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The Afghanistan You Don’t See on TV

Community Highlights Asia The Afghanistan You Don’t See on TV

So, Afghanistan is a backwater of medieval clan leaders fighting to resist any attempt to modernize their country, educate girls or limit their opium growing, while they are blowing up government buildings in Kabul… right?

Private Security Guard

Private Security Guard

The conceptions of Afghanistan are clearly created by the news – war and terror sells, and so are that the only things you hear about. Trust me, real Afghanistan might be a conflict zone, but there is a lot more it than Kandahar and Helmand.
“Afghanistan is a fantastic place to travel if you don’t die,” as I told a friend over Skype. This blog entry is therefore dedicated to the fantastic travel bits of Afghanistan and not the dying bits… And anyone who has been to Afghanistan not wearing a M16 assault rifle will know that the country’s biggest draw is its people.

Karokh Fields

Karokh Fields

Already before I’d gotten my entry stamp, had multiple people welcomed me to Afghanistan and pointed me in the direction of a trustworthy driver who could take me through 15km of Taliban-land and on to Herat. And what a welcome that driver gave me to the country!
Suddenly drinks and snacks were included in the fare, before going out of the way to pick up his English speaking nephew who could act as guide/translator. The hospitality continued when I was invited for a giant dinner and to sleep in their apartment instead of an “expensive hotel”.
Next day was spent on a drive to their home village of Karokh where I got lunch (picnic style) and visited a farmer, who not only invited us for tea, but also showed us around his fields giving tasters of about everything.

Afghan Farmer Washing Grapes

Afghan Farmer Washing Grapes

This display of hospitality is by no means exceptional. During my five days there I was invited for lunch seven times - every time just because I happened to be in a shop, at a sight or in a workshop around lunch time. Even the guys at the bus office got me lunch when I walking in to buy a ticket.

As anywhere in the Islamic world, guests are seen as a gift send from God. But in Afghanistan guests are so rare that they go out of their way to welcome us. Though Herat is the second biggest city in Afghanistan the number of foreigners is ridiculously low.

Islamic Students Posing

Islamic Students Posing

People like me, who just walks the street with no bodyguards or translators, are extremely rare because everybody working there for a longer period of time will be driven around in their own bulletproof four wheel drive with little local interaction.
Individual tourists are actually so rare, that most people stared at me. Some with suspicion, others with all out joy – and in the case of the latter the stare was usually followed by a laud “Welcome to Afghanistan!” or “Where you from?” or “What are you doing here?” Most people though, had surprise in the stare they gave me…
The only way to deal with it was to put a big smile on my face, put my right hand over my heart (traditional greeting) and welcome any stare with “Asalam Allaykom” meaning ‘Peace be Upon You’. This very traditional Islamic greeting would usually turn even the most suspicious look into a friendly smile.

Sultan Hamidy, Glassmaker

Sultan Hamidy, Glassmaker

Add to the friendly population in Herat a bazaar area that have been standing since medieval times, a huge citadel and one of the Islamic World’s most beautiful mosques, and suddenly Afghanistan’s second biggest city is very well worth a stopover is you happen to be in the neighbourhood… Especially if you like tea, because just about everybody who had stared at you, welcomed you, sold you something will before anything else offer you a cup of tea.

Herat's Friday Mosque

Herat's Friday Mosque

By tradition any host must offer a cup of tea to a guest or customer (and the visitor is expected to drink it) before they begin to talk about business or anything else.

With this the extreme hospitality continued unabated and the hardest part of dealing with the Afghan population is actually to make enough time to see everything you want to see without being sabotaged by tea, lunch-offers and general friendliness.

This featured blog entry was written by askgudmundsen from the blog Asia Less Travelled.
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By askgudmundsen

Posted Sun, Jul 14, 2013 | Afghanistan | Comments