Sometimes when you travel, it’s not so much the place you travel to but rather the people you meet. And sometimes the people you meet can be a little… out there.
When I went to Afghanistan in February for the Afghan Ski Challenge, I was the “out there” one for my friends. But I have never met a woman like Candace Lau, a 28-year-old Chinese-Australian photographer who took a year off work to travel on the cheap through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Candace doesn’t correct men when they assume she is a boy. (Paula Froelich)
“The less money I spend, the longer I can travel,” she told me. “And I prefer to take public transportation because it’s cheap, and you actually meet the locals.”
And in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where women can’t travel alone freely (or safely), Candace used her heritage and androgyny to her advantage.
“Because I look Chinese, people think I’m Hazara (a tribe based in northern Afghanistan). And then people see how I’m dressed and assume I’m a boy, and I tell the men I’m a boy, and the women I’m a girl,” Candace said.
Candace had very little problem passing as a boy. (Photo: Paula Froelich)
And Candace, because of the way she looks and people’s assumptions about her sex (and her understanding of Dari, a local language), could find out things that the locals would never tell us. Like: How the locals date, who makes the worst husbands (Apparently the local Tajiks like to cut off ears and noses.), and what Afghanis really think of us.
Not everyone appreciated Candace’s plan. (Paula Froelich)
But the ruse didn’t go over well with everyone. While most people would stare at Candace and giggle, Kausar, a Pashtun in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, shook his head and said, “No! That is not right! She will get herself into trouble.”
Which left me wondering — is she incredibly brave… or insane?
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