Hospitality as defined and demonstrated by Afghans is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. It has become a legend on its own with testimonies of all who have experienced it, benefited from it and offered it. Being hospitable to all, especially guests and strangers, and, at times, even the most hostile of enemies is a key Afghan teaching. This being said hospitality and that exact teaching has been blamed for the difficulties facing the US forces in their search for Osama Bin Laden. There is a theory that Bin Laden is hiding in someone’s house in Afghanistan but the tradition of hospitality is preventing the host in reveal his identity and hand him over to the US forces. Whether there is truth in this theory or not is not important but what matters is that through the decades of turmoil and war the Afghan people’s character has resisted the many changes that have occurred in their devastated country. Afghan hospitality is not just a smile, an offering of a helping hand nor an invite for a visit it is the genuine desire to see another person pleased without a shadow of a doubt and have them come back for more. It is giving beyond your means to make sure the guest is comfortable, happy and healthy. It is knowing that you have not only presented the best food but also the best accommodation, the best company, the best gifts, and the best memories the guest can ever imagine.
You may be able to trace its roots to time unmeasured but a traveler who rode the caravans of the Silk Road, the warrior who came in with Alexander the Great, or a hippy that backpacked through Afghanistan in the seventies will still encounter the same warmth emanating from the people today. The following are some quotes from travelers, journalists, historians and just every day people who have had the pleasure and the privilege of experiencing Afghan hospitality and raving about it.
- We’ve all heard about the cruelty towards enemies but we very rarely here about the hospitality towards Strangers. You can travel the country with very little money and never want for a meal or a roof over your head. Even the poorest Afghans are notorious for extending this hospitality. In his book “An Unexpected Light,” Jason Elliot tells of an exchange with a drunken Frenchmen who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This is a story that, “defines the Afghan character.”
“Earlier in the day he had been to inspect one of the city’s prisons to check on the conditions of the prisoners. After their names had all been verified, he noticed a door, which had remained unopened for the inspection. The prison guard had been reluctant to open it; behind it was just an old man in solitary confinement, he had said. But it was the Frenchman’s job to count the prisoners, and he insisted on being shown inside.
When the door was opened, he caught sight of a half-naked old man in the freezing and windowless cell.
‘And what do you think he did then?’ He asked, as the emotion welled up in his eyes. The old man had tottered to his feet, lifted the scrap of cloth on which he sat, brushed the dust from it and stepped back, smiling, to offer the space to his guest.” (pg. 441)
Poverty does not diminish Afghan hospitality. In Munda, refugees offered to kill and roast a sheep for us; in Khapianga, I ate flat wheat bread and tasteless spinach with an impoverished woman, who then offered to cook me an egg; outside Peshawar, I drank weak, sugarless black tea with a group of women who had arrived from Kabul the night before and were camped on the bare ground among the mattresses, blankets, and pots that were their only remaining possessions.
(Debra Denker, “Along Afghanistan’s War-Torn Frontier,” National Geographic, June 1985 )
- The attitude of the people toward Westerners was different from that of any country I’d visited before or after in the overland route from Europe to Australia. They looked you straight in the eye and put their best foot forward to show their culture and country at its best. They took pride in showing the sights of their villages and cities and joyfully extended hospitality. It was as though they wanted us to understand how dedicated they were to preserving their lifestyle; that it wasn’t by accident they lived as they did, but by choice. They weren’t a people longing for modernization and envying our ability to travel and consume, as had been the case in Iran. They didn’t wear the yoke of oppression, but on the contrary were determined to maintain their manner of living at any cost.
(Jackie Jura, “Afghanistan Remembered,” written in 1998 on occasion of U.S. bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan)
- This country lies in ruins and its people suffer from the physical and psychological trauma of 22 years of war. But almost all Afghans have one burning question for a rare foreign visitor: “Are you enjoying yourself?” It threw me. I stumbled over my words, offering windy explanations of American politics and Osama bin Laden. Until I realized that nobody cared. Only one response pleased Afghans, who were really searching for evidence that their country still had something to offer. When I answered, “Yes,” my hosts’ eyes lit up and they smiled proudly.
