Saturday, 18 July 2015
26 October 2020

Taliban Manners in a Kabul Women’s Public Bath

2013 November 27

Delbar Tavakoli

Bras and panties are lined up on a rope behind Auntie. The curtain opens and a woman walks in.  She lifts up her burqa, reaches down inside her collar and pulls out a cell phone hidden between her breasts.

“Auntie” takes the phone from her and places it with the other cell phones. One after another, the phones ring but “Auntie” doesn’t seem to hear anything.

Salma takes the backpack from me and looks at Auntie: “Good health to you! There are two of us.”

She hands the backpack over. My eyes rest on a pile of “Egg Shampoo” bottles at Auntie’s feet. I’m flung back to childhood memories. I tell Salma, “Let’s take two of these shampoos.”


As they talk, Salma takes a big bucket, a bowl and a small stool from Auntie.

We pull off our shoes and walk into a large room with stone benches lining its perimeter. The women sitting on the benches are either putting their clothes on or taking them off.

Salma says, “Take off your clothes right here and I’ll give them to Auntie so she can keep them for you.

I can’t remember the last time I was in a public bath. As I pull off my clothes my eyes follow the trough carrying soapsuds from the bathing hall to outside.

“Why haven’t you taken off your underwear? How are you going to wash yourself with clothes on? It’s impossible to bathe like this!” says Salma.

I tell her I’m more comfortable this way and we enter the main hall. Apparently nobody other than a five or six year old boy notices our entrance.

Salma finds a place for me in the crowded space and tells me to sit down on the stool. She walks over to a pool where steam rises from the water and returns with a full bucket.

She dips her bowl into the bucket, “I’ll pour the water and you wash your hair.”

Tearing open the shampoo packet with my teeth, I peek around me. There are no Taliban rules in the bath; all the women are completely naked. Even the old ones.

I empty the packet on my head.  A young woman is putting toothpaste on a toothbrush. “Clean your teeth well,” she tells her two little girls.

“Why are you looking at people so much? Wash yourself!” chides Salma as she empties the bowl of water on my head.

The egg shampoo’s lather swells on my head. Salma walks over to the warm pool again. Handfuls of hair, suds, and body dirt scrubbed away by bath cloths writhe on the ground. For the first time in my life, I’ve gone five days without a bath. Now I think any number of diseases will find me after this. Like a lot of their elders, little girls are sitting naked on the bath floor.

Salma returns and admonishes me again, “Don’t stare at people so much. Don’t you want to take your underwear off? Let me scrub your back.”

I lock eyes with the little boy. He looks at every woman’s naked body with interest as she enters the hall.

There’s a shower in a corner. “Since you won’t let me scrub your back, go wash yourself under the shower, but the water’s cold!” warns Salma.

The water is colder than I expect. I take off my underwear, take a breath close my eyes and step under the cold water in Kabul’s freezing winter. My eyes open at the sound of giggles and whispers. It’s the boy. He’s looking at me through a crack in the curtain, whispering and laughing with a little girl.

I think to myself, “The Taliban’s laws might be absent in the bath hall but their teaching fills the place. Women are afraid to even look at their naked bodies in a women’s bath. There’s no mirror here. A woman won’t look at her own body or another woman’s but this little boy is allowed these moments and his curiosity.”

Salma gets my clothes and backpack from Auntie. We walk out of the bath house.

The next day I have an appointment with Soraya Dalil, the Minister of Public Health. She’s an attractive, educated woman. She patiently answers all my questions and says reducing the death rate for women and girls is her top priority.

The Minister tells me about her plans to expand public health education.

As we say our goodbyes I ask her if she’s ever been to a public bath in Kabul.

“No! Have you?” she asks with surprise.

 Translation By  Maryam  Moezzi

لینک فارسی این گزارش

«نوشته فوق می تواند نظر نویسنده باشد و الزامن نظر رادیو کوچه نیست»


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