KABUL, Afghanistan -- In Kabul, journalists often seek out guest houses, avoiding the larger, high-profile hotels that could be, and have been, targets for Taliban attacks. A popular guest house among journalists is The Gandamack Lodge in the center of town, across the street from the Iranian Embassy. There is no obvious entryway or sign, just a large metal door in the wall off the street.
You knock to be let in, and you find yourself in a courtyard with armed guards sitting about talking and smoking. You are shown to another door, which admits you into a metal chamber. The door clicks behind you, locked, and the door in front of you won't open. If you are a suicide bomber you are trapped, and you can only set off your explosive vest like a firecracker in a mail box. But you are being watched through a narrow slit, and if you pass inspection you are buzzed through the second door.
There you find yourself in a bigger courtyard, a large house in front of you, with a 19th-century cannon in front. The founder, British journalist Peter Jouvenal, was smitten by the fictional adventures of Harry Flashman, the Victorian rake and soldier, written up in several novels by George Macdonald Fraser.