Friday, May 28, 2010

Welcome to wherever you are

Arriving in Kabul yesterday afternoon, Afreen and I met Attaullah, the friend of a friend who took us from the airport to our guesthouse. That evening, we got cell phones and SIM cards, but soon succumbed to exhaustion, partly fueled by three room changes in a matter of hours (one was not actually a double, in the second the A/C unit blew the fuse even if all the lights were off, but the third finally worked out beautifully).

baby on bike
(image courtesy of Afreen; click to see her full collection)

This morning, however, we set out with a driver to see some of the city I'll be calling home for the next couple of months. Fawad took us down Flower Street (as implied, it's lined with florists and strangely-adorned Corollas), then to the neighborhood of Murad Kahne to see the restorations done by the Turquoise Mountain Foundation. We wandered out to Kabul University, walked its campus with more trees than buildings, and even found the policy research center.

Afreen with camera
(Afreen and her camera, immediately popular in the market)

Traffic was predictably anarchic, but while the city displays poverty and division (concrete walls and barbed wire surround not only the government ministries and UN properties, but also private residences of any level of luxury), the violence I'd read so much about feels remote amid the chaos of ordinary life nonetheless.

traditional rug with tanks
(for sale at the Serena hotel)

Stopping in to ogle the Serena hotel over lunch, the usual surrealities found in walled-off luxury struck me walking across a marble lobby full of men wearing Kevlar. The gift shop offerings of traditional rugs interspersed with weavings of tanks and grenades provided comic relief from the fantasy world, and we soon wandered back out for another brief errand before collapsing back into the walled guesthouse garden to review Dari phrasebooks in preparation for the first day of work.

guesthouse view
(A view from our room; photos of the rose garden to follow)

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