Dog washers

A ‘dog washer’ is a derogatory term used by some in Afghanistan to describe Afghans who have lived and worked abroad, washing the dogs of rich foreigners.

It is not a nice term. There is though a certain elegance in the what the phrase sums up. Dogs are not clean. To be in the service of someone else, washing their proverbial dogs, is about as low as it can go.

There are nuances to this I’m sure I don’t get, so won’t try and analyse it. I first heard the term a few months ago, but it’s recently struck a new chord.

Over the last month, at office and home, we’ve had such an influx of dogs and puppies I’m wondering if we’re turning our NGO into an animal shelter. I’m also wondering what our Afghan colleagues make of it.

People do have dogs here, as guards or for fighting, but lavishing such attention on them and running round the garden being chased by a howling pack of the blighters definitely raises a few eyebrows. Actually washing them I think raises us to the level of the clinically insane, and possibly worse.

Feeding them more bread and rice than many families in Kabul will be eating is, I fear, a little more than eccentric.


11 Responses to “Dog washers”

  1. vasco pyjama Says:

    A good post, Harry.

    The proximity to struggling Kabul families makes the ethical dilemma really obvious. Distance (say, between Kabul and Australia) makes the ethical dilemma more ignore-able, but surely remains the same?

  2. agreablement Says:

    passo per caso nel tuo blog
    un saluto from Italy, ciao

  3. transitionland Says:

    Hmmm, that does sound like an ethical dilemma. But maybe having canine companionship (“happiness is a warm puppy”) helps the expats at your NGO stay *more* sane and thus more productive and capable of helping?

  4. harryrud Says:

    Sane? [cackles manically, wipes tear of laughter from eye, sighs, and goes back to drinking instant coffee made with green tea.]

  5. Christian Says:

    Some of the “sagshoyas” I know return the dog-washer insult with “jangsalar.” So everybody in Afghanistan is either a dog-washer or a warlord (eyes roll).

    And then there is the large majority of people in Afghanistan who have no time or patience for the mud-slinging.

  6. homeinkabul Says:

    I told local Afghans that I took it as a compliment. There’s no shame in honest work though of course, most diaspora Afghans don’t like it.

    Husband, who is Afghan-Afghan (and has not used the term in my presence), has conveyed his frustration with the general cluelessness of many expat Afghans and their air of snobbery (which is really the root of the derogatory term): Afghans coming from the west and complaining/laughing about the living conditions of the local Afghans or coming in as know-it-alls when they spent the last 30 years ‘washing dogs’…

    Re the dogs: There generally has to be a sense of balance. Don’t starve the dogs but treating them as babies (umm, this gets on my nerves in the West too)? Hate that.

  7. reindeer Says:

    oh my days! (learnt that last night from a british teenager who i was talking out of becoming an aid worker – youth these days!) it’s a fine line between living amongst the local population and trying to become one.

  8. harryrud Says:

    Why talking someone out of become an aid worker Reindeer?

    Dogs certainly do not get treated like babies, unless you kick your baby to stop it barking at night. Balance, of course, as ever…

    Tension between hyphenated-Afghans and others not unique to Afghanistan, but do sometimes seem particularly fraught.

  9. homeinkabul Says:

    Re the tension: It’s interesting and provides lots of room for learning about another’s perspective. There’s so much emotion involved though. I am enjoying your blog from my little office drone life in the U.S. (as opposed to my office drone life in Kabul. 🙂 )

    Why talk someone out of becoming an aid worker? What about the bucket baths? The petty bureaucracy that stunts development? The tea?

    Just kidding.

  10. Darshan Patel Says:

    might take my dog to them?

  11. Ashraf Ghani’s family and the tense situation in Afghanistan | The Patrimony Says:

    […] a tradition to refer to those public figures who have returned to Afghanistan after 2001 as “dog-washers.” Atta Mohammad Noor at least didn’t say “uprising against the one who is a […]

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