Mosques, musicals, Parwan & bike baggage
June 21, 2007

Whew! I'm out of breath from dancing around my guest room in my fabulous Indian clothes while listening to "Age of Aquarius" on Elaine Page's show on BBC radio... it's the simple things in life that make me happy.

So, here's your Afghanistan cultural note for the day:

Most women in Afghanistan have never prayed in a mosque.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Nothing in Islamic law prohibits women from praying in a mosque. In other countries, there are designated areas in most mosques where women can worship, sometimes separated from the main section by a curtain or wall. By keeping women out of its 9,100 registered mosques, Afghanistan stands alone in the Islamic world. Even in Mecca, women are allowed to worship at public sites.

But not in Afghanistan.

Not that Afghanistan has that many mosques anyway... if you have been to another Islamic country, and come here, you will be shocked.

Many people here, including the Egyptian German guy I met recently, say, "Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic that is not very Islamic." And I'm understanding that sentiment more and more...

Right now, there are two *massive* mosques under construction in Kabul -- I pass them to and from work every day. One of them, right across from the 18-storey Telecommunications Ministry building (tallest building by far in Kabul), will be the first in all of Afghanistan to have an area for women to pray -- the entire third floor, in fact. Women will also have a separate entrance. The new building will be named after its late donor, Haji Abdur-Rahman. Around 10,000 worshippers will be able to pray at once when the building is completed -- and it's looking like it's going to be completed this year, for sure.

I don't know the name of the other one... it's even bigger, I think, and has a large Madrassa in the back. It's on Darulaman Road, across from the Germany Automotive Academy. The drivers tell me it's funded by the Iranians. But I can't find out anything officially about it.

Speaking of mosque construction... I hate the banner on this web site, but I do like the story very much -- it's about a US solider helping to pay for a mosque in a remote part of Afghanistan. This kind of thing (soldiers paying for things for people out of their own pockets) isn't unusual here. The soldiers I've talked to or read about -- all from various countries -- are thrilled to do such, whether it's helping to build a mosque or providing medical attention or organizing a weekly soccer game for kids or whatever.

I went to Parwan city, North of Kabul, for a big provincial-wide meeting regarding what the national government priorities should be. These "national consultation" meetings will happen in every province, including the really dangerous ones in the South, over the coming weeks. Those being consulted are elected village representatives, leaders from minority groups, Afghans running NGOs, and various others - a big cross section.

In Parwan, a quarter of the participants were women, and when divided into groups to talk about various issues (education, security, etc.), they had a LOT to say. They wore the burka to the meeting, but took it off once inside - but in other provinces, it will be all burka all the time, and in others, women and men won't even be in the same room together during discussions. This consultation meeting happened in a wedding hall - dirty, musty carpets and curtains, bathrooms too gross to speak of (I pee'd in a filthy shower - it was the only alternative I could stand. An outhouse would have also been preferable.), and food that's made me ill... Talking about restrooms is a hugely forbidden topic in Afghanistan - most women are mortified to be seen going in or out of one (I, ofcourse, wave to people as I go in the restroom at work). So, whereas, in other countries, you talk about the availability and cleanliness of toilets in your planning for a big community meeting (at least we always did back in the states), here, you just hope for the best and never say a word no matter what things look like.

Other than the retched bathroom and almost getting car sick both going and coming, my most uncomfortable moment was when one of my co-workers told me that the guy addressing the group before it broke into work groups had murdered his wife with a knife, and hardly served any time at all. Now, he's a very important provincial official. And he wears a toupee. Ah, Afghanistan... this is the same province, BTW, where the woman journalist was murdered in her home recently. My boss told us to stay away from the windows because of security threats. Let me say it again: ah, Afghanistan...

The other day, I was in the car, and we were approaching a guy riding a bike in the same direction as us. There was something jiggling on the back of the bike. What was that? It was shiny, pinkish.... jiggle jiggle jiggle... and there's some stuff packed up underneath it. Oh, now I see - the insides of a goat, with some of the skins on the bottom, packed on the back of the bike the way I pack groceries. *Lovely*. I have seen more dead animals in this city... the butcher shops keep the heap of skins from goats and cows in a pile in front of their shops for a while. It looks like a deflated animal. Which, well, I guess it is. Unlike Germany and the USA, I'd say kids in Kabul know where their meat comes from.

A shout out to Rita in Bonn and Gail in Cupertino for continuing to send me such delightful emails. And to Reb in Mexico for sending me a particularly delightful email *attachment.* And to Christine and Todd for checking in with updates on their lives and encouragement. And Sharron for her latest awesome email to me. I feed off your emails, truly.


If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.

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