Meet The Afghanistan's First Female Tour Guide
Condé Nast Traveller India|November 2021 - December 2021 - January 2022
From being a shepherdess in Ghor province to Afghanistan’s first female tour guide, Fatima Haidari traces two tumultuous decades
Fatima Haidari

When I first told my father about my decision to become a tour guide, he was angry. He asked if I intended to bury myself alive as this would threaten the honour of our community. On tours, I remember men on the streets laughing and looking at me strangely, saying, “See her, a Hazara girl [Hazara is an Afghan ethnic minority group], walking alone with strange men.” I remember the Sufi at an old shrine who judged me for spreading “vice and apostatizing”. Each time he saw me, he would say, “You are walking with heretics and strangers. You have to repent soon.” I would reply with a smile, “Yes, kaka jaan (dear uncle).” It was tough enough that there were the restrictions of the pandemic to consider.

WRITING ON THE SANDS

My path to becoming Afghanistan’s first female tour guide began by guiding sheep and cows to green pastures. Born as the youngest of seven, in the deprived and outlying Lal wa Sarjangal district of Ghor province, I had to work as a shepherdess at the age of eight. It was my introduction to leading a group.

Shepherding was also how I got an education when studying was forbidden to most girls. The boys studied on the sands under the shade of a tree beside a small river. I would take my sheep to graze nearby so I could listen to their teacher. When the Red Cross offered healthcare and food to families with daughters in school, I convinced my parents to let me go—their condition was that I continue being a shepherd. I had no books or pens and would practise writing on the sands.

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