Last night I received a text from the girl I was staying with, it was about 6pm and she asked if I could find somewhere else to stay. I’d been staying with her for the past four nights and her hospitality had been swell. I had been given my own room, with a massive bed and a bathroom, it was a little (a lot) cold because the building hadn’t turned the heating on yet (0 degrees outside), but sometimes she let me huddle by the heater in her room while we talked about careers, cultures and boys.
She wanted me out a night early because she had made plans for the next day and there was an issue with keys or something – I don’t know – but it came as a bit of a surprise for me. Well, a sudden inconvenience really, because it’s not like I could just pick up my bags and stroll down the street to find a hotel. I’m in Kabul, and as a solo female tourist with a 70-Litre backpack, I’ve had to rely on the kindness of strangers to avoid danger and kidnappings. As a woman in general, I was repeatedly told, you don’t just walk, or casually stroll la-dee-da; taking pictures and smelling the daisies. You move like you have a purpose; a place to go and you radiate with an I-belong-here confidence so you don’t get eaten alive.
My first experience walking alone was nerve racking because it was dusk and people are just so darned curious. Kids smiled and practiced their English on me, but I kind of felt like they made fun of me when I walked away because they laughed. Women passed sideways glances, and sometimes smiled which was nice, and men blatantly stared – and once kindly asked me if I was okay and needed help. I clearly looked lost.
When I received the abrupt text I was lucky enough to have been in the car of my local Afghan friend who has been guiding me around Kabul. He had just picked me up from the home of an Australian journalist who I’d only met because a mutual friend we’ve both met once had put us in contact. I went to her place because it’s not easy to just meet up for a coffee; aside from the security issues you have to consider every time you leave the house, there just aren’t really that many places that you’d feel relaxed enough to enjoy a coffee.
I’d only spent about half an hour with my journalist buddy, so I imagine she was pretty surprised to get my call 20 minutes after I left with an anxious request to please sleep on her couch. I had some options to stay with some Afghan men, but I’m finding that it’s too easy to leave the wrong impression with them, so I didn’t want to do that. I felt like I had to reach out to the only other female connection I really had. But despite her not knowing me from a bar of soap, she let me come back, and I slept on the couch by the fire and I thought ‘it’s all part of the experience’.
If you come to Kabul as a foreigner, I think it’s important to network before you get here. Speak to everyone and anyone you can find who has been or is in Kabul as a tourist or resident. You’ll find that everyone is actually very helpful, and I think it’s because it takes a certain type of person to go to a war zone and get involved in a culture so different from their own. There’s an entire community of expats over here, and everyone I’ve met so far is so down to earth and, well, fun! See! ?
But now because I’m YOLO-ing, I’ve just booked a flight to go see my Afghan buddy in another city. You know, the guy who fell in love with me over night and I wrote about… (True love doesn’t care how drunk you are)… it’s all part of the experience.