Sunita B. Mehta

KABUL, Afghanistan (WOMENSENEWS)–Esther Hyneman and Sonya Stokes, my colleagues at Women for Afghan Women, and I arrived today (a couple of hours ago) in Kabul after a really fun day and night in Dubai.

Our day in Dubai was very action-packed. We visited several malls looking for last-minute conference supplies, including movies to watch during downtime. We ate an amazing Bombay chaat (street food) meal full with jal jeera, a cumin drink, and nimbu sharbat, a fresh lime drink. Then we went to a night club with dancing girls known as antakshari. (Antakshari is a game that is very common in India, in which each person sings a song and the next person sings a song that begins with the last syllable of the previous song.)

Dancing to Bollywood Music

We saw pretty teenage Indian girls dance to loud Bollywood songs. We were the only women in the audience. The rest were all Muslim men, whose wives are probably only allowed to stir out in full hijab, or Islamic veil.

Some men were in the long white outfits that are the norm here, with white flowing turbans. They gave “gifts” of $50 and more to many of the girls who danced. The girls were scantily clad, in revealing Indian outfits. Many couldn’t dance very well and one was absolutely without energy. Some girls danced like the wind itself.

All eyes were on us as we entered and left the room. Afterwards, we three felt nauseated and didn’t talk much on the drive back to our hotel.

It wasn’t that the dancing and music offended us. We had a good time and the drinks were great.

Disturbed by Hypocrisy

It was just the hypocrisy of such a bar existing in a place where women walk around in black robes touching the ground and veils covering all but their heavily made-up eyes. We couldn’t bear that these same men who agree to such dress codes for their wives and sisters also throw money at dancing girls.

Everyone we met in Dubai though was kind and helpful, and very respectful. We felt incredibly safe there. In fact, the cabbie who drove us to our hotel when we first landed was a woman! A woman from Bombay in fact–Crawford Market!

This morning, we have walked around this Wazir Akbar Khan area where we are staying, and even visited a museum full of mines, bombs and shrapnel. Burnt-out bombshells are now functioning as flower pots here.

The kids here all shout, “Hello, how are you,” and beam at us with pride as they show off the English they know. One boy waved so hard at us from the back of a bike that he almost fell off.

Oh, and most people here speak Urdu, a language close to Hindi, which I learned as a child, so communication has been easy.

Very excited to be here in Kabul. Feels like India really, things are surprisingly functional. And after three years of spending my waking and sleeping moments thinking about this place, to be here finally–I am numb with a mixture of excitement and devastation.

Sunita Mehta is director of grants and programs at a feminist foundation in New York, The Sister Fund. She is a former board member of Sakhi for South Asian Women and The Center for Anti-Violence Education, both New York-based women’s antiviolence organizations. She co-founded Women for Afghan Women in April 2001 and edited “Women for Afghan Women: Shattering Myths and Claiming the Future,” Palgrave/St. Martins’ Press, October 2002. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. with her husband and two young sons.

For more information:

The Sister Fund:

Women for Afghan Women:

Sakhi for South Asian Women: