Award-winning photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg has spent more than 30 years chronicling life…
Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 communist countercoup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-communist mujahidin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Usama BIN LADIN.
The world's first oil paintings were created in the caves of Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan, around 650 BCE.
Afghans celebrate their new year, Nawroz, on 21 March, the first day of spring.
Afghanistan was once a big portion of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking China to other nations.
The blue gemstone lapis lazuli is found in Afghanistan in the Kokcha River valley.
Religion and Ethnic Groups
Muslim 99.7% (Sunni 84.7 to 89.7%, Shia 10 to 15%), other 0.3%
Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, other (includes Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Arab, Gujar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, Pashai, and Kyrghyz)
- Formal greetings are observed between a younger individual and an elder, where the younger person will use the elder’s title, not their name, in greeting.
- Between two men, a greeting will include a handshake and then each person will put their right hand over their heart. If it has been a while since close friends or relatives have seen each other, the greeting may also include a hug, kiss, and polite phrases.
- Between men and women, physical contact is avoided.
- People will stand when someone enters a room to greet them, and greetings continue even after everyone is seated. Small talk and pleasantries are exchanged in the beginning of a conversation; avoid asking direct or factual questions at the beginning of a conversation.
- Do not use or maintain a lot of eye contact when greeting someone you are not close with, or when greeting someone of the opposite gender.
General Social Etiquette
- Asking a lot of questions about an Afghani’s family is considered rude, since family is sacred.
- Someone’s sense of honor is very important, so avoid behaving or asking questions that would embarrass someone or put them in an uncomfortable position, especially when in public. When you are with your Afghani hosts, your behavior directly reflects on the hosts.
- Men should not speak directly to women, either socially or in passing. A man and woman should also not be in a room alone together, but if this happens, the door should be open.
- Women should keep their eyes down when in public and should not speak with unknown men.
- Women should dress modestly, including a head scarf and baggy pants under skirts. The shape/definition of a woman’s legs should not be seen.
- When invited into someone’s home, remove your shoes at the door.
- Alcohol should not be given as a gift. Gifts should not be given directly to the host and should instead be put close to your seat or near the door. If you are a male and are presenting a gift to a female (hostess), say the gift is from one of your female relatives (e.g., mother or sister).
- Eating is done on the floor in a group setting, with everyone sitting cross-legged (or in another comfortable position, as long as feet are not pointed toward others). All eating is done with your hands.
- If invited for a meal, the guest should bring a small gift of fruit, sweets, or pastries in a nicely wrapped box; if invited for tea, bring a small gift if this is the first time.
- Guests are expected to begin eating before the host does, so do not wait for the host to take the first bite. Guests will also be served the best food.
- Only eat with your right hand.
- Meals are typically followed by tea, which is consumed throughout the day.
- Typically, men and women will not eat in the same room together. If they are in the same room, sit next to someone of the same gender.
Inner-city and long-distance buses are available. For inner-city buses, there are set stops along the routes. Men sit in the front of the buses, and women sit in the back. Couples are permitted to sit together in the middle of the bus. It is advisable to check with locals to see if the roads are safe for bus travel, particularly with long-distance buses.
Private taxis are also available, especially in large cities. Fares should be negotiated before the ride begins, as taxis do not have meters. It isn’t uncommon for any car that wants to stop to operate as a “taxi” (i.e., regular citizens), so beware of this if you’re unsure about safety.
Key Phrases (Dari)
Hello: As-salâmo 'alaykom
Peace be upon you (greeting): Salaam or salaam alaikum
Good morning: Soub baKhayr
Good evening: Cast baxir
Goodnight: Šab baxir
Goodbye: Xudâ hâfez or Tâ didâr ba'ad
Take care: Zenda bashi
May God protect you (farewell): Khoda hafiz
Excuse me: Me baKhshi
Thank you: Tashakur
You’re welcome: Qabelishnest
What’s your name?: Nâmêtân cist or Esme-tân cist?
My name is…: Nâme man ... ast or Esme-man ... ast
Do you speak English?: Âyâ šumâ englisi yâd dâren?
Please say that again: Loftân dôbâra becônêd
I don’t understand: Man namêdânam or Na fahmidam
I understand: Fahmidam
Where is the bathroom?: Tašnâb kojâst?
How are you?: Chitur hasten? (formal)
I’m good: Man Khub hastam
And you?: Chuma chitur hasten?