I love travelling to Afghanistan: friends and colleagues stare at me with puzzled, frightened looks. For Afghanistan is invariably associated with the Taliban, poppy fields, Sharia and women covered in blue chadri (burqa). The azure blue chadri has been displayed as the epitome of women's subordination to men and their lack of rights. In Andrei Konchalovsky's film, the First Teacher (1965), the schoolmaster strips off a black niqab from a young Kirghiz girl, his gesture liberates women from backward traditions and brings them a promising future. Twentieth century Kirghiz girls, twenty-first century Afghan women... same struggle?
The first time I set a foot in Afghanistan, women were not compelled to wear the fully covering chadri. But I saw no bare-headed woman. Wandering around Shahr-e Nau park, striding along the winding streets of Shor Bazaar, feeding doves at the crack of dawn in Mazar-e Sharif, picnicking on Friday afternoon in Babur gardens, I saw Afghan women in all shapes and shades of head covers.