Driving Schools In Kabul

Photographs and Text by Jonathan Saruk

Eight lanes of traffic squeeze closer together, drivers honking and yelling at one another, as they attempt to merge into one lane through a broken traffic light. Dust and exhaust fill the air and potholes crumble ever wider. A traffic cop waves a small stop sign in vain as he tries to make order out of a chaotic scene, but no one seems to pays attention; it's just another evening rush hour in Kabul.

One might not believe it after a spending a day driving back and forth across Afghanistan's capital, where the only rule seems to be that there are no rules, but a handful of driving schools exist around the city, teaching students eager to pass the driving test administered by the Traffic Police.

In the second floor of a dilapidated building in the old city of Kabul, Mamozai of the Mamozai Driving School tries to make sense of the art of driving in Kabul to a handful of men sitting in a stuffy, low-ceilinged room. On the table in front of them the guts from one of the country's ubiquitous Toyota Corollas is splayed out on a table, as he explains basic mechanics to his young audience- a necessity in a country where roadside service is unknown.

While reliable statistics on the number of drivers and cars in Kabul are difficult to come by, population growth figures reveal the enormous pressure on the city's limited infrastructure: Between 1999 and 2002, the population of Kabul grew at a rate of 15% per year and since then has grown 5% per year, adding approximately 150,000 new residents per year according to the World Bank.

Driving school is expensive by Afghan standards, approximately 3500 Afghanis or $70 USD for a 12 week course, and few can afford it, but the international community is kicking in: A Swiss aid agency recently gave a grant to the Iqbal Shah Naderi Driving school, a program named after the woman who runs it, to teach 50 women how to drive.

On a little used road close to Ghazni Stadium on the east side of town Ms. Naderi patiently lets her students drive up and down the pothole riddled street in a crimson Corolla while she sits in the front passenger seat, foot at the ready to depress a second break pedal in the event of any danger. Ms. Naderi says she is proud that her country allows women to drive, unlike more strict Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, and she hopes to foster the skill in as many women as possible.

On the wall of Haidari Driving & Technical Course's windowless classroom in the third floor of a strip mall on the other side of the capital, hangs a detailed list of European standard road signs. Haidari meticulously points to each sign and road marking, asking his students to identify their function. Outside his classroom on Darulaman road, one of the busiest in the capital, none of these signs or road markings are visible. When asked why he bothers teaching the signage in a city where road signs and markings are virtually non-existent, Haidari can only say that he is hopeful for the future.