Story & Photographs by: Wendy Summer, Edited by: Michaela Guzy
If you’re looking to experience interaction with an extraordinarily gracious and hospitable people, feel a culture so different from our own and one far removed from what you read in the paper as well as visit great sites, I suggest you head for Afghanistan.
This is not a destination for the faint of heart or pampered traveler! One simply doesn’t land at Kabul International Airport and hail a cab. Much advance planning is crucial to a safe and ultimately very satisfying trip.
I started ZAANHA after my first trip there in April 2006 and as of January 2013 completed my 10th trip. ZAANHA, means woman in Dari, one of the local languages. My site sells luxurious fashion and home décor accessories made by artisanal studios in Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries sharing a similar culture. I give a portion of all ZAANHA sales to a foundation I established, The ZAANHA Fund. We use the monies in the fund to send Afghan children to school.
The goal of my latest trip to Kabul was to set the wheels in motion for our business school for working street children. I believe in Afghanistan’s working street children and imagine that those who’ve been washing cars, shining shoes, selling chewing gum and socks on the streets since tender ages have an innate entrepreneurial sense. With a structured formal education, I believe these children have the wherewithal to start their own businesses and/or make a significant contribution to an existing company.
If you wish you visit this extraordinary country, I suggest you contact Najibullah Sedeqe, a man whom I’ve known for over 7 years and trust implicitly. Najib can be reached at +93 700 247 521. Not only does he have a keen sense of humor, but he has been helping visitors to Afghanistan for many years now, both tourists and professionals. He speaks excellent English and has incredible contacts throughout the country and is highly sensitive to the security situation.
What to do? Afghanistan has something for almost everyone! For the history buff, there are sites galore as it has been the crossroads for diverse peoples for hundreds and hundreds of years, each of whom left their marks and monuments. For the culinary inclined, Afghanistan has superb food, due in large part to the excellent organic produce. For the naturalist, Afghanistan offers breathtaking vistas and natural landscapes – from the wild Hindu Kush Mountains to verdant beauty of the Panshir Valley, just outside of Kabul, even the most jaded traveller will be awed. The handicrafts and intricate embroidery are not to be missed.
Activities? One popular pastime is kite flying – you can join in the fun on Friday as children and adults alike compete to see who can “cut” their opponents’ kites. You may remember Khaled Hosseini’s touching novel, Kite Runner. Or perhaps being a spectator at the national sport of Buzkashi, a rougher form of polo where expert riders barrel along using a dead goat as the ball, is more to your liking.
The best part about Afghanistan? The people! Locals extend an overwhelming sense of hospitality coupled with the warmest smiles. Meet, visit and learn about the resilient men and women here. My favorite? The children! Their exuberance and enthusiasm for the future is infectious. I suggest spending a week volunteering with Aschiana, an Afghan organization that helps working street children in Kabul. Najib can help with everything!
My first trip to Afghanistan changed my life. And, if past is protocol, it may very likely change yours as well.