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Afghan Women Prepare to Take Wheel

The women's course, held in a cavernous hall, covers the usual topics of driving safety, but with a few Afghan twists.

"This sign means there is danger of camel crossing," Afzali shouted on a recent afternoon, rapping the illustration in question with a long wooden pointer.

Asadullah Afzali, an instructor with the Herat traffic department, teaches a driving class for women. He won approval for the class about a month ago. (N.C. Aizenman -- The Washington Post)

The students sat before him in rows of plastic chairs, occasionally whispering to one another despite Afzali's warnings: "This is a classroom! Not a wedding party!"

The women's hair was covered with colorful scarves. But their burqas and chadors were slung over their seats, revealing stylish patterned jeans and platform shoes.

Then the class was dismissed and it was off to a scrubby practice field on the outskirts of the city in a caravan of borrowed cars and rented taxis.

Karimi, the law student, wearing an austere beige head scarf and dark red nail polish, settled under a tree and waited her turn as a classmate lurched by in an SUV.

She said her brother had promised to buy her a car if she passed her test. She is grateful, she added, but unsure what the point would be. "If I go any long distance, I would still need a man with me or people will say things to me," she said.

Rahime Alokozai, a fellow student who was standing nearby, dismissed such talk. "If a person is saying nonsense to you, that's their problem," said Alokozai, 39. "You should just ignore it, and gradually when [all women] are driving, the talk will go away."

Then Alokozai pulled on her burqa and clambered into the back of a taxi for the ride home.

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