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Kabul diary week one

By Heidi Kingstone - posted Friday, 29 June 2012


I have already overstayed by several weeks my planned journey of only a few days, sucked into the Kabul vortex. Despite the fact that it’s a warzone and talk is that the country is going to hell in a hand-basket, life is good.

It’s probably really good for those who are laundering money, and a lot of that goes on. My flight from Dubai is full of men wearing shalwar kameez, and oddly all carrying matching briefcases. It could be a convention, but I suspect they are returning having deposited cash in Dubai, where so much of the stolen money goes.

Tonight I am invited to dinner. My host is a member of the royal family, a lovely man. All over the walls of his house are pictures of Afghan men from decades and centuries ago. "Who are they?" I ask.


Kings, prime ministers, more kings and princes, he says.

Unfortunately all men with moustaches look the same. I must take better care to vet the people I hang out with.

Kabul is full of interesting people, it’s one of the reasons people get sucked into the vortex. That night a French woman, sinewy, with a harsh potato eaters face a la Van Gogh, gives massages to friends. She teaches street children circus skills.


The Kabul social scene moves at a hectic pace. Tonight there is a screening of a film, Reel Unreel, at a bombed out cinema in the old city. What an astonishing place. The peeling paint is from decades ago and an ugly faded hospital green. There is exposed brick and craters in the concrete. Red fold up lawn chairs are set up under the open air, the roof collapsed long ago, in front of a large screen.

Zalmai, the well-known Afghan-Swiss photojournalist, snaps pictures.

Policemen in Clouseau-like uniforms watch as locals, women in burqas and children, as well as ex-pats, gather.


I miss the movie, which doesn’t get great reviews. I gather it is over 20 minutes long and is about a boy rolling an old metal film reel through the streets of Kabul. However, I am around for dinner, held at the Queen’s Palace. Meticulously restored by the Aga Khan Foundation, lanterns hang from trees and people sit on large Afghan rugs ringed by toshaks, large cushions.

Afghan food is served and particularly delicious is the orange rice, delicate, lightly fragrant. It is a small gathering during which I talk to Zolayka, one of the many Afghan ex-pats who returned after the war. Trained as an architect, she now designs clothes inspired by Afghan materials and traditions under the label Zarif.


dOCUMENTA comes to Kabul. It is the first time that this prestigious international contemporary art project has been held in a warzone.

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About the Author

Heidi Kingstone is a Canadian freelance journalist living in the United Kingdom.

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All articles by Heidi Kingstone

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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