Ok, well, before I bury myself under a huge pile of shit I’m gonna backpedal a little and make my claim not about Afghanistan as a whole, but about my very limited impression of its capital city – Kabul. Now I’ve been here for about four weeks, so it is of course high tide for my oh so valuable evaluation of the situation as a whole (meaning only certain very random aspects of it. of course.).
Oh, the hell. Think about all the images of Afghanistan you have seen so far (try to dismiss the ones about war) and tell me what you think of. Forests and green pastures? Rivers and flowers and shit? Yeah, no. Most probably not. Cause land is bleak, y’all. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very beautiful, but in a very grey and beige sort of way. Kabul looks like it had been a desert in between some rocks and people decided: nice place for a city! So a city is. But it seems like all rocks and stones and earth and stuff want to remind you: we’re still playing desert here. And there is dust EVERY-effin-WHERE. Often it is visible in the air, but you mostly notice because it creeps in everywhere. Literally everywhere. After a few days everything is covered in a thin layer of grey/beige dust. Even inside of a box, cause this dust here knows how to find its way. It’s partly impressive, partly annoying (not to mention you have to wash your hands a gazillion times a day cause every time you touch something you, well, touch dust).
The color green (color of Islam, y’all) is kinda missing in action here in Kabul. At least that is what it looks like at first glance. Houses, or rather compounds, present themselves as mini-fortresses all walled and fenced in picking up the ever popular color-scheme of grey and beige and brown. Bu-hut! Once you enter a compound usually a pretty surprising oasis awaits you. Our compound hides a beautiful garden in the backyard. Complete with flowers, zucchini, apple trees and a lawn. And it is very common, several houses that I’ve visited so far exhibit the same secret garden within the confines of their compound walls. There is a beautiful restaurant called Le Jardin du Taimani where you have to pass by 5 or 6 walls ‘til you find yourself in a vast and lush garden (and I was told that most restaurants have that, some even more beautiful).
Burqa: Not all women in them
I guess when most people think of Afghanistan, they think of women wearing the burqa. Granted, I see some of them every day, but not wearing a burqa is way more common. Also granted, there is no women not wearing the Hijab, a veil to cover her hair, at least partially. Indoors at the office e.g. you will meet Afghan women without the veil, but not so on the streets. I suspect that once you get into more rural areas the sight of a woman on the street and of a woman on the street not wearing a burqa will be much rarer. But for Kabul, there is little burqa but much suspicion on my part that the image of women in Afghanistan that I constructed in my head – and the ideas that I had been fed with throughout several conversations and trainings – needs a substantial adjustment. I’m very “better don’t start a conversation cause it might be misinterpreted” (really, you have no idea how much every sort of training and book and documentary etc tells you as a western man that you should absolutely not randomly start a conversation with an Afghan muslima) so especially in the office I still have trouble figuring out what is acceptable and what is not. And my impression is: there is a lot more acceptable than I initially though. So they probably all think I’m really weird. And coming here with a head full of feminist ideals it feels really weird to be all cautious and gender-segregating. I’ll monitor the progress of this shit and let you know.
Violence: Lurking (apparently)
Ok, besides dust and burqa the most prominent images of Afghanistan are those of war and Taliban and death. And just a few days ago on Massoud Day (a Mujahedin who advanced to national hero status, read more HERE) a suicide bomber killed five other people while people of Pashtun ethnicity celebrated, went into a quarter where mostly people of Hazara ethnicity live and killed a shopkeeper because they didn’t find it appropriate that he would not close his shop in honor of Massoud. They just gave him a blow on the head with a wooden stick and he was dead and then of course the Hazara went after them and killed a policeman (I think). I heard gunshots, sitting on my terrace, because we were not allowed to go out. That’s called “white city” which pushes all my wrong buttons concerning racism and colonialism, but the hell.
It’s just really crazy to hear that and hear about what happened. Cause let’s face it – these people have witnessed basically nothing but war for the last 30 to 40 years. With three quarters of the population being under 25 that means that all Afghans basically know nothing but war or at least times of violent conflicts. I don’t encounter it personally – except for armed guards at my office and the supermarket I shop in, and the streets I drive through, and the hotel-restaurant I go to… ah well, you get the point – but it is kinda scary to wonder about basically everyone you meet how far they would go if a conflict would occur. One of my first days here I saw a kid of maybe 15 beat another one with a wooden stick. These were obviously two groups of school-kids and stuff like that happens between boys of that age everywhere in the world. But how often does it happen here? I’m afraid that it is very common, and for me coming form basically safe old Germany that is plain crazy.
Excitement: Small things
I’m not allowed to walk in the streets. Not even down the street to buy a Pepsi. I am picked up by a driver in a car no matter where I want to go. Sneaky as I am I kinda bent the rule on this one and had a little walk with Afghan colleagues from a lunch-restaurant to our office. It was basically two minutes walking down the lamest of streets. But lemme tell y’all: I was super excited. Both in a “oh, that’s how that looks and feels” and a “hopefully I don’t get shot” kinda way. Of course I didn’t get shot, because while I think there is a higher tolerance for violence, I think that 95 percent of the population have no interest in seeing me killed whatsoever (and the other 5 percent probably aren’t either). But such a random thing like just walking down a block becomes such a delight all of a sudden – it’s kinda heartwarming. And batshit crazy.
And yep, that’s my sum-up: Heartwarming and batshit crazy. Xept for some stuff, I really kinda like it here.