1970s Internet Cafes in Afghanistan – the “telefonkhana”

I love my parents’ stories from Afghanistan and everywhere in between. But sadly I know if I don’t write them down, I’ll forget too many of them. So I’ll post some of them here. Some are sad, some are funny, others are just random. I wonder why I haven’t asked my parents as many questions about  their lives as I’ve asked those I’ve met traveling. Sometimes the stories lying right under your nose are the hardest to discover.

A choice one from tonight:

Before there were internet cafes, there were telefonkhana(s) (literally, “telephone house”). I asked my parents why they always talked about sending each other letters (my mom was studying in Bangkok, and my father was in Afghanistan) and not calling. Wasn’t there a way to call internationally? My dad laughed – “Dean, this was 40 years ago. To call anywhere we had to go to a telefonkhana and there was no practical way to call abroad.”

My parents describe them this way: to make a telephone call, you would go (often a very long distance) in person to a building called the telefonkhana. Here you would tell the operator the name of the person you wanted to call, and where they lived. The operator would then try to connect to the other province. (At this point my mother did her best impression of the voice they would make as they searched the bands for the operator on the other line “Adraskan, Adraskan!” – Adraskan was a suburb of Herat. It sounded like she had heard it just yesterday.)

Once connected, the operator would then send a runner to find the person you wished to speak with and bring him or her to the local telefonkhana.Then perhaps an hour later, you’d finally be connected and talk.

One just has to wonder how much more wisely they chose their words in those days.

(I imagine such a system once existed in the West, but I’ve certainly never heard of it.)

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2 thoughts on “1970s Internet Cafes in Afghanistan – the “telefonkhana”

  1. Marie Spiker says:

    When my parents starting dating they lived in Malaysia (my mom) and the US (my dad), and it was the late 70’s/early 80’s so they would write and very occasionally call. I don’t know if they used anything like the telefonkhana, but those letters and postcards must have really been something, huh? I don’t know if I could properly woo someone from thousands of miles away with only a pen and paper!

  2. Roxana says:

    THis is beautifully written and I can totally relate to your experience of longing for a land that you have never personally known. Please keep writing and sharing your story with the world.

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