Me standing on a bluff overlooking Kabul in March 2010.
This week I’m going to deviate a little from my normal posts, and instead of Tucson I’m going to talk about Afghanistan.
Although there actually is a link (if a somewhat nebulous one) between the two cities. A lot of refugees end up in Tucson, including some from Afghanistan. For Afghan refugees this is really the perfect city for them to call their new home because one of the things that surprised me the most about Tucson when I moved here is how much it reminds me of Kabul.
Now, obviously there are many more differences than similarities between the two cities, but there were enough things that reminded me of Kabul to bring the comparison instantly to mind.
Most of you out there might be wondering right now, “What on earth was she doing in Afghanistan?” and that is a valid question. I traveled to Kabul in March 2010, almost two years ago now, as part of a trip to learn about women’s issues there. The trip was arranged by the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange, as one of their Reality Tours. Reality tours espouse responsible and educational tourism, where participants can really dive into one particular issue in one particular culture and really get to the heart of the issue, while learning a lot about the culture and country along the way.
I chose to go to Afghanistan for two reasons (one slightly more self-serving than the other): One — I had been interested in what was going on in Afghanistan for a while and following all the news coming out of the country very closely. This led me to want to see what was really going on, what Afghanistan was really like beyond the war. And two — It was just one of the cheapest trips offered. My initial choice had been the trip to Iran, but that was more than three times more expensive and I was earning minimum wage at the time. So I went to Afghanistan, and I haven’t looked back since.
The first, and most obvious, similarity between the two cities is their relative proximity to mountains. Kabul is at a higher elevation, but neither city is far from mountains. Also, there are some small mountains (hills?) that actually go through the city, and these mountains look exactly like the ones to the west of Tucson, like “A” Mountain.
A small village nestled into the foothills of a mountain range just north of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Now, another striking aspect shared by the two cities is their most popular choice of building material, as well as how they build. In Tucson many structures are constructed of adobe, and many houses are surrounded by adobe walls with a gate for access. In Afghanistan most houses are called “compounds” (at least by Westerners) because they are always surrounded by a high wall, sometimes of adobe-like mud (especially in older parts of the city), and sometimes merely metal or cement, with a large metal gate for access.
A brightly painted gate giving entrance to a compound in an older neighborhood in Kabul.
Another similarity between Tucson and Kabul is both cities’ tendencies to flood after every rainfall. However, this also leads to one of the most glaring differences as well, because Tucson has paved roads while very few roads in Kabul, or anywhere in Afghanistan for that matter, are paved. Most are dirt, and then turn to mud, and mud lakes, when it rains. Also these roads cannot be called “smooth” by any stretch of the imagination. Every drive was like riding a jolting roller coaster.
A typical road in Kabul after rain.
Now, in addition to the unpaved roads, the next biggest difference is the air quality. After Kabul I will never take fresh air for granted again. Pollution is a big problem in Kabul. There are a ton of cars, the roads are dirt so traffic is constantly kicking up dust, there is no heating so people burn trash and other things to stay warm, trash is everywhere, and so forth.
Really, however, the dust is the biggest problem. It’s so bad that rain and mud are actually much preferable. By the time we left most of us had picked up a cough and sore throat from it, I actually had a fever for a short time and was sick for about a week after coming home. Even constantly holding my headscarf over my mouth the last few days didn’t help filter it out. One of the main reasons for this, in my opinion, is the lack of plant life in the city. There are precious few places in Kabul where people can go to be in a garden, on grass, or around trees. That is something else I never take for granted anymore.
All those minor problems aside, the trip was simply amazing because we were able to meet so many wonderful people.
I’m often disappointed when I try to tell people about my trip because they have such a hard time seeing past the constant frame of war. There is much more to the country than the war. That is why I am in LOVE with this video, because it shows the beauty of the country and the people. This video is the Afghanistan I saw, and this is why I love it so much.
By Augustin Pictures (Luke and Salome Augustin), shot in Mazar-i Sharif and Kabul, Afghanistan