Posted by: Christian | May 24, 2007

The Current Status of Afghan Hospitality

May 25, 2007.

The old stereotype:

CARE-MEDICO

I read the story accompanying this photo. It was a typical description of the hospitality you expected in pre-1980s Afghanistan.

Then I read an old blog entry by an NGO worker venting about the treatment she received in Afghanistan. Here is a quick quote:

…most of the time I was there I worked hard to block it out. When there, I constantly echoed the Afghans’ own mantra: Afghanistan is an extremely hospitable country, Afghanistan is an extremely hospitable country…

I repeated this although I was invited to about 10 times fewer homes in my two years there than my time in Russia and Tajikistan.

Afghans insisting that they are hospitable does not make it so. True. I never bought into the whole “most hospitable country in the world” claim as it seems that people are hospitable to their guests everywhere in the world. Even when compared to the rest of the region; do Iranians and Pakistanis treat their guests like second-class citizens? I don’t think so. And I can speak from experience in regards to being assaulted by excessive hospitality in a Central Asian household.

I think what the blogger is getting at is the self-promotion aspect of the “hospitable” claim. It was fine in the 1970s when the action matched the rhetoric. But now the consensus is that the hospitality of Afghans is definitely down a notch. Why? One obvious factor (pointed out in a comment on the above-mentioned blog) is the inability to host guests due to scarcity of resources. Many people in Afghanistan are barely getting by and might feel ashamed or embarrassed if they have guests and all they can offer is tea sans sugar. Not everybody has a bag of rice, fresh vegetables and a big cut of lamb waiting in the kitchen.

Another factor is the fear of calling attention to the fact that you have foreign guests in your house. There may be a variety of reasons for this: 1) You are scared of Taliban (or other extremist types) wondering why you have foreigners in your home, 2) you are scared of the local rumour-mill that may start malicious lies about the immoral foreigners doing something dirty in your house with your family members, and 3) local criminals may think you have business with rich foreigners and therefore you have something worth stealing.

Additionally, the novelty of foreigners has really, really worn off. They are definitely no longer an “exotic specimen.”

And some people may not like foreigners at all. [I believe the survey data that shows the percentage of Afghans fitting into this category is small.] While in the 1970s there was a rather fuzzy concept of what exactly a European was, now you have TV, magazines, radio and perhaps an angry Mullah to tell you that westerners are immoral and kill Muslims. These people generally are the ones dispensing “the stare of death” to the assorted internationals.

Also, a lot of foreigners travel around in expensive vehicles accompanied by men with guns. So…“Hey let’s invite the inconceivably rich foreigners with bodyguards into our house for lunch! Or maybe not.”

But if none of the above applies, you will probably be shown a very comfortable level of hospitality by some very nice people all across Afghanistan. I’m sure many people are shown the level of hospitality that greeted the medical workers in the first picture.

By the end of the blog entry the blogger reached a compromise view:

…though I was invited into few houses, those people showed amazing kindness and generosity. And I was treated to the remnants of Asian hospitality at least once… when I complimented a colleague on her scarf, and she gave it to me, against all insistence and persuasion to make her keep it. It almost reminded me of Russia…

Pic: “Vegetarian again? Are we having NGO workers over for lunch?”
Roots of Peace
Pic by Rootsofpeace.org

Humorous PS: While writing this blog entry I went to the cooler to fetch a bottle but they were all gone. Our guest drank all our drinks earlier today. I’m thirsty now and I regret being hospitable.


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