Aah, kissing in Kabul. It leads you to think of many sweet things, perhaps of roses, shy giggles or maybe even Indian movies with women in suggestive wet saris, dancing around trees in Switzerland (what, did you think that was filmed in Gujarat or something?)
Nah, this post won’t be about that.
By kissing, I mean cheek to cheek, almost air kissing – it’s how Afghans say hello. But who gets the Afghan hello?
As a young Afghan in the U.S. and socializing only with my extended family and close friends, everyone was kissed. Twice - one kiss on each cheek. Sometimes a person would go in for a third kiss, which makes things awkward, ‘cuz how do you know? You don’t want to be left hanging there, it’s embarrassing… Then there would be the elders who wanted their hand kissed, elders who didn’t want their hand kissed. Elders who did want their hand kissed but had to pretend like they didn’t and so you didn’t and they never really liked you as a result.
Then I got older. And that’s when things got more complicated.
Kiss everyone? Kiss old people only? Which male relatives are you supposed to kiss? Could someone make me a chart?
I finally figured it out, kinda: male cousins I grew up with and are older - okay, older uncles - okay, newly introduced male cousins that are my age – shake hands. Male Afghans that aren’t related and I don’t call uncle - back away slowly dude, my dad is watching.
When I went to Afghanistan the first time, everyone got a nod, not even a handshake. I had to be careful. Coming from the West, I already had ‘ho’ on my imaginary business card.
This time around in Afghanistan, it’s still an issue but now it has become a bit of a rebellion.
I do intentionally kiss the cheeks of my older uncles. They’re Afghan Diaspora uncles but not necessarily related by blood. But they are family. I didn't grow up with them but they know my parents. They remind me of my Afghan-American home, with laughter, food and family jokes. It’s never easy to be in what is ostensibly my homeland and ache, just ache for my extended family.
A few months ago, I kissed the cheeks of an uncle that 1) wasn’t a blood uncle and 2) it was at a notoriously conservative Ministry. I sent him an email and apologized profusely. He graciously responded with, “It was an honor, you’re my daughter and we’re here to teach them manners.”
I don’t know about manners but I think that creating a mini-family across ethnic lines is a step in the right direction.
A local co-worker recently mentioned that before the wars, Afghans often had friends they considered family. This meant that once adopted into the family, your families were bound together. This wasn't a trite saying; you really were family. According to him, this practice went across ethnic lines. He said that friendliness is gone now. I see remnants.
So maybe it’s not completely within sharia but my intentions are pure. These people are my family in Kabul. They are my connections, my bonds to the country and my family’s history and naysayers, you can kiss my-well, never mind. I’m still trying to keep up with my New Year’s Resolution.
*Leave it to the Sunday Scribblings to pick ‘kissing’ as my first post topic, for more kissing, click here. Thanks to Frida for the link to Sunday Scribblings!