Kabul, Afghanistan | July 20, 2003
I finally found some girl playmates, which was not an easy task considering that I worked in such a solo capacity and didn’t arrive at an office every day filled with peers. My office consisted of a conservative Pashtun Afghan male 15 years my senior, a bevy of young female subordinates, girls whose entire lives had consisted of shuttling between refugee camps in Pakistan and who barely spoke English, and dozens of virtually illiterate embroiderers. I had to work to find people to relate to, because even with the expats I did come across, I didn’t necessarily have that much in common. I was so American -- I had just finished business school and my reality had been formed by a life divided between New York City and California – how much did really have to say to a career UN girl from Spain or a grungy French non-profit worker. Anyway, it took a lot of legwork and the results were not a perfect fit, but it was a crossover that finally wrestled me free from the strange dance of trying to go out and have a life without any male person getting the wrong idea.
The head of the UNDP had told me to call a “Persian women” in his office. What I pictured would be a semi-nerdy and uptight princess turned out to be a hardcore LA party girl living it to the max in Kabul. Her waify sidekick was another Persian-American with an irresistibly cute manner who took a backseat to her type-A friend’s commandeering ways. We’ll call them S and M, for those really were their initials.
For them, it sounded like work was an afterthought to the endless nights of getting chauffeured from event to event – restaurant, private book signing, dinner at x embassy, private party, late evening drinks, early evening drinks…heavily decorated with an even more endless supply of fresh male bait flown in to replace those who had flown out the day before. S was currently conducting two separate affairs – one with an American former Navy Seal bodyguard of Karzai’s, and the other with a handsome Dutch lawyer at the UN who had a thing for Iranian girls. M claimed she fell in love “every hour.” Both were a ridiculously young 25 years old and it baffled me as to how they had even constructed these overseas lives for themselves at such precocious ages. Particularly because M had quite a prestigious job and got to boss around a lot of people much older than herself.
The first night of getting acquainted was conducted at a Thai restaurant run by three Thai women (or were they Chinese Thai?) who wore traditional Thai hostess dresses and ran similar operations in Kosovo, Timor, and other UN hot spots. The second night was a house birthday party filled to the rim with mostly UN and some NGO characters. I chatted with everyone from Karzai’s Chief of Staff to two overly perked up Italian ISAF soldiers with the almost caricatured Claude van Damme physiques. The great majority of women there, with the exception of my two guides and their Finnish pal (model found!), were noticeably unfriendly. I expected a lot of warmth and welcoming behavior, considering we were a relatively small number of Western citizens in a warzone together, but that was not what I observed. People were cliqueish, standoffish, flakey…like any city anywhere. Sangria and cocktails flowed like fountains as I tried to process all that was in front of me. People danced casually, the noise was extremely loud -- it was clear that the event was for a very well-oiled set of attendees. I ran into a young Afghan UN worker I had met the last summer on the one night I had managed to sneak out the missionary guesthouse to check out the town, finally found the Danish girl who introduced me to so many people without actually meeting me, and tiredly chatted with individuals I just couldn’t find interesting, i.e., the former US Ranger/Navy Seal crowd that now worked for
DynCorp, that creepy mercenary/multinational “security” organization that subcontracted for the US government, a kind of meatheaded Italian working for his embassy, a weird French dude on some kind of confusing ethnomusicology project. The second party at some French NGO was even bigger and noisier.
Good music, tarps and textiles all over the lawn for people to lounge on, and a very distinct sense that the entire compound was occupied by a bunch of kids who had “gotten a house together” to party in rather than to save the world. What stunned me the most all night was watching the girls walk out of the party in the tank tops and low fitted jeans without a care in the world – out and into a dusty Kabul street where a few semi-bewildered drivers and random
streetpeople stared in disbelief.
I stumbled in through the front door at 3 am to the hissing sounds of the two chowkidars (guards). They were apparently in full REM sleep mode because they both promptly disappeared after opening up the gate, leaving me alone to figure out how to get inside the front door on the actual house. Rather than keep a low profile, I had the nerve the next day to complain about their treatment of me – considered a bit surprising by the house management who has mentioned in the past that the curfew was 9 pm. But I think my insistence on total freedom is slowly changing the atmosphere of this suspiciously dry house. The two managers have transformed their initial jealousy and hostility of my come and go habits to one of excited tolerance as I promise to tell them stories of my adventures out there in the Kabul expat world. I am telling you, entire revolutions can be avoided if you give the people entertainment.