When I first got to Afghanistan in 1969, having driven in my VW van from London, my strongest immediate thought-- other than how unbelievably strong the hash is-- was that no matter how far I had traveled in space I had traveled much further in time-- straight backward. I was thousands of miles from my parents' home in Brooklyn... and what felt like as many thousands of years back in time. I remember writing to a friend that I was feeling like I was living in the Bible (Old Testament).
Things have changed a little since then. I lived in a "village" (two family compounds off a barely demarcated dirt track) for a winter up in the Hindu Kush where no one had ever heard of the United States (and no one had ever experienced electricity). I'm not sure if they've experienced electricity some 4 decades later but I'd bet you they've heard of the United States.
When you travel to, let's say "exotic" places like Afghanistan, you're better off leaving your cultural judgments in check. There's no way to reasonably compare our cultural standards to the ones that govern their lives. I got used to the concept, for example, of two good cleanings a year-- one in the spring and one in the fall, something very different from the swim, jacuzzi, steam bath and shower I do in some combination everyday here in L.A. Better to just roll with the punches. However, there was something I experienced a couple times in Afghanistan that I just couldn't swing with. It was pretty horrifying. They call it Bacha Bazi and my experience of it came at two weddings, one in Ghazni southwest of Kabul, which I believe was the 4th biggest town in the country, and one up in the Hindu Kush, the land time forgot. Bachas are young dancing boys. We'll come back to this cultural artifact in a moment, but this is what Wikipedia says about it.
You don't ever see the womenfolk in Afghanistan. My closest friend got married while I was there and I lived in his house and spent virtually all of my time with him for several months. Everyone used to joke that we were brothers. I never saw the girl he married, not once. In the same house! Nor was she-- or his mother or sisters-- at the wedding. Well, that isn't exactly accurate. They had their own party in the women's part of the house. But it wasn't exactly separate-but-equal; just separate.
Big steaming platters of rice with meat and vegetables were brought out by male servants-- actually slaves but no one called them that-- and everyone dug in with their fingers, food rolling down everyone's beards back onto the platters. Yum, yum. When the men were done eating, the leftovers were fed to the servants and dogs, although I don't remember in what order, and then what was left from that was sent to the women. Meanwhile we had song and dance-- the young boys. There was a troupe of them from somewhere who are hired to entertain at parties. They looked like they were between 12 and 16 and they were wearing women's dancing clothes, more or less; they all had big heavy farmer boots on. And they all had their eyes smeared with kohl and some kind of rouge substitute. Everyone was hootin' and hollerin' when they were dancing, kind of alluringly, truth be told. No one was drunk but everyone-- every single person-- was high on hash. At one point the groom's grandfather suddenly jumped up-- apparently unable to restrain himself for another second-- grabbed the youngest, smallest bacha and dragged him behind a building and raped him.
It was gruesome to hear... but it didn't seem to put any kind of a damper on the party at all. The rest of the troupe kept dancing and everyone else just ignored the commotion and just enjoyed the festivities. It's part of their culture. Ten minutes later grandpa and the 12 year old came back from around the building, straightening their clothes. The bacha seemed to have felt his dignity was affronted but he jumped right back into the line and danced away the rest of the evening as though nothing had happened. I'm not sure what happened afterwards but from what I heard, all the boys were raped (more or less).
And although these people definitely have heard of America now, they still enjoy a little bacha bazi as part of their cultural heritage, especially the wealthy men, although wealth is a relative thing and whomever is exercising power gets himself a young bacha or two (or a half dozen) to keep as sex slaves. Frontline did a special on the phenomena by journalist Najibullah Qurasishi. You may find it difficult to watch but it will certainly give you an idea about a not uncommon aspect of Afghanistan, a country the U.S. military is occupying for no apparent purpose and with no apparent positive effect.