Hello! It has been quite a social start to my time in Kabul. Luckily, it’s a long holiday weekend, so I not only have a bit more time to socialize, but I also have some time to write about it, too!
I briefly mentioned in my last post that I had been invited by some colleagues to go with them to a New Year’s party on Wednesday night. It was hosted by another organization. The attendees were mostly ex-pats from other NGOs and international organizations (by “ex-pat” we mean, ex-patriots, foreign country nationals — the majority of whom are from the US and Europe — who live and work here for NGOs, governmental organizations, and contractors). If there are more terms that are unclear and need defining, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
As I’ve mentioned in previous emails (now archived on this blog), in some ways it is a bit bizarre — very much like the transition scene in The Wizard of Oz — to travel through cold, grey, muddy streets and arrive at intimidating, grey, thick, metal compound walls that open up to reveal colorful, vibrant people and parties inside. The house we arrived at was a compound similar to ours, but much larger with Pakistani-style decorations on the exterior (very colorful, tiled mosaics and mirrored pieces) and a maze of rooms on the inside. I was quickly handed a very strong, very cold margarita, and directed toward a huge buffet of Indian food. Sadly, most of the food — even the samosas — had meat in them (sigh…Afghanistan), but I did find a lovely lentil dish to snack on.
The atmosphere was very lively, and it clearly is a “small” ex-pat community, where everyone knows everyone else because they all work together and get to know each other quite quickly and quite well. There was a lot of chatting and catching up — everyone has a crazy story about working in conflict zones in far off places, and I suppose I’ll be collecting some of those myself before too long — and I had a great time getting to know some fascinating people, many of whom have worked in development all around the world.
Thursday night, I had been invited to quite a different kind of gathering. I had been invited by a co-worker to attend a gathering at a local friend’s house. So, with the permission and support of my security team, I headed to a house somewhere in the southern part of Kabul, where I was welcomed warmly by a small group of Afghan artists, musicians, and civil society workers.
What a wonderful and fascinating group! I couldn’t get over how quickly the time flew, as we sat around low tables, nibbling on pastries, sipping tea, and talking about art, culture, and the state of affairs in Afghanistan. After a few hours, the group began to urge several of the men to sing, and after a round of polite, humble refusals, one of them was finally convinced to pull out a harmonium, a small pump organ that he played while sitting on the floor. He sang several songs in Dari and Pashto, putting poetry to music, and occasionally a few of the group would sing a line with him. It was so beautiful, and I was entranced. During one break in the songs, he laughingly apologized for not knowing any songs in English. My colleague answered back that he was waiting for something by Britney Spears. The singer replied, “I was thinking more of Lady Gaga,” and we all laughed pretty hard. It was quite hard to leave when my curfew arrived, but I was very glad for the chance to have joined this party for a while. Hopefully I will see them again.