My first act of heroism manifested itself in ice-cream. Tolo-e-super ice-cream to be diligent.
What’s heroic about ice cream? And why do I make such a fuss about it?
When you are new in a place, the first thing to do is to learn the rules. Either from locals -cause they know best- or from other internationals -cause they’re in the same situation as you are. Being in Afghanistan brings up a new dimension of questions for me. I have lived in Pakistan, ignoring the advice of locals sometimes to take taxis on streetcorners and flying busses, to walk in the streets and sip on freshly made mango lassi or a chai, ignoring the stares of local men. I did this because I felt I could. I behaved like I did because it felt safe. And because I was curious and interested and wanted to know. My partner and travel companion uses to remark these days: Afghanistan is not Pakistan. You can’t just behave like you did there.
But how to behave then? My German way doesn’t apply, my turkish or pakistani ways do not apply. So what now?
Being new in a place one has to adjust your own parameters about safety, about knowing what the others say and knowing where it’s best to listen to or where you can stretch the limits.
The first day of waking up in this new country I don’t know all this yet. I know that other NGO-workers have told me to stay inside because it’s Eid and the situation seems tense. (Later I should find out that most of them would never be able to take a walk outside even if they wanted to, because the security restrictions of their workplaces won’t allow it…) The receptionist of my guesthouse on the other hand says that walking around in the nearby park and area will be fine. But he is a man. What men can do and what women can, are two different pairs of shoes in this country. What locals or local looking people can do in comparison to what a middle european fair skinned and blond haired woman can or especially can’t do, is again another thing.
Will it be alright to leave the walled guesthouse and take a walk? Even by knowing that ‘talking a walk’ is a very european thing and was not well understood in Pakistan when I as a woman just wanted to stroll along. -remembering the moments of people staring and others asking me whether I knew that there existed taxis-
So I put on my coat -which is less for weather reasons than for feeling safer in another layer-, straighten my headscarf to hide my blond hair, put some Afghani (the local currency) into my pocket and walk out the door. Two times – as there is a security check and afterwards a second door. Walking along the street I see cars rushing by, young men walking in groups, children playing on the nearby playground. No women, just two young girls taking a walk from one house to the next in their new shiny Eid-clothes (Eid is celebrated like in Germany christmas: you buy new clothes, gifts for your family, visit relatives and eat together huge amounts of food). I walk along the street, feel the tension in me, in my shoulders shrugged up as if to protect me from side. I tell myself to relax. I tell myself to look and observe. There’s a cinema close by with placats of the newest movies -all unknown to me- plastered over the walls. In front stands a table- soccer with a crowd of young Afghans playing. There are street stalls with food. There’s a burger place and and an ice cream place. There I’ll go, I tell myself, waiting for the cars to open up the chance to cross the street. I walk straight towards it, ignoring stares of men, listening to the loud music some youngsters have put on in a car around the corner, a young man miming to dance to it, open laughter. I ease my pace.
Entering Tolo-e-super ice cream with the two young girls in front of me, I register that the room is filled with men. I walk to the counter, ask for icecream and wish ‘eid mubarak’ (a happy Eid festivity) to the sellers who stare wondering at me as I leave. The ice cream has whole pistacious on it, consists of four different sorts, topped with a sauce and a biscuit.
Calmer I stride back towards the guesthouse. The guard wonders as he sees me. And I wonder too as I have walked with my fear hand in hand my first metres. A fear based on not knowing and on believing that anything might be possible. I still don’t know the rules. Neither if I kept or broke them. But I will learn them. To understand, keep and sometimes break them.