Sex with burquas on


For the past week I’ve been in Badakshan, the province in the north east that seems to be sticking a finger up at China (the finger being the Wakhan, its borders drawn to ensure a buffer zone between imperial Russia and Britain). I can’t be bothered to think of suitable superlatives and haven’t taken many photos so suffice to say it’s very pretty here. Ah go on then, one quick sentence: spectacular, snow-covered mountains rising steeply up above a river of icy steel, with women in white and blue burquas and yellow and pink wellies skittering along its frozen edges like spinning tops.

The river is the Kokcha. It’s interesting to be in a new place although I feel slightly guilty for temporarily deserting the Hari Rud. I keep comparing Badakshan to Ghor, and Badakshan usually comes out better, though not always. I’ve been told that the women here are as beautiful as the landscape but unlike in Chagcharan, in Faizabad town the burqua is de rigueur.

There are three women in the office where I’m at, which is also our home. They take their burquas off when they arrive – revealing one to be beautiful indeed – and put them on again when they go. Asides from their modest presence during the day, this place is overtly masculine.

Sitting on the porch one day after work, one young man brought out the packaging of a mobile phone to show us the pretty woman on it. I’m not sure why, the ribaldry mostly in cackling Dari, but the joke climaxed with another man making the universal sign of wanking and calling another a ‘handman.’ It’s the first time I’ve encountered such an open sexual reference among Afghans.

Some of those who aren’t married (and some who are) say they have girlfriends, and I don’t think sex before marriage is uncommon, though it would seem like quite an achievement when un-related women are usually only seen in the confines of work, on cardboard boxes or under burquas.

The first time I entered an Afghan family’s house, the only female presence I saw was a fleeing hem line as I went through the front door. After that, whenever I got up to leave a room, someone would open the door ajar first and peer out to check that the coast was clear. It hasn’t been like that in every house, and it seems that in the houses of Shia Hazaras there is a much less strict segregation. But on that, as with so much, I am unsure. I just can’t imagine what it must be like to live constantly in such a suffocating, cloistered all-male environment. Maybe like growing up in fancy boys’ boarding school in England.

I can’t think what mentality such an environment must foster. God knows what it was like under the Taliban, but even now when I leave Afghanistan it is a relief to see a woman’s ankle (and that’s not me being lecherous – I cite this post to back me up). I suspect it doesn’t encourage a healthy attitude among men to women and sexual relations, but then nor does the soft porn of much advertising, television and fashion in the west, and I can’t see far enough into the lives of young Afghan men and women outside of work to judge.

I am tempted to start rambling on about Foucault’s History of Sexuality but it’s too darn cold to keep typing. Oh, and I do actually have some work to do. It’s about veterinary health care at the moment. Today I learnt what a burdizzo is used for. Go look it up.


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