You might remember this haunting of Sharbat Gula(“Afghan Girl”) by Steve McCurry for a 1985 National Geographic cover. Even after all the years, her eyes still leave me stunned and wondering what she’s seeing.
Like many of us, I’ve learned a lot about Afghanistan since 1985. I’m learning even more lately, thanks to a dear friend who’s now living and serving in Hirat as an international development contractor. This 34-year-old woman has also lived and served in several African villages, Sri Lanka and New Orleans.
Before settling in Hirat, she was in Kabul. If, like me, you’ve never been to Kabul – you might be fascinated and educated by her initial impressions:
- · Every intersection is a game of chicken
- · Many of the streets in Kabul are worse than rural roads I have been on in Africa
- · I like wearing a head scarf
- · It has been cold at night. I wish I had brought my fleece.
- · It is DRY. I am constantly drinking water and my skin is lizardy
- · It is DRY. Not a beer in sight L
- · The levels of security are unlike anything I could have imagined. I travel in armored vehicles with a driver and an escort who is armed. I am not allowed to walk anywhere outside of the heavily guarded compound. I went to ISAF which is the headquarters of the international forces who are fighting. They have PXs for each country represented and a bazaar on Fridays. To get to the drop off point required going through 5 staggered checkpoints. At that point we were allowed to walk in to the pedestrian area. We had to go through an ‘isolation chambers’ (a small room with two locked doors, you go in one door, and get a full body x-ray type body scan and then you exit the next door so only one person can go through at a time.) Once we got inside (My passport was inspected 4 different times!) we could kind of roam about. The PXs mainly all had the same stuff, boots, knives, t shirts, toiletries and LOTS of cigarettes. (of which i have not partaken ) I did get a lovely cup of espresso from the Italian café and the bazaar was great for getting those long sought after tunic style tops. I got 6 and they are light and comfy and even kind of pretty!
- · There is no clear downtown or main streets that I can decipher.
- · Huge faux opulent buildings are newly built next to crumbling mud brick structures.
- · There is rubble EVERYWHERE
- · There are still a lot of women who wear burquas in the city.
- · I am amazed daily at the ethnic diversity of Afghanis. People really look so different. Some are very ‘arab’ looking – olive skin, dark eyes and hair, some are very east asian/Chinese/Mongolian looking; some are south asian/Indian looking and there are some that look northern European with blond and red hair.
- · The guest houses we stay in are really very nice and the food is good. (lots of rice and chicken)
- · Bread is a huge oblong flat thing, probably 1-2 feet long and half a foot wide.
- · The butchers hang the goat/cow carcasses in the window with the skin removed and the head chopped off, but the testicles on display.
- · Cell phones and internet is pretty widely available.
- · You can buy everything in US dollars.
- · This is the worst jet lag I have ever had. I am still getting up at 5am and exhausted by 8pm. They say the altitude is partially to blame. I now understand what its like to be a morning person.
Thankfully, I have permission to share more of her first-hand impressions of life in this place that so many of us just know through the lens of TV reports. If she’s comfortable, I’ll share her first name for these updates. In the meantime, I stand in humble, grateful awe of our own Afghan Girl and all of our troops and contractors who and bravely and generously serving so far from Home.