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Living in Afghanistan
A practical guide to the way of life in Afghanistan
Afghanistan may not be an obvious choice of destination for expats, but there are still those drawn by the lively and multicultural heritage to live in Afghanistan and help the nation reach its former glory. Get prepared by reading up on healthcare, education, and more in our guide.
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Life in Afghanistan
Education in Afghanistan
There are limited options for private and international education for overseas individuals. One main option is the International School of Kabul (ISK). It is a mixed private K-12 school with an English speaking curriculum (college-prep level). It is a popular choice with children of expat families working in the international development sector as well as resident Afghans. As of 2014, full tuition for K-12 students stands at 11,900 USD.
More broadly, over 10.5 million Afghans go to school, including over 2.5 million girls. One million Afghan pupils attended school with USAID assistance in 2013. However, due to limited resources, the quality of public education is lacking in many areas compared with western standards. Public education is also a relatively new concept in Modern Afghanistan.
Healthcare in Afghanistan
Healthcare insurance should be top priority if you are moving to Afghanistan. International health insurance is absolutely crucial if you are an expat in Afghanistan, as well as coverage for emergency evacuation. If you opt for an insurance package then it is important to make sure that it has a solid medical emergency component. Insurance providers to choose from include Bellwood Prestbury, AAIB and ASFE. Although healthcare can be expensive given the high risks associated with living in Afghanistan, it is worth investing in. There are a number of private hospitals, especially in Kabul. They include Wazir Akbar Khan hospital and the Afghan-German hospital. The medical emergency number in Afghanistan is 112.
Private healthcare coverage is so important for expats, even those who are new to Afghanistan and just arrived, given the extremely low quality of local healthcare by western standards. According to the World Health Organisation, Afghanistan has one of the least developed healthcare systems in the world. Maternal mortality is one of the highest in the world, and under-5 infant mortality also remains high. HIV/AIDs is an increasing concern given the prevalence of drug abuse, causing further strain on the local healthcare infrastructure.
Culture and Leisure in Afghanistan
Anyone moving to Afghanistan will be impressed by the country’s varied and interesting cultural aspects. Afghanistan’s Central Asian crossroads position has lent it a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Afghanistan enjoys several ethnic and linguistic traditions. In particular, Herat was an important hub for Persian literature and scholarship from the 10th century.
In the realm of music and dance, Afghanistan has been enjoying a traditional folk singing revival. Western and Indian music have also proved increasingly popular. Public dancing is a popular pastime at weddings and religious and national celebration days. Performance of the attan dance, which is the Afghan national dance, is particularly prevalent during times of celebration.
Afghanistan’s art heritage includes pre-Islamic and Islamic fine art works. There are a number of art galleries and museums in Kabul that expats and foreigners living in Kabul can enjoy. The National Museum of Afghanistan was opened in 1919 at the Bagh-i-Bala palace. The collection has grown impressively and now spans fifty millennia. Art and artefacts from the prehistoric, Buddhist and Islamic eras can all be found here. Excavations spearheaded from 1922 by the Delegation Archaeologique Francaise en Afghanistan dramatically boosted the museum’s collection.
The Kabul Museum used to be one of the greatest museums in the world. Although the civil war inflicted its damage on the establishment, the museum is starting to revive itself. One of the museum’s highlights is the Nuristani gallery, which features large wooden deity and ancestor figures as well as impressions of warriors and lovers.
The National Art Gallery, situated in an old manor, houses an interesting collection of 20th century paintings by artists including Muhammed Maimongi and Yusuf Assafi. On the same grounds is the private Sultani Museum, set up in 2004 by Ahmad Shah Sultani, a trader in gold and antiques. A large part of Sultani’s collection of antiquities from Afghanistan was amassed when he was in exiled in London during the civil war. Although it is completely possible to turn up to the museum and buy a ticket from the caretaker, the museum is in somewhat of a limbo in that not all of the collection has been catalogued, the labelling on individual pieces is patchwork, and the museum has to be unlocked for individual visitors, which can be time consuming. However, highlights include the collection of wooden stamps and coin, as well as Nuristani wood carvings and Ghorid and Ghaznavid pottery.
Another museum worth visiting in Kabul is the OMAR Land Mine Museum, which was established by the Organisation of Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR). As well as being a training center for land mine clearance, this museum houses an exhibit of over 60 mines that are still scattered across the country.
There are various shopping options in Afghanistan, including a handful of shopping malls such as the Roshan Shopping Center, Majeed Mall and Park Mall. For more traditional shopping, Kocha-e-Murgha, or “Chicken Street,” is a popular choice, for its boutiques where you can buy anything from carpets to traditional musical instruments.
Major tourist attractions in Afghanistan away from Kabul include the five lakes of Band-e-Amir, one of the most beautiful places in the country, with impressive geological formations. It is also known as the lake of jewels. The Minaret of Jam, although quite remote, set in a valley near the Hari Rud river, is quite a popular destination for travellers too. Also known as the Minaret of Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad bin Sam, it is on the UNESCO world heritage list.
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