I love the internet. The internet is a good, solid thing. Helpful. Enabling. Full of idiots sure, but more importantly, full of legends. Here is one of the legends who I contacted via Couchsurfing.com after seeing he’d spent some time in Afghanistan recently. In particular he had stayed with one of the Afghans I plan to stay with.
I asked him what it was like from his perspective visiting as a foreign tourist, what it might be like for me as a female foreign tourist, and just any other general advice he could give.
What he replied with is all very interesting, helpful, thoughtful and terrifying. So I thought I should share with you all.
Glad you contacted me and I hope you’re well.
I can only tell you about my experience at the time I was there. You should always check what’s going on in the cities you plan to go a few days before going there, for your own safety. I was in Afghanistan for two months, I’ve visited a few cities, some safe, some not. It really depends if you’re only planning to visit Kabul or if you want to visit other cities too. Before entering Afghanistan, you should learn a bit of Dari, learn about the country and about what to do in case of or to prevent kidnapping, bombings, etc… (Better to be prepared, that’s what I did!)
Obviously, being a girl in Afghanistan would be a very different experience. Most of it, because for me I was able to grow a beard, wore local clothes so I could pretend to be like any other Afghan person. You should have no problem in Kabul, as women are more free than other cities in Afghanistan. You should also ask yourself, do I look like an Afghan if I put a scarf over my hair? If the answer is yes, then no problem, go to Kabul and learn about the country and its culture. You won’t see much historical sights or special places. Afghanistan is not for that at this time. It is all about learning about everyday life and how people live in this country. If not, then it’s more complicated because people might be able to recognize you as a foreigner. The main goal in Afghanistan is to keep a low profile and not to be seen as a foreigner. Even though, always try to change directions, not to be followed or kidnapped; avoid embassies, government offices, police checkpoints, hotels and popular restaurants for expats as all of these are big targets. If you don’t look like an afghan it will be harder for you to be by yourself in Kabul. And almost impossible to visit other cities unless you wear the traditional dark blue burka. Then you’d be fine.
Traveling by bus, taxi or land roads, you should always check at the time of your departure what is the current situation. For me it was mostly good, but again I did look like an Afghan. Much harder if you don’t and if the policemen see you as a foreigner. Some taxi drivers are known to sell tourists or foreigners to Talibans in exchange for money.
Anyway, if all of this does not discourage you to come, then come here, learn about the country, be careful, learn about what you can’t do as a woman in Afghanistan, so you don’t make any mistake before entering the country, and be prepared to be amazed and to learn more about life, humanity and yourself than any other country could ever teach you.
All the best.
*name has been changed for privacy