We are sat in the living room, watching yet another hour of television, we are doing the weirdest thing, three of the household are sitting here on our laptops chatting away to each other on skype instant messenger. We are each arranged on our own burgundy faux leather sofa, each wrapped in a large furry Chinese blanket(100%nylon) keeping warm. No sound except for the TV, tapping keys, and the skype squawk every few seconds. We are not talking to each other, we are typing to each other like some kind of seriously fucked up menage a trois. I'm chatting with G about lesbianism and the pros and cons thereof, and with L i'm chatting about farmville; a curious internet game that he wants me to play and become his neighbour in farming cyberspace. L has already promised to give me a turtle for my farm if I join and apparently they are quite difficult to come by. So lured easily by the promise of a cyber creature I'm on the website which looks like it was designed to please a two year old. Hokey southern US music is blasting out and I have to frantically grapple with my numerous chat windows just to turn the thing down but now I can't hear the skype chirrup so decide to claim my turtle another day and close the farmville window.
Tragedy strikes as my laptop battery suddenly runs out of juice and I have to leave the comfort of the sofa and run out into the corridor to find a three point plug socket. Out in the entrance hall next to the bukhari is the warmest place in the house so now I am pretty toasty like a cat. I have a strange compulsion to carry on our odd skype driven conversation; somehow we are linked in an intimate trance.... of typing. When I got up to plug in the spell was broken and I found myself saying, "Now I'm actually going to have to speak to you guys in person", the sound of my voice outside of my head was strange and actually unwelcome, I had grown used to hearing my sentences inside my head and reading theirs back in silence, rapid fire conversations about nonsense cycling back and forth between the three of us.
Looking back on the week
It's been a long old week, seems to have taken a really long time to happen. Once again, I'm not sure what day it is just now but we're somewhere between Christmas and the new year and at least I know what year it is...
The Thai massage parlour was an interesting experience. I had booked a few days back but as the lady who had taken the booking didn't speak english I wasn't entirely sure whether it was a gooer or not. I turned up, having been made slightly anxious by the guys; due to security threats they insisted on my being taken in the car and not getting a taxi, paranoia, it seems is contagious. Like many things here you are greeted by a guard at the entrance, admitted through external gates, then into the house itself. From the outside you could not tell it was there, then suddenly, on the inside, all that makes for a typical Thai massage parlour. As I stepped through the door a man rushed past me and the lights went out. More curious than scared, I shouted hello in my best British voice and quietly waited for several minutes in the pitch black for them to come back on again (which they did). Power cuts here are common occurence and I was just glad that I wasn't half undressed or in the middle of chopping chicken.
Plastic potted plants, oriental decorations, numerous brightly coloured pictures of well made up, glamorous Thai ladies adorned the walls. With the reassuring background purr of the hair dryers in the hair salon, the place was a curious combination of ramshackle Afghan interior design and the essence of a beauty store; in one room the de rigeur large four piece suite of velveteen sofas and armchairs, far too big for the room and the ever present telly, in the other: pink towels, hair wash basins and a fantastic array of different coloured nail polishes. A small thai lady came out to greet me and took me downstairs into the basement. Not having been here before I did not know quite what to expect. One of the strange things here is the absolute lack of benchmarks by which to measure things, there are so many different people here from different places that a posh place to one would be a shabby hell hole to another. That there are far more men here also confuses the issue as it's virually impossible to get a thorough run down on what somewhere is really like. Talking about a restaurant or bar a woman will tell you details; the size of a room, the decor, the lighting, the facilities, what the food is like, the service and the range of drinks available. A woman will also tell you about the ambience, the crowd and whether she feels safe there. Blokes will tell you somewhere is good but there's no differentiation made between places so in the end it's better not to believe and go see for yourself. This seems to be true for shopping, bars, guesthouses and most other things where a detailed analysis would be quite helpful. So... thai massage: I had no idea whether I was steeping in to a brothel, or an above board beauty therapy centre.
As it turned out there was noone else in the place and it was kitted out much as the places I had been to in Thailand were arranged. Multiple rooms, some separated by cloth curtains, contained a massage table, a heater and towels. The lady who was looking after me didn't speak any english at all so I decided to just go with the flow and show her only where my ankle was injured and my spider bites which i didn't really want to have pummeled. I was surprised by the choice of "relaxing tunes" as we started out with Hotel California, moved on through a variety of popular rock to Steve Winward through The Back Street Boys and finally to Duran Duran. Strangely enough I kind of enjoyed her choice more than the usual plinky plonky rainforest, tribal nonsense that they usually play at you in spas. The small thai lady worked me over, gave me painful massage to my ankle and then, squatting on the massge table, lifted me physically off the bed in a variety ways, stretching me and cracking my back, all the while I'm wondering how this bird like creature the size of a 12 year old child has the strength to drag me about. But it was good and it was kosher.There was nothing seedy about the service there. Such a shame then that the authorities had stopped them from treating men and that indeed there were going to be moving site to somewhere else, closing down in the meantime. There was pressure from the authorities to stop providing an immoral and un-islamic service. I said to the owner "But we need you, the ladies of kabul need you to keep our small semblance of glamour in this gow forsaken dustbowl". Through the gap in the door I could see a pair of expat sandals and expat feet having a pedicure and I thought of all those ladies who would miss the soothing ritual of the hair and nail salon once this place was closed down.
