What makes me happy? Not a mahram
May 18, 2007

Things that make me happy in Kabul (not in any particular order): Thursday night is party night in Afghanistan, since Friday is most people's only day off. At Friday breakfast with my breakfast buddies at Assa 2 a while back, an Aussie at our guest house who lives at the end of the building told us he was awakened that morning at 4 a.m. by voices from a nearby compound singing, as loudly as possible, the chorus of "Why, Why, Why, Delilah?" Ever since, it's become the theme song of the Westerners at Assa 2 - any one of us will sing or hum the chorus at any time. Particularly Walter, my Belgian co-worker, who used to sing "So this is Christmas, and what have you done?" at any time. But it still hasn't replaced Rob's favorite song to sing, usually on the way home from work: "Always look on the bright side of life." Needless to say, the Afghan drivers think we're insane.

Why, why, why, Delilah... is it stuck in your head yet?

Last Thursday night, an African guy here hosted a party on our roof. It was fun - I got to open the bottle of wine I brought from Germany, and talk to lots of new people. Unfortunately, the wind blew quite a bit and something set off my allergies. I ended up having to leave much earlier than I would have liked. I don't like thinking about what's mixed up in the dust of Kabul.

Friday is my only day off, so I sleep late (until 7:30 or 8) then take a long shower and scrub the heck out of my feet with a pumice stone from the Body Shop. With all the wind and dust, it's impossible to stay clean for very long, and my feet are taking a beating from the elements. Also, I can't believe how much lotion I'm going through. No wonder the Afghan woman at the Kabul airport tries to take hand and face lotion women travelers have in their bags. Then I wash all of my underwear from the week. Fun, fun. All before breakfast!

Next, it's off to the courtyard, where I order a couple of fried eggs and hang out with my "bodyguards." Our favorite subject: history. Then, it's back to my room to attempt to watch clips from the Daily Show on the Comedy Central web site and doing a clothes check (what might I need to wash, and what can make it another week?). Afternoon, I either go to Kabul Coffee House or La 'Atmosphere for lunch, or walk over with my body guards to Kabul City Center, mostly to window shop, although I do sometimes buy a movie (usually subtitled in Italian or Chinese, whether I want it to be or not).

I'm beginning to become a hard bargainer when it comes to shopping. I picked out a skirt and a top, imported from India, at Kabul City Center, and the young guys there jacked up the price over the last time I was there. I told them how much I would pay, they said no, and I took all of my things out of my bag and walked out. They kept saying, "Are you mad? Are you mad?" I said no, but that I wasn't going to pay those prices. I found out later they had been doing that to all the non-Afghani women who had come in that day. I'm actually willing to pay more than Afghani women pay, especially when the products are produced locally - but that was robbery for stuff made in India for which they paid probably a dollar each.

I hate contributing to the image of the bitchy Western/non-Muslim woman, but you have no choice here - to be your usual smiling, friendly self, however professional, is to invite advances and much higher prices.

"If Afghans wanted roads and schools, they would have made a treaty with the Russians. We want an Islamic state where religion is first." That's a quote from a Taliban fighter I heard on Al Jazeera recently. A man who probably has never read the Koran for himself. But make no mistake: the Taliban are NOT the only ones dedicated to creating a fundamentalist religious state in Afghanistan. Many of those in the government right now want that as well, and the others in government are only too happy to appease them.

Afghanistan has made me even more of a secularist. I didn't think that was possible. I am now even more entrenched in my belief of keeping religion OUT of government. This quote is just one example of the dozens of things I experience every day that has made me so firm in my beliefs.

I was sitting in a meeting recently to get an update on some of our field projects, and a debate was started about a possible pay increase to a "mahram" - a male relative of a female employee who must chaperon her on any trip. The mahram isn't for safety - it's for family honor. The mahram is supposed to be a male relative the female couldn't marry - a brother, father, uncle, father-in-law, etc. Women who are forced to have mahrams by their families have their career options severely limited; travel for work becomes difficult, if not impossible, and in their work with any men, the mahram has to be present. It contributes to a second-class image for Afghan women, no matter how well-educated, and no matter what the constitution says. I didn't say a word during the debate. I was appalled we were even having to have it. The Taliban is gone, but the oppression of women in Afghanistan remains. The restrictions on their movements, their opportunities, and their rights is stunning to behold. And don't you dare send me the oh-that's-the-culture-you-can't-change-it-you-need-to-respect-it CRAP. Would you have said that to a black South African under Apartheid? Well, other than if you were Jerry Falwell.

And on that note, I think it's time to do a plug for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). "If you are freedom-loving and anti-fundamentalist, you are with RAWA. Support and help us."

Why, why, why, Delilah...

later that same day

You cannot dance to that song. Per my last post, Thomas in Paris (formerly of KABUL) sent me this YouTube link. Watching people trying to dance to "Why Why Why Delilah" is about one of the funniest dang things I have EVER seen.


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without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.

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