First days in Afghanistan

I just realize I have to leave Iran today instead of tomorrow. I got an 30 day extension on my visa and I miscalculated earlier, this is the 60th day I’m in the country not my 59th. But with the help of a a local guy I get a seat in a shared taxi to Afghanistan. I sit wedged between the door and a fat lady totally oblivious to any discomfort as I closely watching every detail rolling by. After an uneventful border crossing we set out to Herat. We don’t pass that many villages, and most of the ones we do pass are abandoned, but maybe it just looks that way?

When we stop at the driver’s office I borrow his phone to call my couchsurfing host. As I wait outside on the street I notice I don’t really know how to act. Not different than in Iran I guess, but it’s just that the reputation of the country leads me to second guess myself more. I just go into the waiting room, until my host shows up on a scooter and we drive to his place. Later in the evening we walk to a restaurant and sit down in a side room, the family section where men and women can sit together freely.  My hosts advises me to wear a longer shirt and I realize even though there are no government enforced dress codes in the country it’s better to dress more conservatively than I did in Iran.

Next morning I walk alone to the center of town. I’m pretty sure I stand out, even though I’m wearing a long shirt and a head scarve, the latter is an unusual shade of turquoise, and I still haven’t managed to be able to wear it without having to constantly readjust it. But nobody seems to pay any attention to me. First thing I visit is the Friday Mosque. It’s quiet, some people hang out under the shade of the arched entryways, but the central court is empty. It gives off a very serene impression. Next I try and fail to find a place that accepts, my ATM card, not a real problem as I still have some Iranian money left. I exchange it with a guy who lived in Enschede while waiting for his eventually unsuccessful asylum application to go through.

The next day I walk around the old center. First sticking to the main roads, then I decide to wander into through the alleyways of neighborhood. It looks mundane enough, the name of famous football players graffitied on high sand colored walls, narrow alleyways turning at random point after several dozen meters. I quickly I decide it’s too much of a maze and I turn to go back. As I walk towards the main road, a man shouts a few words at me. The only thing I understand is Taleban. I don’t know if he’s threatening or warning me. Afterwards I pay a visit to a a famous collection of minarets and the old citadel which now houses a museum with brightly lit display. And my day is more and more starting to feel like a normal tourist’s day out.

The next day a local guy I’ve contacted through couchsurfing takes me to see some more out of the way sights. We visit a Sufi shrine. After being mobbed by crowd of young boys offering incense and a watchful eye over the car in exchange for a bit of money in the parking lot the shrine itself does seem like a sanctuary for contemplation and quietness. Afterwards we head out to the Jihad museum, build a local warlord to commemorate the fight against the Soviets. It features a collection of guns, including some ancient Enfield and Winchester rifles and an incredibly detailed diorama.

I’d love to take the backroads to Kabul, past the Jam minarette but several people tell me that road is now in the hands of the Taleban. Even the main road past Kandahar is too risky and I decide to fly. After a taxi to the airport I have to go through three security check points before I board a plane. It kind of feels like cheating, and I regret missing out on the beautiful landscapes that I will undoubtedly miss out on, but I guess my stubbornness has finally reached the limit of the risk I’m willing to take.