Friday, June 4, 2010

and it's a strange condition...

So day three of the peace jirga is underway with no further incident, and after 60 hours mostly confined to the guesthouse, I'm very much ready to return to the office tomorrow. Today, the Japanese restaurant down the block reopened, providing a pleasant (if minor) change in scenery in which to sit and feel confined.

bento boxes in Kabul?

This restaurant, like every place that caters to the international set, is completely unmarked outside. A friend of a friend told us to look for the orange door just across the street from our guesthouse, and surely enough there was a rose-garden cafe and local handicrafts shop tucked behind it. Staff in the guesthouse pointed us to the coffeeshop just a few steps further down the street. Another expat's dining guide provides plenty of recommendations and helpful directions to each.

Thankfully, there's also a private taxi service (or three) that serve the foreigners as well - the dispatcher answers in English, and the drivers know all the usual hangouts, including many private houses, by name. (This is exceedingly helpful in a city where building numbers are rare and not all streets are named). For $4, they'll drop you off at the unmarked door of your choice, in their equally unmarked Corollas.

Then it's a matter of knocking and stepping into a small alcove to be searched. Afreen draws curious looks from the guards who check her backpack - Afghans aren't allowed in many of these places, so she looks suspicious until beginning to speak. Bags approved, the armed guards open a second door into a world completely removed from any exterior reality. The Taverna du Liban has a four-foot tall brass teapot decorating one corner and serves hookah; the Gandamack Lodge contains a reasonable approximation of a British pub, with the exception of the official government permit requesting that they not serve alcohol to "Afghan citizens or muslims" and a very American "Mad River Glen: ski it if you can" sticker over the bar.

This second, secretive Kabul provides escape from the chaos and possible threats found in the first. Still, its isolation from the greater city is total, and it would be quite easy to live here and never interact with a local except to order dinner. At the end of a day in my office, where I am the only foreigner in the building and one of a mere handful in the organization, it is strange to return to a world my colleagues simply don't know. I eat cafeteria Afghan lunches and participate in spirited half-translated discussions on politics, world affairs, and comparative sociology, only to vanish back into home comforts and English in these separate evening spaces. My desire to escape the speakeasy-bubble is kept in check by uncertainty, however - in an unfamiliar place, who am I to break with habit and test the risks? It's a deeply restrictive little world, and yet it is comfortably so.

at least it's lovely


Bender said...

wow, secret Kabul sure has changed since 2002. I don't remember any Bento Boxes back then.

MadMattDog said...

Very interesting. Stay safe...but not too safe.