My first impressions in Kabul
August 9, 2004
Two weeks ago, I was asked to go on a mission to
Kabul with an international organization. I decided
through Tehran to see my relatives. Then, I flew
to Kabul via Mashad. The plane was packed with Afghans and Iranian businessmen.
I am stationed in Kabul for the next three weeks.
I know that many Iranians are curious about Afghanistan because
of the cultural, linguistic and historical
affinity between us and this country. So I’ve decided to share my first
The first and lasting impression I have of Kabul is nostalgic.
The city is familiar to many of us who remember Tehran in the old
days. Large and beautiful yet simple homes, surrounded by sunny
balconies, and Persian gardens filled with red roses and “mikhakis” in
tiny clay pots.
Afghans address you by your first name, with a “jan” (dear)
in the tail. I am therefore lovingly “Banafsheh Jan” to
all my Afghan colleagues, both men and women. I call them back
with “Jans” too, but I feel shy when I have to call
men “jans”. Altogether, my Afghan colleagues are enchanted
to have an Iranian work with them. They love speaking Farsi with
On the plane, I sat next to an old Afghan couple. They had fled
Kabul years ago, and happily settled in Mashad. They were Shias,
and they loved Iranians. Their neighbors had wept when they announced
their plans to return to Kabul.
I sat next to the wife who wore
an Iranian “chador,” but looked every bit an Afghan,
and recited in her sweet Dari accent, stories about Kabul and Herat
back in the old days. People were given free land in Kabul, and
it used to be prettier than Mashad, she told me.
This sweet old
lady made sure I got my share of airplane food whenever it arrived,
even if that meant waking me up when I was sleeping. I never
exchanged words with the husband, but he lovingly reminded his
wife to make
sure she had her seat belt on whenever the ride was bumpy.
Rugged mountains announced our entrance into Afghan airspace.
Every now and then, you’d see tiny patches of green around
small rivers or streams surrounded by a few homes high up in the
mountains. I wondered how I would make my way down to the valley
or the next “abadi” if I were stranded down there,
fixing my eyes on the imaginary trails I'd take. I wondered how
these people got there in the first place, and why.
in Kabul was unexpected, because there was no town in sight over
the high mountains and hills until we arrived. The old lady gazed
through the window, and uttered what many of us do or feel when
we return home: “boo-ye vatan amad; boo-ye
(“The scent of home; the scent of home...”)
I hardly ate on the plane, too worried about the carbs I could
accumulate having bread and biscuits. But I was reminded that the
food meant a lot as we packed it for the couple’s relatives
At the airport, we were greeted by a large picture of legendary
Afghan warrior “Ahmad Shah Masood” and old military
planes and helis grounded during the war years. They looked like
broken toys, but large ones. We drove through the Masood square,
in wide alleys surrounded by lots of tiny shops and open fruit
stands, with Farsi signs all around.
We gave way to a UN/NATO armored
vehicle just before the square at an intersection. I gazed at
the soldier on the vehicle, he gazed back until he disappeared.
wore heavy military clothes, had a big helmet on, and a big gun.
All I could see were his eyes. I had never encountered a sight
like that before.
An hour later, I heard that the international community had received
some threats. An hour later, I saw three foreign men with heavy
guns taking a stroll on the street. They looked like hired militias,
and I can tell you, their sight was unpleasant. They are new additions
to Kabul I am told.
Despite this, the international community in Kabul is, relatively
speaking, at ease. After all, this is a large city, and most threats
remain just that. So I keep to my business of working hard, and
relaxing in the hotel garden after work. A driver takes me back
and forth, as he plays Kabul radio with songs from Andy and Mansoor.
The food is great, so delicious you can eat your fingers with
it. It’s fresh, and my God, they know how to cook spinach
here. I’ve had the best Kebab at the “Shandiz Kebab
House of Kabul” and enjoyed Chinese food and dumplings. I
paid in dollars which seems to be the norm around here. The Chinese
food was better than in the U.S., and slightly more expensive!
My hotel room is small, but very clean. I have a satellite television,
a phone that doesn’t work (everyone uses cell phones here),
a small shower, but no closets. So I hang all my cloths on a hanger
which conveniently has many handles to hold three weeks supply
The room is inspiring me to live as simple as I can
while here, read in the evenings, and wake up with the sound
of the rooster in some backyard as I did at 5 am this morning.
I wish you could share this experience with me.
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