Afghan women use them to combat their society’s contradictory views, even if the stakes are high

Soraya Shahidi, a 26-year-old Afghan nail and tattoo artist, puts the finishing touches on a tattoo.
Soraya Shahidi, a 26-year-old Afghan nail and tattoo artist, puts the finishing touches on a tattoo.
Soraya Shahidi, a 26-year-old Afghan nail and tattoo artist, puts the finishing touches on a tattoo on her client Marina. Photography: Ivan Flores

It is a warm August weekend day in the Afghan capital of Kabul, but that doesn’t slow down Soraya Shahidi, a 26-year-old Afghan nail and tattoo artist. Dressed smartly in her ripped blue jeans and long yellow coat, her hair pulled back, and sporting a lip piercing, Shahidi stands out in the sea of modestly dressed Afghan men and women, some covered in traditional long, flowing blue burqas. Her unique ensemble is only a part of her extraordinary personality as the first female tattoo artist of Afghanistan.

At great personal risk, Shahidi offers her services in a safe, nonjudgmental space…


Through coups, invasions, and battles, the demand for bread is as strong as ever

Assadullah inspects freshly baked naan before putting it on display in Kabul, Afghanistan. All photos by Ivan Flores.

With additional reporting by Ajmal Omari

It’s 4 a.m. on a cold November morning and still pitch dark outside. The streets of Kabul are deserted, and the only souls on the street are the few Afghan soldiers patrolling heavily militarized checkpoints nearby. But there is a bustle of activity ongoing in the small bakery run by 64-year-old Assadullah, who like most Afghans goes by only one name. …


In a tea-drinking culture, coffee and cupcakes are signs of social change

April 18, 2019 — Kabul, Afghanistan: A woman takes a photo of her coffee and cake to post to Instagram. All photos: Ivan Flores

The two-story Cupcake Coffee Shop has no shortage of customers, here for an array of cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and specialty coffee drinks. Yet the shop, with its open coffee bar and wood-paneled walls, isn’t in Chicago or Manchester, or anywhere else in the Western world: It’s nestled in the heart of Kabul, the war-torn capital of Afghanistan.

Co-owner and manager Mohammad Hussain Gulzara, 23, says he noticed that other Kabul cafes were always crowded and provided a limited menu, so he opened this one over a year ago.

“Things are changing. Places like this is such a good opportunity for…


My first time wearing mask in 2020 (and in ever) on a flight to India in February! Took it off when I landed in Bombay and attended a wedding (!!!) because Covid threat had yet to register

To say that this year did not go exactly as I planned may be an understatement. But all things considered, for me, 2020 was not as bad and, if I may, an opportunity for learning and growth in an unexpected way.

But most of all, this year, forced me to slow down, and prioritise myself. I wasn’t constantly on my toes, reporting, interviewing, transcribing, writing.

Instead this year, I read. a lot. books articles, stories, poems, blogs, other people’s rants. I explored the world with their words.

This year, I talked. to many many people. about their fears, hopes, ideas…


Chainaki is a warming stew for harsh winters and tumultuous times

Rows of teapots slowly simmering the chainaki, a traditional meat soup that’s the ultimate winter comfort food for Afghans. Photos: Hikmat Noori

There is a certain method to having the chainaki, a wholesome meat soup made in a teapot, called “chainak” in the Afghan language of Dari.

First, you take the large naan that comes with every serving and break into tiny pieces; fill your bowl with as many as you like. Then, you open your teapot filled with a deep red-orange lamb soup made with tomatoes, onions, fat, and spices, cooked over a slow fire, and pour it over the bread.

“You cannot just dip your bread into the bowl of soup; that’s not how it’s done,” I was told the…


Past, present and future is all female.

Oh, how I am glad that 2019 is coming to an end. For a moment there, it felt like it would just go on forever, one really long never-ending struggle. Yea, 2019 was exceptionally trying year for me.

For the first time, I found myself in situations that required me give a mature response, to act like an adult and make wise decisions that may not feel good, but were the best options for the “long-term”, cause we are all about long-terms now. …


India’s queer communities are hoping more representation in the canon will be readily available and accepted

Illustrations: Osheen Siva

In September 2018, India’s LGBTQ movement secured a major victory. The Indian Supreme Court revoked Section 377, a colonial-era law dating back to 1860 that established homosexuality as an offense punishable with a prison sentence of anywhere from 10 years to life.

The day has since gone down in history for LGBTQ activists and members of the community who had been fighting this legal battle for decades. In 2019, however, the community is now fighting a different battle to change social perspectives in a country still defined by strong patriarchal codes. …


The fading Indian tradition is worth practicing beyond its origin

Photo from The Sharing Bowl

Despite the sweltering Sunday afternoon heat, 33-year-old Ammo Angom was hard at work in his small apartment kitchen in the western suburbs of Mumbai, putting the final touches on a seven-course meal. On this summer day, Angom opened his house to a party of about two dozen Mumbai residents to introduce them to traditional cooking from his home state of Manipur in Northeast India.

Angom founded The Sharing Bowl late last year, based on the Indian tradition of sharing meals with the community and neighbors. “The Sharing Bowl is derived from a Manipuri practice called Tengkot Laanaba, which translates to…


This is me outside the ruins of Rumi’s birthplace in a northern Afghanistan, April 2017

This year was exceptionally good to me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the blessings, relations — old and new, travel and the opportunity to be part of some amazing stories this year.

I started freelancing in late 2015 but I didn’t do it full-time until late 2016 largely because of not being able to afford life in a place like Kabul. The early days of full time reporting, i.e.late 2016 and early 2017, was tough. I barely had enough to pay my bills and rent. I had to borrow money from my parents on more than one occasion…


‘I got so used to it that I forgot that it hurts; that it’s not normal’

(iStock)

“Before I was married, I couldn’t have imagined I was capable of tolerating as much abuse as I did,” shared Batul Moradi, 36.

Moradi is a writer and a survivor of domestic abuse who struggled for years to escape an abusive marriage in Afghanistan.

“It’s so strange how common it is in this society, that it has become normal. I got so used to it that I forgot that it hurts; that it’s not normal,” she recalled.

In a deeply conservative society like Afghanistan, stories of women caught in domestic abuse are far too many, and considered, even by those…

Ruchi Kumar

Writer. Journalist. Humanist. Based in #Afghanistan. Words @ForeignPolicy @Guardian @AJEnglish @WashingtonPost @Vice Earlier: Web producer @dna @TimesofIndia

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