A few days later and it was Christmas. A Friday, a day off for the local nationals and also for us, ,so home alone we were cooking for ourselves. Our cook Abdul had had to be soothed, the boys had hidden our purchases for Christmas lunch in the meeting room lest he see them and become offended. I had been warned by the others that Abdul did not take kindly to us cooking for oursleves, even less then did he like it if we dared to use his cooking pans and god help you if he caught you with a takeaway. Bosh and tosh i said, this is nonsense. No, they told me, he had been known, having found takeaway evidence in the form of wrappers from Afghan Fried chicken, to sulk for days, to only serve left overs and sandwiches. So the boys were taking no chances and Abdul had to be appeased.
I had added in some pup-eroni special dog trreats to the shopping and took great delight in opening them at the kitchen table and sharing them with G and L. Them being from south africa I asked them if they'd like to try, saying, "You guys know Biltong , they're just like that". I could hardly believe it when first G then L took a chewy doggie stick and munched down, g took as second bite and then offered the rest to L. I was gobsmacked as both of them had seen the large picture of the cute puupy on the front of the packet and it was with trepidation that I came clean before they went back for more. G was unpeturbed and took another bite before deciding that actually dog treats weren't that great after all. Swigging from a bottle of gin he washed away the rather tangy taste. L decided that the remedy for doggie chew mouth was a large spoonful of condensed milk. I thought that was a better choice than the gin though I was soon to find out when made to try the doggy chews and both the remedies in quick succession! So goes the holiday season, a South African braai on the roof, dog food in the kitchen, music and sunshine in the biting Kabul cold.
R and R had been going on about wanting to get a dog and so there wish came true when they unwrapped their joint present from me which was a packet of fags each and a fantastic puppy!! Very similar to the battery operated pupster I'd had as a child I'd spotted this cute pressie in Finest supermarket. The ideal christmas gift for two grown men, the little dog was suppose to yap and walk forward , sit and them perform a somersault. Poor little thing could yap if you helped him but other then that when we switched him on he just whirred, nothing else happened. I said that we could always take him back to the shop and exchange him, but the boys were already attached to our house pet and were busy putting on the doggy outfit that I'd bought for him at the same time.
Finest is currently my favourite shop primarily because of the kitten that lives in the shop, a beautiful grey tabby, I first met her when she was tiny and shy, two months later she had grown stronger and bold. Now I go to Finest purely to see her. The lads in the shop bring her out for me and she rides round the shop in my arms or on my shoulder whilst I browsed the shelves for something I probably don't need. In this place going to a supermaket it considered an outing. Having been inside for days on end the sensory input of the shelved goods, the choices and the coloured packaging is like a form of entertainment. Coupled with a kitten to keep me company I am more than happy to spend an hour in there, an alternative to the cinema or a walk in the park, neither of which is easily on offer here. I asked what they called her, the boys in the shop asked me to give her a name, we named her Tiger.
I did have a meloncholy moment the other day, I was tired of being cooped up indoors and tired of never being able to choose what and when to eat. There is also a certain amount of guilt for me with the large amounts of food that are laid on for us for lunch and dinner each day. I'm not happy that we eat first and that different meals are prepared for the local nationals and that often the guards (the lowest in the pecking order) eat our left overs. It just another example of the ways in which humans are not equal, not here, not anywhere. Feeding the cats with peices of steak left over on plates can seem like a horrendous act when there are children with nothing to eat and people search through rubbish piles for scrap metal, tin cans and food. Kabul, I am told, is for the rich, poor people are not allowed inside, they must exist on the outskirts of the city and try and make it in where it might be possible to get somewhere in life. In the Afghan Fried Chicken M, one of our Afghan staff tells me that upstairs is for VIPs, people like you he tells me and the rich Afghan middle class. I feel sick that this kind of set up is possible and accepted, for there to be this sort of segregation of importance and that internationals take that place almost automatically. I don't want that to be the case, it disturbs me. It's as mistaken as the view that all internationals are infidels and should be destroyed or thrown out. Neither view is particularly helpful. The waiters at the counter wear too large, off white shirts, one with a rather large collar, a grubby bow tie and a waistcoat. The waiters serve with good temper, they are young and if they harbour resentment it doesn't show. They are excited that I have my camera with me and I ask if I can take a shot. They are more than happy and delighted to see the pictures, asking if I can bring them a copy to the shop. I say I will. Afghan Fried Chicken is the KFC of Kabul, a fast food joint with chicken burgers, fries and a coke, hot wings and pizza to go. on the way back I have the pup- eroni in my pocket but we don't see any of the numerous stray dogs that roam the streets. The temperature is dropping here and maybe the dogs are hidden away, trying to stay warm til morning.