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  The Chatter Box : Travel
Afghanistan by Wild in Africa on 22 November 2004 1:45pm
Anyone been recently to Afghanistan? For work, for pleasure for the sheer daredevilry of it? I may have to travel there for work in the new year so would appreciate a heads up from any others with recent experience.
Any advice (apart from no, don't do it) how to avoid getting kidnapped, what to wear in winter, where to get a beer (if available in such an Islamic society) etc
Re: Afghanistan by Godfather on 22 November 2004 10:54pm

You may or may not find some of this info usefull. But i'll put it up anyway. In 2003 i visited there as a backpacker.Crossing in through the Khyber Pass. Although the infighting has never really stopped at any time. The country was luckily in a "relatively" peacefull state (in the north) during 2003. I've re-written this reply to take out all the "Be carefull" stuff, which got way out of hand. That's not what you're looking for. But i'll leave some of that info in that is related to recent events which you will need to know about as a foriegner.

Since 2003,it has got a bit worse there unfortunately. With the very recent kidnappings of those Aid Workers there,things "may" be getting more serious for foreign visitors or workers. Of course,your average Afghans are the most friendly and hospitable people in that part of the world. Very honest and have a quiet and noble strength about them. But it's the few bad apples that are impossible to spot and to avoid. There is no way you can spot that kind of thing. So in answer to your question, there is no way to avoid kidnapping or attacks really. UN and NGO staff have always been targets (even in 2003),and several have been killed in areas outside of Kabul,heading down to the areas south of Ghazni and towards Kandahar (which is the Taliban heartland). That part of Afghanistan is pretty much the most dodgy place to be a westerner.

What i will say,is that i consider many of the foriegn workers there more at risk than your average traveller. Though this is because most of these foreign workers make it much harder on "themselves" (imo) by trying to live in a cultural bubble (which is causing resentment amongst your average Afghans who see these people living in comparative luxury), and insisting on travelling around in bright white landcruisers with big letter UN stamped on them). Their guards armed to the teeth,and tearing around the streets amid a flurry of security,flashing lights,sirens,etc. Basically, a way of saying - "HEY LOOK AT ME. I MUST BE A VERY IMPORTANT TARGET THAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO TAKE A POT SHOT AT!!!". It's quite comical at times, and some of these people think they're more important than they actually are.

At the end of the day,there is no way to guarantee your safety if you're either a traveller or a worker. You may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eating wise; nearly all of the foriegn workers appear to frequent restaraunts in a relatively well off district of Kabul,called "Shar-E-Now". Such restaraunts are not Afghan typical by any means. You're looking at expensive Chinese and Italian food at around $10+ a dish,run by Chinese staff mostly. Expensive,not related to Afghan culture in any way,and probably more of a juicy target for someone who wanted to target a bunch of foreign workers all in one place on one night. Afterall,the famous road "Chicken Street" is in that district,and had it's first suicide bomber this year. So nowhere is safe anymore. Not even Kabul (which was once the most secure part of the country).

My advice would be to try and blend in a little (but not too much). But if you're working for an organizaton,the chances are they wont allow you to do this, or even reccomend it. Most travellers there wear the Shalwar Qameez (baggy trousers and shirt) and the typical reporters jacket which is very popular with Afghans. This will help you appear less "alien", and they're more likely to want to chat with you. Plus,eating the typical Afghan food of Kebab or Pullao in the Chaikhanas (food,drink,accomodation houses),will make you very popular (in a good way of course).

P.S : Yes you can get Beer in those places in Shar-E-Naw. But i think you'll end up paying big time for the privelege. Several Afghans are also getting annoyed how foriegners are coming into Kabul and setting up such establishments. Several of the Chinese waitreses in these places are doubling as prosititutes too apparently. And foriegn workers are having piss ups. All this is angering the locals,who on the one hand dont want a return to the ultra orthodox Talibs,but also dont want their country to become a decadent playground for foriegn workers either.

Overall,many of us who have visited Afghanistan prior to 2004 (aswell as some who had been several times) are currently staying well away until we see what develops there this year, now that elections have finished. The elections went relatively smoothly, even though Taliban elements had threatened Iraq style insurgency. I was going to head back earlier this year. But decided not to and wait till 2005 to see what happens. Ishmael Khan, the Governor of Herat was fired by Karzai this year too. Something which could potentially cause a re-emergance of tribal infighting in the western regions,because this guy was a strong man ruler of that province and kept it under relativly peacefull control.

Re: Afghanistan by Wild in Africa on 23 November 2004 12:46am
Thanks Godfather, that's very hepful and wise advice all round. If I do go, and I expect to in my present job (running a Humanitarian aid agency) it would be to Nangarhar in the east, and of course Kabul. I've been in insecure environments before (I was in Darfur, Sudan between July and September) so have experience of those type of conditions, though not conditions in which westerners are being taken hostage. Better not tell my wife, she'd go into panic overdrive.
May get back to you to ask for more sage advice closer to the date.
Re: Afghanistan by MissFruitcake on 23 November 2004 11:18am
Wow! I'd just like to say that's a very admirable thing you're doing Wild in Africa and I wish you all the best with what you do.
Re: Afghanistan by Wild in Africa on 23 November 2004 12:42pm
Thanks Fruitcake/Erica. I see you come from Sydney, my favourite city in all the world. Lucky you! Hope the summer is starting to shape up there as we descend into winter gloom here in England.
Have you travelled much in Asia? I backpacked the region many years ago after working in New Guinea and met a lot of Aussies on the road.
Re: Afghanistan by Godfather on 23 November 2004 8:15pm

No problem,Wild. I suppose one good development is that today they released those hostages unharmed. Even though i've mentioned those attacks on UN and NGO staff,it should also be noted that many many have continued to work there since 2001 without incident. Overall,most Afghans are fed up with fighting. The fight is out of them. It's only old Taliban elements down south that want to keep it going. But even then, they get very little support in the north where most of their opponents came from (such as Massoud,etc).
Re: Afghanistan by MissFruitcake on 24 November 2004 8:45am
It's unfortunate but living in a nice city you tend to take everything for granted a bit! Summer's sort of here... it's rather annoying as in the last couple of weeks the temperature has been ranging from about 21 to 38 degrees.
I haven't travelled much in Asia unfortunately, although I hopefully will one day!

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