Herat: People

Here is my gallery of some of the most welcoming people to be met in Afghanistan. Well, so it seemed to me anyway. The city of Herat has a somewhat Iranian/Persian feel to it but then the border is not very far away and has swung back and forth throughout history. I’m having difficulty keeping all the conquerors and dynasties straight in my head but it’s easy to see from the photographs that, apart from the production of an absolutely splendid ethnic melting pot, the periodic waves of invasion have had little influence on day-to-day life.

At the fifteenth century Mausoleum of Gowhar Shah a kindly caretaker offered us tea and a rest in the shade but it didn’t take long for two of our party to gravitate towards the six chador-clad girls, hard at work with their schoolbooks laid out on the table opposite. All had studied elementary English but one in particular knew a great deal more and was happy to chat to us and take on the role of interpreter (while the men drank their tea on the other side of the room, of course) and all were proud of their academic achievements.

A psychologist, a chemist, an economist, a mathematician, a lawyer and a teacher: how could one forget a role call of career ambitions like that? And the student teacher would have preferred medicine but her more conservative parents would not permit a career path where she would have that much contact with the opposite sex. The future of this country lies in the balance and a great cloud hangs over the lives of these lovely girls. Who will protect them if the deluge comes? Elisabeth and I have many times discussed the growing threat of misogyny in the Muslim world and have often felt discouraged by what we have encountered in our travels. Even so, education is one of the cornerstones of the empowerment of women so there has to be a glimmer of hope detectable in such a laudable set of endeavours.

On a lighter note, I fear that the last-minute substitution of the Qasr hotel for our Herat interlude may have been a mistake. Helpful staff who insisted on carrying our luggage up the four flight of stairs, as much tea as we could drink, functioning air conditioning, internet access and a genuine solicitousness for our welfare: just what country had we arrived in? The old Ramadan excuse was not in evidence, in fact when fatigue meant that I skipped supper with the group, I was invited to partake of the sundown meal with the manager and staff.

The foyer internet connection may have been painfully intermittant and slow but the helpful little offerings of tea and grapes that were placed by my side as I struggled to upload a few images were most welcome. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take any pictures of the hotel staff, not even of the boy who accompanied me back to the carpet shop to replace one of my purchases which had turned out to have a serious flaw (my fault for not looking more closely). But at least I was ladylike enough to pop into the local confectioners and buy too boxes of fancy cakes for their communal evening meal before I left.

Now that I am back in the good old Kabul Spinzar (no lift, no tea, no service, no drinking water – it’s Ramadan) I find myself recalling the Herat hospitality with great affection.

Categories: Central Asia


  • Elisabeth says:

    Pictures are great – you even got some women to pose for you! I hope we will hear their stories soon. Pictures are fun, but your reports are even more valuable. ET

  • Nicola Ainsworth says:

    Hi Elisabeth, As you know, I’ve had to do a re-edit on a lot of the posts and I had to chose between telling the story of the girl students or leaving their pictures on-line. So I took your advice and went with the story.

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