Can you count in Dari? Meet Afghanistan's answer to Sesame Street

Meet Zari, the Afghani muppet
Meet Zari, the Afghani muppet


    Meet Zari, the Afghani muppet


Meet Zari, the Afghani muppet 02:49

(CNN)A remarkable transformation takes place when Mansoora Shirzad slips the Afghan Muppet named "Zari" onto her hand.

The character fits snugly on the young woman's right arm like a shoulder-length glove. Though Zari is carefully designed to represent different ethnic groups and cultures across Afghanistan, she is basically a fancy sock puppet.
Zari's eyes don't even move.
    CNN's Ivan Watson talks with a Muppet.
    But in the hands of this talented Afghan performer, the puppet suddenly springs to life, with surprisingly natural facial gestures and arm movements.
    The effect is close to magical.
    Within moments, I find myself slipping comfortably into a conversation with the puppet, maintaining eye contact with Zari and interacting with her as if she were the six year old girl she represents.
    Like many Americans, I grew up watching Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster on Sesame Street, but I never imagined I would one day spend time in this fantasy world, talking to a Muppet.
    During our "interview," Zari taught me how to count to ten in Dari and sang me an Afghan song.
    I had to remind myself periodically that I was essentially conducting a conversation with the puppeteer's hand.
    Throughout our encounter, Shirzad sat on the floor with her puppet-bearing arm raised uncomfortably in the air- while simultaneously providing the giggling, enthusiastic voice of Zari.
    On the Afghan Sesame Street, Zari counts in Dari and sings.
    Shirzad -- a twenty-three year old student of music at Kabul university- has been performing with the Muppet for less than a year.
    The spell that she and Zari cast over me is a testament to the performer's talent and skill.
    My first interview with a Muppet was surreal and absolutely delightful.