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Trip Report: Kabul, Afghanistan (2012)

Our trip to Kabul this time around got off to a bad start. First, I got sick as soon as we arrived. It took me out for the next three days, delaying our plans. Originally, we had planned on staying in Kabul for 2-3 days, then off to Herat for 3-4 days, and 3 days in Dubai before heading to Istanbul. Herat was the main reason I wanted to return to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, due to me getting sick and a lot of other curveballs being thrown our way, we ended up spending a week in Kabul.

Kabul Under Construction

Kabul had changed a great deal in the past year. The roads were much smoother and more construction projects had taken shape. There was far less livestock and fewer donkeys roaming the streets this time around.

The Koche-Murgho area (Chicken Street) of uptown Kabul had undergone a major transformation. The shops we had visited had been torn down completely. In fact, most of the buildings in that area were replaced with new construction projects. A new shopping mall had opened at the far end, while another was being built next door.

Koche Murgho, Kabul

Kabul Shopping Mall

I was very disappointed that this street was turning into a glitzy shopping mall district. Actually, that is where Kabul as a whole is headed and it’s not something I look forward to. I think every country should embrace its local culture, architecture, and everything else that makes it unique. Kabul seems to be imitating Dubai – replacing what is native with what is western. I don’t think any westerners will want to visit Kabul to see a miniature version of what they have at home. Hopefully all those developers will realize that before Kabul loses its essence altogether.

The markets of Lesse Maryam had been replaced by plexiglass-covered buildings. None of the stands where we previously bought shawls were around anymore.

During our walk through the area, we learned all of those beggars on the streets were more loaded than we were. A crippled man with deformed legs dragged himself around the sidewalk and asked my dad for money. My dad handed him 100 Afghanis ($2), to which he responded, “I will not take less than 1,000 ($20).” Talk about beggars being choosers! Down a few rows, an elderly beggar was counting a wad of cash. If I were to guess, I’d say he had a good 2,500 Afghanis ($50). We’d been told the majority of beggars are scam artists, and I guess this proved them right.

One of the things I found disturbing were the conditions construction workers were subjected to. They wore traditional clothing, no hard hats, and sandals instead of boots.

Construction Workers in Kabul

Construction Workers in Kabul

Can you imagine how badly they could be injured if they stepped on nails, were struck by falling objects, or the sheer amount of dust they’re inhaling? I completely understand the common folk’s distaste for the wealthy in this country. Keep in mind, many of these big construction companies are owned by high-ranking members of the government. They simply list a relative as the owner while they rake in all the cash. Don’t take Karzai’s word for it when he claims to only earn $525/month. His family owns lavish villas in Dubai, a massive complex in Kandahar, and various construction projects throughout the country are handed exclusively to his brothers and other members of the family. Compare that to the salary and conditions of the construction workers they employ.

Are these the beautiful Kabul mountains I've heard so much about?

Are these the beautiful mountains I’ve heard so much about? Nope, just construction debris.

I was happy to see the bakery we had visited a year earlier was still in tact. They have the most delicious pastries and offer birthday cakes shaped like bunnies, bears, and other cutesy stuff. What’s more, these cakes are delicious! We picked up a bear-shaped cake for my cousin’s birthday party.

Uptown Kabul Bakery

Next, we headed to a nearby toy store, where a group of gypsie children practically attacked us. They were shouting in a different language, grabbing our hands and clothes. My mom and sister were surrounded. I heard somewhere that if you shout “police!” they will back off. However, when I tried this, they turned their attention to me and got more aggressive. My mom and sister went into the toy store, leaving me to fight off a band of children. A 12 year-old boy selling gum came to my rescue and shooed the kids away. That’s right- they wouldn’t back off when I  told them to, but they listened to someone half my age. When I headed to the toy store, they began following me again. A man sitting outside the store grabbed one of the girls by the arm and told her to leave “the guests” alone. Her brother came over to free her from his grip and the man shouted at them to get lost. They did leave, but not before I got a shot of the culprits.

Kabul Gypsies

The gypsies are not to be confused with the nomadic Kochai people, who are natives of Afghanistan, travel through the rural areas, and are self-sufficient.

The Kids of Kabul

One thing that hadn’t changed were the children of Afghanistan. They are some of the happiest, toughest, wittiest, smartest kids I’ve ever met. They fill the streets, carrying around trays of gum, carts with bottled water and ice cream, toys, and more. I was happy to see this 13 year-old boy again, who continues to finance his education by running a mango cart. Given the opportunity, I’m convinced these kids could take over the world.

Kids of Kabul

Kabul Children

Kids of Kabul

Security

Even though summer is suicide bomber season, it didn’t really worry me. Regardless of what you might have read about the Afghan military and how NATO “has to stay” because they aren’t competent enough to take over security operations, that is utter bs. It was after all, the Afghan military that disarmed a suicide bomber in Mandawi during the summer of 2011, after another one had already blown himself up. It was the Afghan military that stopped the attack on Spogmai Restaurant during the summer of 2012, and it is the Afghan military that currently has full control over security in Kabul. They are doing a good job, considering the city is a constant target. As for Hamid Karzai’s insistence on a foreign presence – he realizes he may be facing a similar fate as President Najibullah, and wants to prolong it as long as possible.

Sights of Kabul

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Ariana Arghandewal

9 Comments

  1. Very cool trip report! I was in Kabul in the mid 90’s for a week and of course I went to Chicken Street, they still had some craft shops then, sad to hear they are tearing it down to put up shopping malls. I also got myself invited to an Afghani wedding which was awesome. I flew on Ariana Afghan from Dubai. LOL, I had a journalist visa which I got in Abu Dhabi using a Khao San Road press badge! Those were the days!

    • What were you doing in Kabul in the mid 90’s? I bet you’ve got some interesting stories to tell. I flew Ariana in 2011 and man, those planes are scary!

  2. Interesting read…I’m still wondering like you…what the heck was Miles To The Wild doing in Afghanistan in the mid 90’s? And how did he live through it?!?

  3. First of all, I’m a woman and yes I traveled alone to Kabul in the mid-90’s! I was pretty reckless in those days as I was single with no mortgage and bulletproof! LOL Long ago, I set a goal to visit (in depth or just technically) every country in the world. Afghanistan was both part of this plus an adventure for me and I was bummed about missing it in it’s heyday on the overland hippie trail. I was living in Dubai and the airfare was cheap. I also went to Kish Island in Iran since the only passport I had back then was my USA one and Kish was a visa free zone. I had to wear a full burqa for those 3 days and it was hot as hell!

    • That is really impressive, especially considering you went alone. Yeah, those hippies had it pretty good. My aunt used to host them in her home, and they would teach her kids English in exchange for free room and board.

      Kish Island is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world. I’d love to visit some time, but don’t know how I’d manage in the heat with a burqa.

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