They told me it would take three months before I felt brave enough to go outside by myself. It actually took about three weeks. Given everything that’s happened in the last three weeks, there is of course the question of whether now is the best time to be getting out and about, to which I say: when is a good time, really? There came a point when I knew I either had to meet Kabul on my own terms or get chased out by the specters of all the horrible hypotheticals that come with living in Afghanistan, and I decided I wanted out — the gate, not the country.
This brings us to our first conundrum: actually getting out. The concept of a woman going out walking appears to be exceptionally confusing to some, although less the walking part and more the lack of a definable goal. You can’t just walk, you have to walk with a purpose. Given the language barrier between me and the guards, the mutually understood purpose we finally hit on was “shopping.” I’m not walking, I’m shopping. Except I’m still not brave enough to actually buy anything and as a result will disappear for an hour only to return with a single Gatorade and a package of cheese. My guards probably think I’m the world’s most inefficient shopper. Then again, they also probably think I’m a shameless hussy because sometimes I show a little too much wrist.
Here’s something amazing about going out by myself: no one notices me. Foreigners are a very visible minority in Kabul, and what with being foreign and hanging out with foreigners, you start to get used to the level of attention you attract. But all I can say is thanks, Mom and Dad, for my racially ambiguous features because when I’m by myself, I feel like the Invisible Man and it’s amazing. No one stares at me, or points, or calls their friends over to stare and point. My blending powers are such that when I accidentally stepped on this young guy’s foot a few days ago, he chattered kindly at me in Dari for 30 seconds and clearly had no idea that I had no idea what he was saying. I went out the other day with a male Arab friend and holy jackpot, Batman if that didn’t take my powers of invisibility to a whole new level. As long as we kept our mouths shut, Kabul assumed we were just another married Afghan couple and it was great. We actually went shopping. I bought a Gatorade.
And now that I’m out, there’s so much to see. Too-skinny horses pulling carts driven by even skinnier boys; burka-clad women floating around like blue dementors and inspiring the same level of terror in me; men sleeping in wheelbarrows and waiting for work that requires a wheelbarrow; cow carcasses strung up by their back legs and swarming with bees; feral cats, feral dogs, and what appear to be feral toddlers; haggard, bedraggled chickens with thousand-yard stares that can be purchased for less than three dollars; windows full of baked goods, car parts, and clothing; young men strutting about in shalwar kameez and looking supremely unconcerned about life; beautiful Afghan girls in their long flowing skirts who use what I can only assume is black magic to keep their scarves on their heads in the wind; Afghan sheep picking through the trash, their weirdly inflated butts waggling; old ladies helping each other over open streams of raw sewage; clouds of charcoal smoke from the kebab guys fanning their grills; giggling schoolgirls crossing the street in packs; and of course, the sellers: fruit sellers, vegetable sellers, naan sellers, food sellers, juice sellers, furniture sellers, animal sellers, carpet sellers, ice cream sellers. Kabul is a hot, dusty, smelly, raucous, hilarious place and I like it.