I will begin house-hunting when I return to Kabul later this week. Why? My housemates have declared my current house an Afghan-free zone.
It’s one of the dirty secrets of Kabul’s expatriate community: a significant number of expat house managers and tenants refuse to allow Afghans other than their guards and housekeepers into their houses and then fly into theatrical rages when an Afghan (an Unauthorized Afghan!) unknowingly crosses into their private Expatland. That so many aid workers are guilty of this is shameful. Afghan-free zones are an affront to the values of the humanitarian community. But more than that, they fly in the face of human decency.
Afghan-free zones are usually enforced by alliances of housemates. Think: Westerners of the sets that tend to forget that not everyone owns a holiday home and members of the Afghan diaspora’s most affluent and arrogant circles –the people who tell you, within the first 15 minutes of meeting you, that they’re descended from Amanullah’s bloodline or were “from the last of the good families to leave Herat” before the 32 Years War. These are groups of people so deeply uncomfortable coexisting with “local” (read: working class, uppity ethnic minority, self-educated and rags-to-middle-class) Afghans that they can’t bear life in Kabul unless their residences are free of Afghans besides the non-English-speaking hired help, who wouldn’t dare risk questioning the status quo for fear of endangering salaries that support whole extended families.
Usually announced with little or no warning, Afghan-free zones are enforced by bullying dissenting housemates into silence, acts of passive aggression against expats with close Afghan friends and communal “house talks” that entail brow-beating the resident local-lover into moving out.
The practice of imposing blanket bans on Afghan nationals entering private residences in their own capital city is stunningly offensive, racist and mean-spirited. (Back in July, my housemates refused to let one of my Afghan friends use our bathroom after a 5-hour drive.) It’s long past time for the Afghan-free zones to be eradicated and their expat supporters to be called out, publicly. Let’s go.