Downhill Istalif

The first thing I see when waking up in the morning are white films of mist. My breath is swirling and spinning around itself in the cold air. I glance over to the window which is overgrown with frost flowers. Simple glass window with plastic foil – a deplorable attempt to hold the cold outside which finds its way in anyways.

I try to grab my hat while staying under the two blankets and in the sleepingbag. The beeny must have fallen off my head while I was sleeping. Now I tug it over and pull it over my eyes to sink into a halfsleep as long as I can. The longer I can stop the alarm clock from ringing, the longer I can sleep and escape the cold…too late.



The alarm clock rings a fourth time and I am too late anyways. I play with myself rock-paper-scissors under the blanket to determine who has to get up to put on the gas heater (affectionately called gas-bukhari here).

I lose against myself and have to get out into the cold. Central heating is something for dushbacks…oh how I’d wish to be a dushback with a central heating system now! There are four ways of heating in Kabul: Wood/Coal ovens (cosy but it takes long to put them on), electric heaters (not so good with the frequent power outages), gas heaters (you can’t have them on for long/over night because of the fumes. You either run in danger to get blown up or not to wake up again) or not to heat at all (which I don’t even want to think of with minus 20 degrees celsius at night…) .

pathway in Istalif

pathway in Istalif

Even the water can be rare in Kabul in the winter: at most of my colleague’s houses the water in the pipes has frozen and they have neither water to flush the toilett nor a possibility to shower. Not even an electric shower in this case…

Ah! But today is no working day! Today we’re heading out of Kabul! I jump into the cold of the room and into the damp clothes while I am turning in the danger zone of the gasheater, balancing out out defrosting through the heat and the danger to catch fire…these are the real dangers in a Kabuli life!The car honks infront of the door and in a split second I am outside. After a mere hour I am in another world.Welcome to Istalif! Former guesthouse of Afghanistan, gifted in the summer with fruit, nuts, mulberries and a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains, ethnographed by Noah Coburn and in winter the homestead of the dangerous mountain-sliding-spectacle!

300 metres downhill in a neckbreaking speed! Sliding on your feed or on a goat skin. Some of the participants wear rubber boots to slide faster and I can even see an old man scooting down the slope! And it’s a real ice slope: once the first real cold days knock on the doors in Istalif, the men of the village bring out buckets filled with water to the hillside and form snow into ice. Bucket per Bucket is being brought out perseveringly in an undertaking that takes hours until the concrete track has formed, flattened and smoothed out.

“Don’t you wanna slide down?”

So far I have stood on the side and reverently watched and photographed the young boys and men passing by  in light speed. I am the only woman here. What are the other women doing? Where do they have fun?

After some more persuasion and the permanent fending off of offers to slide down together with a man, I grab the frozen goat skin resolutely (sorry to all vegans and vegetarians reading this!) and ride screaming and shouting with joy down the hill. A little boy tells me beaming with joy: “You are holding the record. You are the fastest woman here!” That was an easy victory, considering being the only woman…

As I get to know later on, the women of the village have smaller ice slopes in the courtyards of their houses. From Girls up to 60 year old grandmas are sliding down the ice slope there. Less dangerous, because the slope is not that high, long and fast to navigate on. Although it is another fun thing in itself to see the older women who have solemnly watched over the little sliding girls, now mounting swiftly the slope themselves! (Sorry for not having pictures of this for obvious reasons…)

After having risked my life skidding down the track (faster than on any bobrun I’ve ridden as a kid or half grown up), the men try to encourage me to go down the track again –together with them! If I know one thing that does not behove to me as a woman in this case, then it is this (apart from sliding down the track myself). Thus I watch the speedy sliding, staggering young men who sometimes crash into each other. I contemplate about their morning entertainment and how much the Kabul city dweller –me included- misses out on that fun. According to Schuja, who has brought me here, this kind of ice slopes has existed here over a hundred years (not asking for documentation or perception of time from my side but taking it as a very long time). The slope was situated in town in former times, which turned out to be more dangerous than fun due to the narrow walkways. The ice slope was shifted out of the village onto the hill after several accidents, where it now pleases young and old in their downhill speed obsession.



Filed under danger, English, men, Out of Kabul, people, Surrounding, women

2 responses to “Downhill Istalif

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