I land at Kabul airport in the evening. It’s dark already and I have to wander around a bit before I can find the driver my Couchsurfing host sent to pick me up. As we drive to the apartment we pass a long row of colorfully and brightly lit buildings. I say that this must be the Las Vegas of Afghanistan, the driver laughs and says they’re wedding halls. I didn’t really know what to expect, but certainly not an long row of fluorescently lit buildings.
When we get to the place it turns out that it’s being rented by my host and his brother as a place to relax and smoke shisha, a hang out for a bunch of friends. The building is in a fancy part of town, the office of the ICRC is just across the street, and the entrance is perpetually watched over by rotation of friendly broad shouldered guys in olive colored uniforms with a Kalashnikov slung over their shoulders.
I take it easy in Kabul. I spent just four or five hours a day going outside. I don’t exactly know if it’s the city’s reputation or I’m subconsciously picking something up in the streets, I just don’t feel entirely at ease wandering around town. But I do notice that there are no other visible foreigners on the street. Nobody seems to pay real attention to me, but if I stop for a few minutes at a place a police officer or a soldier inevitably comes up to me and says I have to keep moving, I guess if I stand still I’m asking for trouble.
I spent the first two days looking for an ATM which takes my card. The stress of an increasingly empty wallet is a good distraction from the stress of walking around the center of a city dominated by blast walls and the frequent sightings of armed men on the street.
One of the places I most looked forward to visiting is the history museum. It’s one of those institutions that in itself is worthy of a museum. Situated next to the ruins of the old royal palace, the museum’s collection displays the country’s fascinatingly rich historical past with artifacts that were fairly recently taken out of hiding or painstakingly reconstructed after the Taliban were driven out of Kabul.
Another day I walk to a part of the city called ‘Makroryan’. Built by the Soviets and inhabited by the upper middle class the area is an orderly and leafy yet drab neighborhood and if it wasn’t for two young beggars following me in around I would just as soon believe I’m some non-descript post Soviet town. I run into a guy in his late teens walking around with his siblings whose keen to practice his English. After a few selfies with his Ipad he distracts the begging girls while I make my way out of the labyrint of Khrushchyovki.
Two years earlier I spent half a day trying to find a museum in Andijan, Uzbekistan. It was dedicated to the founder of the Mughal dynasty Babur, who was born in that city. After leaving the Ferghana valley and conquering a fair bit of the Subcontinent Babur decided he wanted to buried in the city he found most beautiful of all, Kabul. A park is preserved around his grave for which an admission is currently charged. After having paid I spent a few hours in the place, together with well off Afghani’s fleeing the dust and noise of the world outside the park’s gates.