Days 29-32 – Sequels and Nights on the Town, 22 June 2010

10 days to go!

SUICIDE BOMBERS 2. Someone was telling me a story of when contractors were allowed more freedom in Afghanistan a few years ago. She was in a crowded marketplace. This woman and a friend noticed a woman shopping next to them. She seemed to be near them an inordinately long amount of time. All of a sudden, she was gone. She was a suicide bomber and blew herself up near a couple of foreign soldiers. She said in all likelihood that she and her friend were being sized up as targets but the soldiers were higher value targets. She said she was immediately evacuated and didn’t know if anything happened to the soldiers.

RENAISSANCE MAN. Our night driver is a college student and a part-time actor. He was recently in a movie about suicide bombers. We asked him if his character was a good guy or a bad guy. He said he was a bad guy. He also remarked that the movie was supposed to be fictitious. After the filming, some events came to pass that were almost identical to the plot of the movie. So, reality imitated art. When we asked how we could get a copy of the film, he didn’t know. He said that the movie would be released in the US not in Afghanistan.

LUNCH IN THE DUDE RANCH 2. In an earlier note, I mentioned that I had lunch at a government agency office and everyone was silent for 5-7 minutes. I went down to the conference room, where only the men eat, a second time for lunch. This time, I was less of a surprise and I arrived in the middle of lunch. All the laughing and talking continued. I sat next to a fellow who spoke English and we chatted a bit. The dish was like a caponata/tomato, eggplant, okra thing over rice. The group even tried to joke with me. Apparently, the Dari translation of okra is “lady finger” but since we were all guys, they joked maybe it should be “gent finger.”

ITALY, UK AND MEXICO IN ONE AFGHAN WEEKEND – ITALY. Even though there is a list of nine approved restaurants, I have been out very little. This weekend, I went out Friday and Saturday night. Friday night, I went to Boccaccio. It was down a non-descript street in Kabul but there were lots of trucks and SUVs with armed guards parked in front. They were the security details for all the Westerners. You walk in through a gate in thick cement walls. You are greeted by an armed guard where you asked to pass through a metal detector and your bags are searched. You then walk through a short hallway with armed guards until you approach the restaurant door. Once you walk inside the restaurant, it looks quite normal. Nice even. It was all foreigners. I noticed that there were uncovered women as waitresses. They were Russians and Ukrainians. There was tuna filet on the menu. It would have been frozen but I didn’t care. When the fish arrived, it was tilapia not tuna. But it was a fish, it began with a T and it tasted OK so I was fine with it.

UK. The next night we decided to take the other Jersey guy out on the town for his last night in Kabul. We went to dinner at the Gandamak Lodge which is a British style hunting lodge with antique rifles on the wall. The best part of the Gandamak is they have tables outside in a pleasant garden where they serve alcohol. Technically, alcohol is illegal in Afghanistan. Period. (“Full stop” for my European friends.) But the Government turns a blind eye to certain establishments that cater to foreigners. They are not allowed to serve any alcohol to Afghans. I assume they pay a ton of money in both fees and bribes. We ordered a $35 bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo that was a $6.99 bottle back in the States. It wasn’t bad. I had a steak au poivre (pepper steak) that wasn’t shoe leather and I didn’t get sick. So I was pretty happy.

MEXICO. After the Gandamak, we headed to an expat bar called La Cantina. It is technically a restaurant but most people don’t go there to eat. It looks likes a poor man’s versions of Chevy’s or Jose Tejas. But not bad. It is also behind a maze of security. It was quite amazing to be there. It was the first place I have been in Kabul where I could have been in the US. (I didn’t check out the restroom.) The crowd was all foreigners, mostly Americans and Brits of all different ethnicities, colors, shapes and creeds but some people from other donor countries too, having a good time. The women wore casual clothing. (Tank tops and jeans – a big no-no out on the street.)  I assume they uncovered when they arrived. There was a live band of British folks playing popular cover tunes. The place is owned by a Canadian fellow. A can of beer was $7. A double gin and tonic was $13. Now, that’s not so much compared to New York City hotspots but when you think where you are, it seems expensive. However, the laws of supply and demand hold true. There aren’t a lot of places to go out in Kabul and have a drink and a good time. Also, there are a lot of single people making a great deal of disposable income so they spend the money and enjoy themselves. I bought the first round and then one of our compatriots got sloppy drunk and was unable to pay/figure out his bar tab. The driver was waiting and we were approaching curfew so I threw in an extra $20. It was $60 for 3 beers. But it was a fun evening.

ERRATA
– Enjoying the World Cup. Everyone is into it. We need a US win over Algeria to move on.
– We have a dog on the compound named Dutch whose two favorite activities seem to be terrorizing Afghan house staff and taking a dump on the basement floor between my room and my floormate’s room. He never craps near our rooms. He likes us and knows us. We have three empty rooms between us. Maybe he is marking the territory of the vacant space between us.
– Today (Monday) is the kids’ last day of school.
– My incredibly wonderful family provided me a manila envelope with a Father’s Day gift to open on Father’s Day.
– Sorry I missed the family get-togethers this past weekend. I was thinking of everyone.
– Once again, I didn’t intend to leave anyone off the list. If someone wants to receive these emails, please have him/her let me know.

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