Was in the middle of my toilette (as the French here say) this morning when a large earthquake struck. Now I have been having some troubles in the bathroom, due in part to the meat-heavy diet we live on here in Kabul, the 40grit toilet-paper and the absence of a lock on the door. These elements combine to make visits of any kind to the bathroom a worrying, tightly strung experience. An earthquake was not about to help matters.
So what does one do when an earthquake hits at a moment of indisposition? I reviewed my tutelage on etiquette, diplomacy and trans-national resource dispute resolution, but no guidance was forthcoming. As the shaking increased and I felt the water in the toilet bowl swoosh underneath me, and the windows rattle, and the building sway, I contemplated making a dash for the garden. To be found beneath the rubble with one’s pants down would make for embarrassing mortuary proceedings. Equally, to arrive in the garden semi-clad could be hard to carry off with nonchalance. But, I reflected that I had been in many earthquakes in this part of the world and none of them were that bad. (Except for that one in Pakistan), the small, rational part of my brain reminded me.
And then, poised on the edge of the seat and of flight, I noticed the walls were not shaking so badly, and after a few more minutes, the quake finished its business and let me finish mine. There were a few nasty aftershocks and moments when it looked like an undignified exhumation was going to be realised after all, but I was gratified to be able to walk out, unscathed, not unclothed.
Over breakfast, our little united nations team – Americans, Dutch, French, Canadians and me, (being the single Australian I feel compelled to pally up to the Yanks, just so I feel stronger and smarter) – discussed the quake and other matters, and in the friendly manner that characterises me, I asked Remi, a Frenchman, what he had been doing before coming to Afghanistan.
‘I was runnin’ sex ‘otels’, he said.
Right, I nodded. My second moment of losing my bearings within an hour. Sex hotels. Surely not? I nodded again, a half-smile on my lips. Sensing incomprehension, Remi elaborated.
‘You see, I was seeing that ‘ere was no such thing, and evekhrybody wants sex, no? So, I was making ze business plan, rrrrenting khroohms in apartmonts, all legal sex, no, not zis prostitutions. But it was verkhy ‘ard in
France, ze Government is too ‘ard. And my grandparkhents, were not ‘appy. So, I came to Afghanistan.’
‘Good. Great, wow… That’s…that’s right’, I said grasping for an affirmative. ‘Well, so, plans to start up here, you think? The Afghan Sex Hotel?’
Remi frowned. ‘No, zat is stupid idea. It would nevher work in Afghanistan.’ He sniffed. ‘But in Japan is verkhy big. There also you can buy used panties in, ‘ow you say, these machines. Japan ‘as evekhrything. And ze earthquakes there are much better. Zis was nuzzing.’
I made myself an instant coffee (and noticing as I moved the jar, that it had expired in 2002), and pondered the strange circumstances of life that wheel and bend to bring a former sex-hotel businessman with a fondness for panty-vending machines, to work alongside me in earthquaking Kabul. It was going to be a strange day. Another one.