Before coming to Afghanistan, I’d already met a lot of different people from many different cultures around the world. I’ve stayed with nomads in Mongolia, I’ve mingled with the Japanese on Tokyo’s busiest streets, I’ve spent a night in a Sami hut in Northern Sweden, I’ve lived with four Faroese families, I’ve been saved from the cold by friendly Kyrgyz mountain people, I’ve watched a total solar eclipse with natives of unknown Pulau Belitung. Over the years of travelling to off the beaten path destinations all over the world, I’ve met many people who hadn’t seen westerners before. People that would pull my light brown hair, come right close to my face to gaze at my green eyes, point at me on the street and ask for me to take photos with them.
But I’d never before experienced the curiosity that I was met with, when Steve and I went to Sultan Eshkashim, a tiny village in the northernmost corner of Afghanistan, on May 31st 2016.
Afghanistan was one of a kind. Never in my life had I felt further away from home, yet still felt so at home. Afghan people are extremely warm at heart, they’re welcoming and curious, and despite what the news might tell you, they’re peaceful and good people, just like you and I. They just happen to be born in a country at war.
The experience of going to Afghanistan was as unique as can be. I still recall how excited I was to call my family, when we got back to Khorog, Tajikistan. I hadn’t told them that we were going to Afghanistan, simply because I was scared of their reactions. Instead I surprised them, when I was back in Tajikistan, safe, although I’d never felt unsafe.
Five days prior to going to Afghanistan, Steve and I had arrived in the small Tajik village of Karakul, located in the middle of the Pamir Mountains by Karakul Lake, in probably the most remote spot on earth. I remember telling Steve that the buildings of Karakul reminded me of how I thought Afghanistan would look like. Saying that, I never thought in a million years that I would be seeing the buildings of Afghanistan myself just five days later.
Going to Afghanistan and meeting the kind-hearted Afghan people changed me in a lot of ways. Before, I used to be extremely materialistic. Money used to matter to me, and so did nice nails and shoes. Now I don’t even shampoo my hair.
I’m not going to say that I’m not at all materialistic anymore, because that Black Milk addiction is definitely still there, but I no longer NEED to buy stuff all the time. I like to save my money for travels and life changing experiences. I’ve stopped thinking about how many shoes I could get for 100 dollars, but instead I think of where I could go for 100 dollars and how much happiness and life experience that would bring me.
I’m still learning and every day is a battle to try to better myself. I want to be the best possible version of myself, a version that going to Afghanistan has helped me realize exists.
While in Afghanistan, we didn’t actually do much. We didn’t see much, but we experienced a lot from our many interactions with locals. We spent most of our time in the market square in Sultan Eshkashim, talking to all the locals who would constantly surround us and stare at us with pure curiosity. In Khirmani, the tiny village that we stayed in, we went star gazing by night and explored the beautiful countryside with the locals by day.
Travelling is not about seeing everything and ticking things off a bucket list. It’s about the people that you meet. It’s about the conversations you have, the laughs you share, the life lessons you learn from each other.
In many ways, my head has been filled with so many new things since that life-changing trip to Afghanistan. I used to be one for the easiest solutions, and I don’t have much that I can say I’m good at. Now I challenge myself. I believe in growing as a person and I want to keep growing.
I’m already dreaming about going back to Afghanistan, next time to new and even more remote destinations. I want to venture into the unknown, to explore what hasn’t yet been discovered. To have the experiences that I’m so priviliged to even be able to have.
I feel like I left a bit of myself back there in Sultan Eshkashim. I’m longing for the place, really longing. I’ve never missed a place so much before. My love for the world has always been there, but Afghanistan enhanced that. And most importantly, it taught me that the world isn’t dangerous. News is.
There’s just one thing left to say. Go to Afghanistan. Go to Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia. It will transform you. Be smart, but don’t be scared. The world is not as dangerous as you think.