My wife and my daughter have been going to dancing lessons the last semester. I know that sounds out of place in Kabul, but several years ago, a woman from the US, mainly through vision and raw determination, set up the Kabul Dance Studio. In a context of war and violence and chaos, dancing seem to her to be a sign of hope and beauty. And for lots of the young girls and their mothers – Afghan and expat, it has become so.
Yesterday was the performance, and most of the day the dancers were all in doing final rehearsals. The performance was at the Serena Hotel – the most fortified of hospitality venues you are ever likely to encounter. At 2.30, we arrive, well in time for the 3.00pm start, and are directed through a chicane, where we are stopped behind heavy boom gates. I produce ID and we are asked if we are carrying weapons. The car is inspected for bombs, and we then pass through the blast doors. We are then bag scanned and body searched, and finally permitted entrance. The Serena has been a target for suicide bombers in the past, and some parents refused to let their children do the dancing, or attend the show, on security grounds, but it is a risk we decide acceptable. You have to take fun where you can here.
We settle into the Grand Ballroom in the seats Julie has reserved. A few minutes later Pete notices a bag lying on floor near us. It looks to be a video camera bag. We joke that it might be a bomb. Haha, yes, a bomb. After another few minutes we look at each other, and Pete says, with a tone of nervousness, as though apologising for worrying about such things, ‘You know, maybe it is a bomb. We should check.’
He’s right that it is odd, that a camera be left there, with no one claiming it, minutes before the show starts. I take the bag and gingerly open it. It looks like a video camera. I speculate aloud whether if I turn it on, it will trigger the bomb. ‘Haha, yes, could be’, says Pete. Haha, yes, I think, not turning it on. I fiddle with it a bit, in a very uncommitted way, remove and replace the battery, and declare with a complete lack of conviction, that it is probably ok. But it is still making us fidget, and so Pete goes and hides the bag behind a large pillar, so that if it does blow up, the blast will go away from us all. That’s bomb-disposal 101 folks! See how easy it is!
The curtain goes up, and if you thought tap-dancing in Afghanistan was anachronistic, try watching the ladies and girls perform the Sound of Music in Kabul. Ballet, waltz, lyrical dance, tap, shiny taffeta dresses and make up like Spack-filler. It is great though, and most movingly, the dance instructor has this season worked with half a dozen girls from one of the orphanages. Six girls, from ages four to eight, performed Edelweiss, and it was lovely. I can’t imagine a day in the life of a girl in a Kabul orphanage being much fun, but yesterday was certainly an exception.
The end to the camera bag bomb incident comes as Pete notices that a group of boys – my son included, are now hanging around the pillar where we have so cleverly hidden the bag. In a final decisive move, we take it outside and leave it on a table. The performance ends, the dancers are cheered off, no bombs, and we all eat icecream in the grassy grounds of the Serena Hotel as sunlight streams through the green mulberry leaves.