The picture above is taken by author in February 2014 in Mazari Sharif market. As you can see women are wearing Saudi style outfits, which makes it clear that the regional players are very interested in transforming Afghanistan into their own religious and ideological belief systems.
When travelling in Afghanistan you can find moderates, democrats and also some elements of extremists amongst the Afghan society. For example in certain parts of Kabul, such as in Dashty Barchi Kabul, Pouly Sourkh or Pouly Sokhta, I found young people and young girls in cafés and restaurants dressed in western styles clothes. I saw Karaoke bars, too, and hukka cafés. I was surprised to see girls smoking Hukka in the cafés. This used to be considered very bad for girls in the Afghan society.
However in some parts of Afghanistan you do not see any women in the stores, (Bazaars) or on the streets at all. It all depends on which part of Afghanistan you live in or travel to.
Economically Afghanistan is on the verge of growth. I was surprised to see huge mansions with swimming pools that are worth $20 million or more and tall storey buildings everywhere. I am talking about $50 million projects each. So someone is investing in Afghanistan and believing that Afghanistan will move only forward.
THE LIVES OF THE ORDINARY AFGHANS
Most Afghans are selling foods or clothes; some Afghans are making handmade carpets; some are repairing shoes on the streets; and some are begging just to feed their families. It was interesting to see men baking Bulani [vegetable filled pita pockets] on the streets and selling them or making bread in the bakeries. These tasks are normally seen as only women’s jobs in Afghanistan. I did see some women selling products in Mazaar.
Children are also working. I saw many young children working from the ages of 7 and younger, selling newspapers and gum and cleaning. I was particularly touched to see a young boy, maybe maximum 7 years old, in the cold winter, sitting on the side street with nothing under him waiting for people to bring their shoes to him to shine, while he had his school work right beside him.
SECURITY IN AFGHANISTAN
I travelled the Dari Shikary road from Mazaar to Bamian where the day before, insurgents had beheaded a young man for adultery. Many youths are killed in Afghanistan for going out with the opposite sex without marriage. The night before, travellers were stopped and mugged by thieves and seven months before that more than five American soldiers were ambushed on that road. Surprisingly, according to the people in the region, the shooter is residing in Pakistan.
In addition in January more than 22 aid workers starting from UN advisors to other prominent figures were shot execution style in the Lebanese Restaurant in Kabul. Sadly two of them happened to be roommates of one of my great friends.
In every region that I travelled, I heard horrible news of a man killed last night, or someone beaten to death yesterday, or a young man hanged the night before. This is the sad reality of Afghanistan and the daily lives of the people of Afghanistan. Everywhere that I went, I saw guns and police and civilians all mixed together. People are so used to men with guns that they all move along as if there are no guns or no armed men around. It has become the norm for the people of Afghanistan. Almost every house is armed just to be ready for the worst, meaning the Taliban might come back to ambush them.
Photo taken by the author in Pouly Khomri Mazaari Sharif in January
LIFE IN THE WINTER IN AFGHANISTAN
Life in Afghanistan, especially in the cold winter is very difficult.
I travelled to Kabul, Mazari Sharif, Dikundi and Bamian, in the months of December 2013 and January 2014. I stayed mostly in the houses of ordinary Afghans. What I found most difficult was that people had no electricity and some had no proper heating system or no heating system at all.
It was amazing to see how people survive. One family boiled water and placed this hot water in a plastic water container under a blanket and they all gathered under this blanket to warm themselves. One night I woke up feeling that my brain had frozen in my skull, mainly because I had wrapped my body with many blankets, but my head was left out. Afghanistan gets very cold in the winter. Finding hot water to shower is one thing, but even if you heat up the water, you will freeze while you are showering, because most houses have no heating system.
Most people can hardly survive, because the international communities have closed most of their offices, with the result that the rate of unemployment has increased sharply. Consequently, robbery and criminal activities have also increased sharply.
LIFE FOR THE AFGHAN WOMEN
The lives of Afghan women have improved since the fall of the Taliban. There are many girls and women attending schools and Universities, and many girls and women are working in the Afghan Police Force and with NGOs. However, most women who work are forced to hand over their paychecks to the authoritative male figures in their families.
The harsh reality is that even women judges and women police officers are beaten regularly by their husbands. I saw the horrible bruises of one female police officer, who was beaten regularly by her husband, who, ironically, is also a police officer. When these abused women turn to courts, the court officials tell them it is OK since it is your husband who beat you. Just go back to your husband. When they turn to their families, they are also sent back to their husbands. Justice is always on the side of those who have more money to bribe the people in power and authorities.
Getting a divorce in Afghanistan is considered very shameful, and as a consequence, many women are forced to stay with their abusive in-laws and husbands. I met another Afghan woman who works for an NGO. She has two sons. One of them is just a three month-old baby which she takes with her to work, and her mother travels with her to take care of her baby when she is working. Her husband also works for an Afghan organization, but he does not support her or her children. His condition is that when she stops working, he will provide for them. Until then she has to provide for the entire family and the remainder of her salary should be given to him. He actually makes her give a detailed explanation of where she has spent her salary.
I hope this article has shed some light on what life is like in Afghanistan. In the next article I will discuss the upcoming election, which will be held in early April 2014.