The big decision facing any ex-pat in Kabul on any given Thursday, the start of the Afghan weekend, is what to do that night. In the glitz and glamour of Kabul's party scene, the choice can be heavy as the security. There was the 'Luna' party at the new Kabul health club or the opening of a chic new gallery or a masked 'ball' at a private house run by Australians. Or there was the Kabuli Nites Bollywood-themed party at Martini's, the trendy nightclub that
actually lives up to the hype. It is beautiful, and not just beautiful because it's in Kabul.
Kabul Dreams the new band who write and sing their own songs, did Oasis's Wonderwall Kabul's 'It' girls glammed up and drank the cocktails. One had gone to an Afghan hairdresser to have each eyelash embedded with glitter.
On weekends, people dance downstairs while VIPs, including (it is rumoured) a notorious warlord, use another entrance to the private suite upstairs, making a surreal situation even more surreal.
Kabul remains a place of high stress and tension so it's not entirely surprising that for ex-pats Kabul is party central. The best invitations for private parties come via word of mouth and you have to be plugged in socially to get one. On Thursday morning or afternoon people will send out invites, if you are not networked in you scrabble about trying to find the location of the best parties as the lists at the door of who can and cannot enter are strict.
The top entertaining embassies are the UK, USA and Canada. Every Thursday night the Duck and Cover pub in the huge American embassy compound is one place to be seen. At the recent Mardi Gras Ball at the American embassy where security cameras video everything rumours
abound that several guests were caught relieving themselves in public -- including one deputy ambassador -- and subsequently sent home to the States in disgrace.
"The French give the best parties," says a young British man who has lived in Afghanistan for a few years. "There was a French civilian guesthouse famed for it's wild all nighters that invariably ended with topless Gauls dancing on the bar in their sitting room. Over the road
from the presidential palace another NGO used to get hundreds and hundreds of people under traditional Afghan tents in their garden. While yet another French organisation once hired some camels to stand in the garden for an Arabian nights themed evening."
"Hard drugs are rare," he continues. "Three years ago, there used to be an Afghan wide-boy restaurateur who supplied all sorts of Class A drugs, but I have not seen or heard of him for years. There was one party this year where some people were on ecstasy but it is very
unusual. Marijuana is far easier to find, and there's plenty of that about."
At one ICRC party people opened up the sand bags used as protection and made an artificial beach. People get creative when they are stuck for entertainment. At the bar in a house a security cotractor poured tomato juice down the knife that he carried as a weapon so it looked
like blood trickling into the vodka. He topped off the bloody Mary with gunpowder. Another party had Chinese glitter balls that left trails of gold dust footprints throughtout the guest-houses of Kabul.
At one theme party women wore the garish coloured $15.00 flammable puff-cake prom dresses Afghans wear to weddings. Afghan men have an unnatural affliction for tight shiny suits, which the men wore.
At the annual ACTED party as the seasons changed and summer went into fall people spread out on the rugs laid out on the charity's large guest house garden. Top 20 hits blared out with people dancing, drinking. On the countertops in the four corners of the walled compound small areas, like pavilions, were covered with booze. People can often roll back from a drunken evening at 4am, just like at home.
The Gandamack Lodge, one of the city's oasis, held a Black and White party (like Truman Capote's famous 1960s ball at The Plaza in New York) had everyone outside in its outdoor space around a roasting animal and the crowd wearing black and white.
Apart from the meat market of the Kabul night scene -- where the odds are good but the goods are odd as they say here about the high proportion of men to women - there are also salons held in safe houses. A well known UN employee holds a 'steak and potato' evening
every Wednesday where he invites up to 16 people and holds informal discussions about Afghan affairs.
Guns and alcohol tend not to mix, and guns and alcohol are everywhere. There was and remains a tension between guys with guns and aid workers without weapons. Fights break out between the dudes with guns for no reason -- for example who pushed in front in the toilet
queue in one party. The advent of so-called gun-monkeys, contractors and foreign prostitutes, has changed the atmosphere in Kabul. Hence the importance of the party invite to filter the undesirables.
There are many different cliques: close protection, contractors, embassies, private sector companies, consultants and of course journalists. Different nationalities have their own party scene. WhenSir Sherard Copwer-Coles was the British ambassador in 2007 he believed in a lively social scene. In Kabul socializing is an important part of exchanging information and strengthening your personal networks and contacts.
Ordinary Afghans and the thousands of ex-pats who live in Kabul inhabit vastly separate worlds and live parallel lives in bizarrely parallel universes. While Afghans are bound by heavily codified social restrictions, internationals have sybaritic carefree lives. The
lifestyle is one of the attractions of living in the capital. While international men and women frolic in the glare of the Afghan sun, local men and women on the other side of the dividing fence are extremely careful about any interaction between the sexes, even eye contact can be dangerous.
Afghanistan has not always been an austere land where the Muezzin called the faithful to prayer and women were stoned for adultery. In the medieval world young men would be recruited to causes through drug fuelled parties in gardens full of beautiful young women. The poetry of the time was full of descriptions of wild parties for royalty. Fast forward to Kabul in the 21st century where the shockwaves of IEDs and suicide bombers disturb the day to day noises of the city. Another set of royalty inhabits the scented gardens for their one thousand and one nights entertainment.
There are a few international A-listers, but not many, and everything revolves around alcohol, so wherever it can be found is where the action is. It's easier to score these days, some Afghan
shops sell it secretly in Kabul, and you can even buy it in Kandahar. Embassies and the military seem to have access to it. Every so often the government cracks down, as it is illegal. On the positive side many of these places provide much needed employment for Afghans in a
situation where unemployment is high.
In the summer months, when the scent of Afghan roses is almost overpowering and the sun shines and the weather is sweltering, women wear bikinis, swim with their colleagues and drink cocktails round the outdoor pool at L'Atmosphere, one of Kabul's fashionable places where ex-pats gather. Here you can order foie gras and good French wine. While you have to check your gun at the door, once you do, Kabul is party city.