Kabul, Afghanistan | July 5th, 2003


The skies above Kabul had thundered so ferociously that they woke me up at 4 am on Saturday night, and kept me awake for 2 hours pondering the madness of my first 72 hours in Kabul.  Even though I was looking forward to a day of work (yes, they work Saturdays and Sundays here) with little sleep, it would be coated in a mojito-sugared bliss.  I have never been one to fuss over birthdays, but I have always looked hungrily towards my 30th – I had, afterall, waited out my entire wretched 20's for this big symbolic turning point. That day, my birthday (today), had already been too symbolic -- showing up to the first official day of work at the new workshop space -- the beginning of my self-invented occupation as procurer of Afghan labor for the design of anything that served my fancy.  And the night was only more interesting...

With the few people I vaguely knew from last year’s trip out of town, I had spent the first 48 hours restless in Kabul and feeling increasingly lonely; any friends of friends that promised contacts and companionship hadn’t come through.   Matters would have to be taken into my own hands.  Luckily, luck takes care of most things, less so my hands...Only two days before leaving the US, a woman I hardly remembered meeting at NSVC (National Social Venture Competition) emails me and gives me the contact info for somebody she barely knows in Kabul, but who works at the UN. When I ring this lady, Louise, she takes several hours to return my call because she was still coming to after apparently partying till 4 am the night before.  She was also on her way to Herat, but in that extremely good-natured and practical way that Scandinavians have about them, she hands me some extremely useful phone numbers, follows up to make sure these people know I'm calling, and doesn't even ask how on earth I was given her number (because I would hardly have been able to answer that).  One of those numbers was an Afghan-American named Rahim who "knows everybody".  I decided to trust her UN social skills and fly with it, though a little piece of me was still worried that he would be some hairy scary greaser with pointy shoes and a gold necklace.  The reason I was worried was the speed of the invite I received to come to his restaurant that evening – the welcome was highly unsnobbish.  

What I did walk in on shocked me. Behind the usual grubby walls and a crooked street sign, the gates swing open to reveal a  beautiful garden restaurant all done up with stunning designer kilims (Rahim turns out to be a very talented rug designer/dilettante), exquisite food, and a plethora of delightful guests that were what appeared to be the Afghan diaspora in-crowd in town.  Mostly Afghans from the old establishment (and it really showed) sprinkled with a few token expats.  A minister, a well-known photographer/man of mystery, another photographer, the restaurateur and artist, a Persian Lit doctoral student, a Persian lady managing the Intercontinental, two very large older swashbuckling, super funny businessmen/artists/playboy types in the classic tradition of the East, one of whom was Kabul's first nightclub impresario, a minister, the Indian Delhi-ite restaurant partner, a gorgeous standoffish Francophone Afghan girl with such European features that I thought she was half-French, but she wasn’t, a couple of Frenchies and one Italian, not to mention 3 stunning Afghan hound dogs -- basically many sizes and shapes across two generations.  Such excellent food, such excellent company -- the comfort level that was struck was intoxicating.  By midnight, two delicious chocolate mousse cakes arrived with candles and my name scrawled on them.  I had let it leak that it was my birthday – how could I not?  It was my 30th afterall.     The night finally concluded when big dollops of rain started coming down.  In a country constantly stricken by drought, people congratulated one another and stood outside to experience its blessed arrival.

The next day was actually not a sugar-coated day of “mojito bliss” or whatever I had said before.  It was one of extreme hangover.   The tailor detected my drowsiness and took advantage of my poor alertness to literally run off and do no work!  I was shaken by that experience and have since not had a single night like that.  Instead, it's been hawk behavior at work.  Things are moving.  Things also need to get organized.  Diary 5 reserved for work details.