We had dinner tonight with old friends.
If I remember it all correctly, we met them in 99. We were new in Afghanistan, they had been here a year or so. We were in language school and they welcomed us, had us over to dinner every Tuesday. We had our first Christmas here with them and I shared the Pan Forte my Mother sent. One night we took soup for our Tuesday dinner there, and when we walked home from their house in the dead quiet of a Taliban winter, we were attacked by a crazy dog and I beat it off with the saucepan. Then we moved to Mazar, and later, after 9/11, and when we returned to Afghanistan, they moved up to Mazar too, and again we were friends. I borrowed Ken’s bike, and I remember riding through the thick mud of Mazar’s raw streets, a stripe of syrupy brown up my back and coating my legs. I bought Ken a coffee grinder for his birthday, which he happened to share with Jesus (the birthday, not the coffee grinder). It took me hours of searching in Mazar’s eccentric shops to find one – an old Russian one, with Cyrillic script on the bottom. When Richard was killed in the plane crash, I told Ken. I used their piano tuning tools to tune the old church piano in the basement where we used to meet.
Now, after a break they are back in Kabul, and so are we. We sat with them tonight – it must be their fourth or fifth home in this country. We are in our seventh home, if you count only stays of more than a month, and we will shortly move to our eighth, where we will live for the next few years, all going well. We talked about the new times here – frozen chicken breasts are available in the bazaar, wine glasses, wine, power tools (even if there is no electricity). Everything is now available, and if you can’t get it, talk to a shop owner. He probably has a brother in Dubai, and he will get it for you. And there is Bush Bazaar, so named because of the huge quantities of American goods available from a row of shipping containers. I haven’t been there yet, it is near Pashtunistan Square, where the old Electric Street is. We would go there to get switches and wire and globes, it was the only place they could be found in Kabul. Illicit TVs and satellite dishes were sold from under the counter, and I once walked into a shop where three Talibs were loading a sports bag full of banned cassettes and music tapes. They glanced up at me, disinterested and unembarrassed. I suppose it got boring being a good moral Talib sometimes.
I used to hate it that you couldn’t get a decent bag of coffee anywhere in Afghanistan. My mother had to send it from home. Now, you can get bags of Lavazza and Vittoria, and you can have a latte or an espresso at the Kochie Coffee house, and I hate that even more.
We have found much joy in coming back here. But it is not all joy.