Fatima: First Female Afghanistan Tour Guide
Mark Bibby Jackson chats with Fatima, the first female Afghanistan tour guide about the challenges she has faced in pursuing her chosen career as well as her hopes for the future.
What motivated you to become the first female Afghanistan tour guide?
What is more beautiful than influencing and giving insights in terms of the history, culture, food and tradition of my country? Before I thought that Afghanistan is not a safe place for a woman to be a tour guide or tourist, now I think I am the one who has to create this safe place. Like the women who travelled to Afghanistan despite all the discouragement and threats, I must continue until the day comes when all the people of Afghanistan understand and support me as a woman tour guide, attracting more women tourists.
Can you describe some of the challenges you have faced in becoming a tour guide? I understand that even getting basic education as a woman in Afghanistan was not easy?
When I first decided to be a tour guide, my parents strongly disagreed. No one gave me a positive energy about the job I loved to do. “You are a girl and can’t do it.’’ “Being a tour guide for a woman is extremely dangerous,” they said. But nothing is stronger than my courage, faith, goal and interests. So nobody can stop me from doing what I love to do.
Now, I can run after my dreams. That is my greatest achievement
I have two sisters, they were married when only 13 and 15 years old. Worse than that they are illiterate, as are my four brothers.
I am the only one who fought back, and didn’t let them decide my life too. Otherwise, now I would be looking after my baby, and be dependent upon my husband. Fortunately, I won the battle. Now, I can run after my dreams. That is my greatest achievement. To change my dreams into reality, is my next greatest achievement.
How did your love for travel start?
It goes back to my childhood when I used to herd sheep and cows. I was born in one of the most deprived and outlying areas of Afghanistan, the Lal Sar Jan-gal District of Ghor province. I had to work as a shepherd even when I was eight. It was a tough experience. However, guiding so many sheep and cows to find their food and enjoy life, was a pleasure too.
It may sound a little strange to many readers, but in fact, running on those high hills after animals was where I first became introduced to guiding and leading a group. Moreover, grazing those animals was what I had to do, until my family permitted me to go to a school with no walls. The roof was the scorching sun, the seats were the hot sands next to a small river. Worse than that most of the girls were strictly forbidden to attend there. Luckily, I learned basic reading and writing along with guiding animals.
There will be a time when no girl suffocates her dreams inside because of being a woman
My impression is that Afghanistan is not a safe place to visit, especially for single female travellers. What would you say to people to encourage them to visit the country?
Before I started my career as a female guide, I often read about tourism in several sites. Most of them discouraged women from travelling in Afghanistan alone due to insecurity and cultural problems. I used to ask myself, “if it’s dangerous to visit Afghanistan as a tourist woman, so how is it possible to be a woman tour guide?”
But as I thought about it, I realised that though you can never ignore security issues in Afghanistan, it’s the same both for men and women. Travellers are not going to come to Afghanistan to fight a battle. They will come via tour companies such as Untamed Borders which offer the same services to both sexes. Hundreds of women guided by Untamed Borders or other such companies have returned home safe and sound. So it means women can also visit Afghanistan alone. When I first guided a woman, it created hope, and strengthened my desire to pursue my career. Every time I guide a woman, it raises my self-confidence to run after my dreams.
There will be a time when no girl suffocates her dreams inside because of being a woman. Female tourists are the role models for courage and change. I feel happy and it’s my pleasure to guide them. I will never let anyone tell me, “You can’t do it.” Women tourists do matter, as a woman tour guide I matter too.
What would you recommend our readers to see and do in your country?
Bamiyan is a great place to visit because it is historically and culturally a rich province. In May I am leading a couple with Untamed Borders to Kabul, then Mazar e Sharif to see the blue-tiled shrine of Hazrat Ali and the remains of the once great Silk Road City of Balkh and the Greco-Buddhist caves at Samanga. I am really looking forward to this.
I guide them on how to open their wings and learn to fly
I believe you were introduced to Untamed Borders in 2020. How did this happen?
While studying at university I started searching and writing about historical places in the world, particularly in Afghanistan, through posting on Facebook in a travel diary group. That was how I was first introduced as a tour guide to Untamed Borders after guiding a group of tourists.
And you run your own radio show and volunteer teaching female refugees to read and write.
Beside guiding, I work with refugee girls. My friends and I are a group of ten people, working as volunteers in a project for displaced people. I am the part time coordinator of the project, as well as teaching a class of forty female students. I guide them on how to open their wings and learn to fly.
What future plans do you have?
First of all, I want to take a scholarship in a developed country to resume my education. After graduation, I will return to my country with a more diverse perspective on culture and history. I want to be a professional journalist as well as a great country tour guide. In addition, I dream of travelling and writing in magazines and other media about the attractions of various countries.
My next plan is to establish a tourism organisation for empowering female tour guides. I am the first female tour guide, but I don’t want to be the last one. Afghanistan needs new guide leaders with new perspectives who have open minds and open hearts to introduce Afghanistan to the world. This need is more crucial for Afghan women, and I will do my best to be an agent of change and inspiration for many people who face similar challenges to the ones I faced as a female tour guide and journalist.
All images supplied by Untamed Borders.