"What are the khaima?", you ask. Try asking any Afghan. He will snicker but will not answer.
However, tell any Afghan that you have been to Mazar-i-Sharif. "Did you visit the khaima?", he will ask you.
Mazar-I-Sharif is famous for two things: The Blue Mosque and the Khaima.
So, what are the Khaima?
The word "khaima" means "white tents". So, instead of asking you if you have visited the khaima, they might ask you if you have visited the white tents.
The khaima are about ten miles east of Mazar-I-Sharif. They are far out in the desert but are walking distance from the main road.
Living in those white tents are a tribe of desert nomads known as Kuchis. However, these Kuchis are different from other Kuchis. Most Kuchis live in black tents made of goat hair. These Kuchis, however, live in white tents.
The surprising answer to this riddle is that the khaima are a tribe of prostitutes. They are not like any other prostitutes in the world. They do not stand on street corners under red lights. They stay far out in the desert but near enough to the cities so that their customers can come to see them.
The question is: Prostitution is punishable by death in Afghanistan, a strict Muslim country. How is it possible that a tribe of desert nomad prostitutes can exist?
Needless to say, I have visited the khaima. I did it on my first trip to Afghanistan in 1976. No. I did not partake of their services, but a young boy who guided me there, whose name was Izat Mir, did partake. Of course, I paid his fee, which was about three dollars for about 30 seconds with a young lady. He was in and out so quickly that I was not sure that anything had happened, but he assured me that it had.
Why did I not partake? Frankly, the women of the khaima were grotesquely ugly. I did not see any men, but I was sure that they were there. They were probably hiding behind the tents so as not to frighten the visitors away. There were lots of children running around, however. I did not see any signs that the khaima were using any form of birth control.
I later met an Afghan in New York, who told me that the khaima are not only near Mazar-I-Sharif. They are all over the Northwest corner if Afghanistan near places like Meymaneh and Sheberghan. They do not exist south of the Hindu Kush, however.
He said that the khaima are very rich. They all have radios and cassette players. They are also real nomads. They move around with their tents and camels. There have even been sociological studies done of them, he said.
Twenty-five years have since passed, 25 years of war. I do wonder if the khaima have survived in their lifestyle for these 25 years. Perhaps I should go visit my old friends some day.