What is life like for expatriates in Afghanistan? There is an interesting feature in the Financial Times today – an interview with Belinda Bowling, a South African lawyer who currently lives in Kabul. An excerpt:
What brought you to Afghanistan?
When I turned 30 I decided to take a year’s career break from my law firm and explore my fragile sense of national identity by travelling to other countries in transition. My journey took me to Kurdistan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Afghanistan. Entranced by the soft light that envelops Kabul at dusk, I fell in love with Afghanistan immediately. Four and a half years later I’m still here.
You have the only house I’ve been to in Afghanistan where you enter directly into the kitchen.
Typically in Afghan homes the kitchen is an outhouse shed, since the fumes from the charcoal-burning stoves are unpleasant, and cooking – done by women, of course – is a low-status activity. I wanted to bring the kitchen into the main house, so I converted the large entrance hall. I installed a modern gas stove, built a breakfast bar, so friends can chat with me while I’m cooking, and added a wall of open shelves to hold all my spices and condiments.
You have a cat. It’s not very Afghan to have her indoors, is it?
No. My Afghan colleagues think I am a bit of a loony foreigner. Having pets is utterly alien to them. Shortly after I arrived in Kabul I found Screw (short for the Screwdriver cocktail – it’s yellow and she’s a ginger cat) in a sewage ditch. It was snowing and she was whimpering because she had been run over by a bicycle. Like all Afghans, she’s a survivor – she pulled through and we’ve been together ever since.
What’s the best part of the house when it’s 40°C in the summer?
The thick mud walls of old Afghan houses like mine keep the soaring temperatures at bay to some extent. However, I prefer to be outside (as long as there is no dusty windstorm). I had a local carpenter make a large wooden daybed, on which are a kelim and kelim-covered floor cushions, and a low coffee table. One can lounge about on it and read and relax or chat with friends. My other indulgence is a kiddie pool. I spend many summer Friday afternoons on a lilo reading and looking up at the children’s kites in the sky.