Of all of my accomplishments and failures in Afghanistan over the last ten years, nothing I have done has caused more daily excitement or consternation than my driving. 2015 has marked a change in being here and I am taking back over parts of my life that I had given up because of the security threats. One of those is driving myself to the bazaar or store when I need to shop, and in fact doing my shopping for myself instead of sending Nasir off with my shopping list. We have been given a big old battered, gas-guzzling SUV for our incidental trips, and I first ventured out for Women’s Day, when we needed an extra driver to get all of the women at PARSA to the women-only fashion show event that we were attending in celebration. The braver of our female staff were very excited at the novelty of driving with their “rais” (boss) and a woman at that.
As much in solidarity they were with me, the frequent gasps and their tight grip on the passenger handles as I negotiated Kabul traffic to the center of town indicated that they were not sure a woman driver could get them there safely. After all there are probably about five of us in all of Kabul and one other is Alyssa. On another occasion, our grounds-staff lined up on the road as I went off to the petrol staff and applauded me as I went by with big grins on their faces. The gate keepers see me coming and open both gates extra wide for me, as after all I am a woman driver and could miss the opening. Last night, I drove across the street to get petrol for our generator from the “Pump Station” run by a family of Pushtuns, and when the attendant saw me he yelled to his relatives in Dari/Pushtu, “Hey! Oh No! There is a woman driving here and she speaks English! Help me speak to her because she speaks English!!!! What do I do? What does she want?! Help!!!” When he calmed down, and I conveyed my requests, we filled the car and my petrol can together and then negotiated the money and wrote the bill. I asked him, “Now, really, was that so bad??? I have been driving for over 40 years, and really it is time you get used to the idea of women drivers. You did a great job!” “Yes, Auntie,” he beamed,” More women driver’s…..?!”