Usual greeting is the typical 'Assalam Alaikum' with your right hand held across your chest and then shake hands - close friends will hug and touch cheeks. You will almost always be invited in for tea - perfectly safe for drinking.
Most houses have a room where you can sit and chat, it is customary to sit cross legged or legs tucked away - don't stick your legs out! Chats will start off on general aspects - avoid asking about their daughters or wives as it is usually seen as rude!
I always was worried just how long you could stay and chat as you could never pick up if you had overstayed your welcome - Afghans are far too polite!
Try to learn some frases for saying hello and asking how the other person is doing. It'll be appreicated. Men shake hands with men, but not men and women. Women hug other women or just shake hands. Three kisses on the cheeks for being extra friendly. Trying a little extra to be polite will get you better prices in shops and more friends.
Yes the women still don the Burkha.
Though in Kabul, you would see many doing without... the headscarf would usually suffice.
I dont think its fair to judge the changes in Afghanistan on the basis of the use of the burkha. I think its a cultural thing, which has come down from many generations, and not a legacy of the Taliban. The taliban may have enforced it much more strictly of course. As long as the women think its up to them to decide. Also, all this will not change overnight, and making attempts at the same can be counterproductive, as has often been.
I did see more women out on the streets the second time we were there, and that was a good sign.
Women begging on the streets... not an unfamiliar sight. The freedom from the Taliban has meant that women are more free now to step out, but it has not translated into a whole lot else just yet.
This scene here was outside one of the main mosques in Kabul.
Also, according to a recent survey, Afghanistan has more than 2 million widows. quite a startling fact, considering that the total population is around 28 million
We used to carry sweets with us everyday, as we stepped out.
Invariably, we would get to places where lots of children would be playing and would crowd around us, and there would be a great many takers for the sweets!
Its quite a nice feeling, to be able see them smile and interact. The fact that some of the kids could understand Hindi, the official language of India, and sometimes speak it too, made it much easier for me to communicate with them.
Seller of Afghan VCD'S. The majority of these are tacky movies, or home made camcorder shows of women dancing in exotic style. We were never sure if these were Afghan or from countries Kyrgistan and Turkmenistan. Such dancing VCD's are now on display in most Chaikhanas (when in Taliban era any TV was banned) where the men watch with mouths agape at quite frankly, what we considered to be overweight and quite ugly looking women, dancing to traditional music. Most seemed like family get togethers where occasionally Uncle Ahmed would stumble past the camera by accident.
The Burkha has long been a feature of some Muslim societies, and contrary to popular belief it was not a new invention introduced by the Taliban. It had been around a long time, and many women even today still wear Burkha by their own choice.
Be local when you are in Afghanistan, but it doesnt mean that you need to wear Burqas like the Afghan women. Just cover all of your body, and wear veil. You dont need to cover your eyes and face.
Even now in Kabul, you can easily find girls with burqa outside and body pressed jeans inside. A contrast.
2 carpet sellers with the dried up Kabul River behind them. We met these guys on our first evening in Kabul as we went in search of changing money (all money in Afghanistan right now is changed on the black market). The man on the left is wearing the Chitrali "Pakol", a cap originating from Chitral in North West Pakistan and made famous through the world by the Guerrila leader Shah Massoud as the distinctive cap of the Mujahadeen fighters against the Soviet invaders. The guy on the right is wearing the more common turban which is wrapped around the Muslim skull cap. Both men are probably from the Pathan or Tajik ethnic group.
Roadside sellers with western style clothing on sale. In Kabul we were quite suprised by the re-emergence of western clothing (particulary in the younger guys). Everywhere else in Afghanistan, it remained traditional.
Another seller proud to have his photo taken, belonging to the Uzbek ethnic group of Afghanistan. Closer to oriental features. The faces in Afghanistan make it the most fascinating people watching country in the world for us. Again, the Kabul river behind dried up and now used as a polluted trash can unfortunately.
The scars on the face of this young guy selling cigarettes look like he's been through some hell despite his age. The now famous Burkha being worn by women in the background was due to us being in the middle of the womens market. The Burkha is still widely worn as a personal decision thesedays.
Occassionally at the guest house, we'd have some kind of cultural thing going. Some of the Afghans working there decided to dance one evening. Pretty interesting stuff
Just stopping for a moment to look at something in a market,meant that a big crowd would soon develop around us, and usually wanting to have their photo taken upon seeing the camera.