russia.
The latest version is a joint production by Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation behind Sesame Street, and Afghan television station Tolo.
"Teachers here in Afghanistan will discover that Sesame Street can help children start school well prepared," said the US ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker. "Perhaps most importantly, it shows children the world around them."
Afghanistan's deputy education minister Mohammad Siddiq Patman said he believed the programme would "depict traditions, culture and other aspects of Afghan rural and urban life" and would be "profoundly useful" for children.
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