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Monday, 22 September 2008

Afghanistan 1977

By Pat Temiz who writes a community information website, Fethiye Times, for ex-pats living in southwest Turkey.

In June 1977, I was on a bus with around 24 other people from a whole range of nations. We were travelling overland from Delhi to London, though I was scheduled to get off in Istanbul.

The bus had advertised itself by parking in the centre of New Delhi with a sign that said “Delhi – London via Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and all points west.” The passengers were from Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Holland, Germany, America, Canada and the UK.

The owner/driver was from London and had made the trip many times. He had camping equipment so when it was too expensive to stay in small hotels we could camp and cook for ourselves. In Pakistan we camped not to save money but to avoid being hassled by locals catching their first glimpse of “liberated” women – by which I mean women not prepared to hide underneath an all-encompassing garment.

As we left Delhi in early June when it was incredibly hot, none of us looked forward to having to having to “cover up.” But we did in Pakistan so as not to offend the locals, wearing loose cotton baggy clothes and, when the circumstances demanded it, even covering our heads with cotton shawls.

We spent a week slowly crossing Afghanistan. The hardest part of that journey was a night drive, to avoid the heat, through the desert from Kabul to Kandahar.

Another day, we slept during the night and awoke in daylight when the bus stopped at the back of a traffic jam. All we could see was an impenetrable wall of highly decorated Afghani trucks and other buses, totally blocking the road.

The co-driver of the bus, with a smattering of local language, went off to investigate and returned to tell us that a truck had ploughed into a large flock of sheep crossing the road. The owner of the flock, assisted by his fellow villagers, had stopped the truck and blocked the road while they waited for a local judge to come and view the scene. He would decide the amount of compensation to be paid for the dead sheep, and then the road would re-open.

From our bus, we could see Afghani men in shalwar kameez (long shirts and baggy pants) and turbans – dark-haired, wild-looking men with every single one of them sporting a rifle slung over his shoulder – and not a female in sight.

The road was slightly raised from the surrounding open fields and the males from our bus joined the Afghanis in walking out into the fields to urinate. But what about us women, also desperate for a bathroom, having just woken up on the bus? A male, American passenger had a plan.

All the men got off the bus and formed a circle with a gap at the bus door. We women (all with covered heads) went down the bus steps and filled the centre of the circle. Then the whole circular mob slowly shuffled down the bank from the road and into the field. Once we reached a respectable distance from the road, the men, who had been facing into the circle, smartly turned around so they could keep an eye on Afghani observers and give us females some privacy. We all squatted in the circle and did what we had to. Then the circle slowly shuffled its way back to the bus.

Eventually the traffic started to move and we made it to Kandahar where, following the events of that morning, we all voted for a rest day.

The next day we continued to Herat, our final stop in Afghanistan. It was Friday, the Muslim holy day and I desperately wanted to take a look at the city. I dressed in a long baggy shirt and wide baggy cotton trousers and draped a shawl over my head, convinced I could thus walk around without offending anyone. I had lived for four years in Turkey, a Muslim country, and felt that I knew how to behave around Muslim men.

I was walking along a street when I glanced up and saw a vision approaching. A tall man all dressed in pristine white. The usual long shirt and baggy pants, but his were freshly laundered with not a crease in sight. His turban sported a starched ornament on the front pinned with a jewel, and he walked with a swagger holding a long black carved staff with a silver head.

For a moment I stared at him, then remembered where I was and looked down at the ground again. He passed me and I hit the ground as he whacked me across the back of my knees with his staff.

It really hurt, brought tears to my eyes, and took a few moments before I could get up and stumble off in the direction of the guest house where we were staying that night. Of course, I had offended him by catching his eye.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


That's a scary story!

We really need to appreciate our freedoms. I visited Morocco years ago and saw young female eyes peering out from their slit with longing and saw old eyes looking with hatred. It must have always been hard to be female in a Muslim country, but with their new knowledge of how the rest of the world lives it must be terrible.

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