The invading Red Army flattened their cities, and warlords pillaged what was left. A seismic refugee exodus is in its third decade. And there is no surface in the country that can correctly be described as a road. Still, Afghanistan is a land of unparalleled beauty and hospitality. And Afghans take enormous pride in this.
(Preston Mendenhall, “Afghanistan is in eye of beholder-A country torn apart by war maintains its pride, hospitality, MSNBC , May 28, 2001)
- Food is an important part of hospitality rituals in Afghanistan. Guests are served tea upon arrival to quench their thirst and when a meal is served guests are presented with the best possible food, even at the expense of family members. Traditionally Afghans share food from a common dish, eating with their hands from dishes placed on a mat or cloth spread on the floor. This tradition is one way that hospitality and kinship are shared.
(Marta Colburn, “Hospitality, Flavors and Food of Afghanistan”, curriculum guide)
- “The hippies who came in their hordes in the Seventies didn’t just come for the hashish, they also came for the wonderful Afghan hospitality,” Brigitte Neubacher, of the Islamabad-based Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, said. “Afghanistan is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The landscape is unspoilt, the sky is spectacular, and there is no pollution. The country had been the victim of ‘devastating propaganda’,” she complained.
(Luke Harding, “Taliban planning revival of tourism”, The Obsever, November 7, 2000)
- In 1981, Willaim Mastrosimone was smuggled into Afghanistan to witness for himself the ongoing Soviet-Afghan war.
During an ammunition run with Afghan fighters, Mastrosimone fell ill. “I couldnt walk. I was too weak. We were at high elevations. The nutrition wasnt so good. I collapsed. These guys said, `We cant take you with us. And they left me behind.”
Abandoned on a mountain road, he eventually was found by two boys from a nearby village. They thought he was Russian. “They told the whole village, who came to kill me,” he says.
Fortunately, an English-speaking villager realized Mastrosimone was American. He was taken in, and made as comfortable as possible.
“While I was there, an old lady came to see me where I was staying in a little hut. She had a black goat who followed her everywhere. It was her only possession. Shed lost her sons, her husband and all her possessions in the war.”
After visiting Mastrosimone, the woman returned hours later with soup.
“Because of that food, I got well,” he says. Days later, walking through the village, he spotted the goatskin stretched out. The woman had sacrificed her only possession to feed this ailing stranger. “I had read of Afghan hospitality,” Mastrosimone says, “and there it was. I was so deeply touched.”
(Margo Harakas , “Playwright tries to repay his saviors after facing death in a remote war zone”, Sun-Sential.com, January 22 2005)
- Afghan hospitality is legendary and I fondly recall how generous, gracious and inquisitive the people were. The common person on the street was still able to smile as our eyes met. Young Afghan students who have only known war were anxious to practice their English; the young man at the desk of my hotel was honing his computer skills on a sophisticated laptop, navigating Windows 95, hoping to contribute to a brighter future for his country.
(Tom Cole, “The Texture of Time, 2003)
- Islam is renowned for its hospitality, and in Afghanistan it is encountered in abundance. This hospitality is shown to all visitors, regardless of religion, sex or nationality. People are genuinely pleased and honoured to have you in their homes and often go out of their way to ensure a lavish meal is prepared. To refuse an invitation into someone’s home is considered impolite, though with so many offers it was understandable that I couldn’t accept all.
I met one family in the park, and within a matter of minutes of meeting, was invited to their home for dinner. I accepted and we were soon off to their home, stopping at a store to buy some sweets for the family. We had an enjoyable feast, more than I was expecting, though when you’re invited to someone’s home, only the best will be offered, no matter the cost or expense to the family.
(Billy Hussain, “I’ll Have Another Guiness, Thanks,”)
- In Afghanistan, as in the rest of the wider Islamic World, hospitality is a cherished tradition. An Afghan’s good reputation is, in part, related to the generosity he shows towards visitors to his home. Being perceived as unwelcoming can be a serious affront to an Afghan’s character.
Even the poorest Afghan families who can hardly feed themselves go to any length to make a visitor feel welcome and valued. The best foods are offered in large quantities. The experience would be shared with much fellowship, laughter, and affection.