Monday, August 4, 2008

Giving directions in Afghanistan

One thing that Kabul lacks is street names. There are a few main drags that have a name. And the names are usually to the point; Airport Road, River Road, 40 Meter Road (guess how wide that one is). All major intersections have a name and are usually sponsored (KabulBank, Ariana Airlines, KAM Airlines, etc), except Massoud Circle which is named after Afghanstan's national hero and Goats Head Circle. . . there aren't any goat heads at it. But most street names have either been forgotten or never existed. This makes giving directions a bit of a challenge. Addressing a letter is practically impossible. Business cards are laughable. People get used to describing their location using landmarks, nearby billboards, important streets, or other familiar bits of information. "Turn left at the Iranian mosque," "The street before the USAID billboard," "Three streets past this NGO office;" these are all phrases I have heard used for direction giving. I saw a business card that said which mosque it was closest too, the two stores it was in between and the color of the door. No one mentions street names and no one gives an address. Google maps would be very ineffective here. In a city with over 4 million inhabitants, it can get a little confusing. I have yet to get lost though, so apparently the system works.

But Afghanistan is changing. The streets in our neighborhood have been numbered and are getting signs. Maybe they'll start paving these streets next. I doubt I'll hear anyone telling me to turn right on 15th and look for this addressed house. I'm sure I'll continue to turn right three streets before the bazaar and to ring the doorbell of the home with the green and pink walls next to the women's education center.


Alicia said...

hey, that sounds like my kind of place! I never use street names, and especially not north, south, etc. landmarks are by far the easiest way for me to give/receive directions. it sounds like the business cards need to be either very large, or in very small print with all of the words that need to fit on them!

Intrepidity said...

what? no hand motions? that's the best when people just wave in a certain direction with the ambiguous "over there" intent.

pjhawk said...

They may think women are to stupid to drive or ride bikes but I'm sure they are excellent at giving directions if they were asked (since most are landmark oriented)but then again what man really asks?