Even though there was an air of peace as the country has been waged by war for generations and now for once, there were seemingly no rockets and missiles flying through the air, there was also a distinct air of fear, of the unknown, of what could happen if things weren’t adhered to. I could smell that in the general population.
The Taliban has reclaimed Afghanistan for just over a year and the impacts can be felt right through the very core of Afghan society, from the general population's ability to afford bread and the increasing queues of beggars at food stalls to empty guesthouses and restaurants that once enjoyed being at full capacity and was then able to provide jobs for many who are now unemployed. These were a result of Taliban edicts that have heavily impacted economic activity in the country as well as the mass exodus of NGOs and international businesses due in part to political propaganda and also to diminished business confidence stemming from the fact that the country is run by people with extreme views who neither conformed to the majority of the world as we know it nor respect it.
I entered a barbershop. Slightly unnerving in an extremely conservative, majority Pashtun Afghan society where men and women topically do not mix in public. I noticed that newspaper clippings covered most of the wall. I assumed it to be a wallpaper of sorts and continued on with our discussions about the current government and its impacts on businesses and on men, a topic rarely touched on. “It hasn’t happened here yet but we heard barber shops from a district closeby were warned. Men were no longer allowed to have western haircuts or designs in their hair. We heard people were getting beaten if they got caught. Barber shops will also be shut if we were caught providing such service.” At which moment, one of the men took a corner of the newspaper, tearing it, revealing an old advertisement of men’s hairstyles that were available before the Taliban came into power. Those newspaper clippings were no wallpaper at all.
In a different part of Kabul, more of shopping complex for women, traditional Afghan dresses were abound in beautiful hues of reds, blues, greens and yellows. Stopped in my tracks, succumbed by my fashion-loving side, I took my shoes off outside the store before I wondered in, led by my fingers, eager to feel the silks and velvets or derivatives of. Shopkeeper, 23yo Ali, caught me studying a mannequin whose face was adorned with a patterned foil of sorts. Perplexed I looked at him in wonderment. ‘Was this a thing in Afghanistan?’ I asked 23 year old Ali, intrigued. “They told me I must cover up the faces of the mannequins or they will beat me!” My brow must have done the talking on my behalf as I stared back, face full of questions. “The Taliban said the faces of mannequins arouses men and should be covered.” Dumbfounded. I simply nodded. Aroused by a mannequin …
This list of edicts continues to grow and wreck havoc on the daily lives of Afghans. Although bullets and bombs are no longer flying around the streets, I'm uncertain that Afghans are enjoying any peace at all.