Bowling and bombing in Kabul

This sounds like the start of a joke:

One day an Ethiopian, an Argentinean, an Afghan and a couple of Dutch went bowling in Kabul.

True story.

We were hosted by Aziz, the Afghan, a former Oxfam colleague and a friend of my Ethiopian colleague to go bowling. Aziz, by the way was the star of the evening, obviously enjoying more regular practice then any of my other colleagues and me. The bowling alley was set up by another Afghan four years ago. More of its origins I do not know, but the man is clearly a business man with love of American culture as the food was American style as well.

Bowling Ally in Kabul
Bowling Ally in Kabul

The next day, I had the following exchange with my Argentinean colleague (AC) on Whatsapp around 11PM, each of us in our

hotel rooms.

AC: Are you awake?

Me: Yes, just woke up.

AC: Hear the bombing and the shooting. Now I am scared.

Me: Yes, me too. But there is no message from the radio room [security of Oxfam].

AC: I am going to get dressed in the dark.

Me: Want to come to my room?

AC: I think I stay here. One more bombing and I go there.

Fortunately the sounds of shooting and explosions died (no pun intended) down after about 2 hours and we didn’t have to have a nightly meeting. We even got a little philosophical and started to joke:

Me: We don’t know so many things.

AC: Until we are confronted with them.

Me: Yep, we’re so lucky to live without all this! And also that we can remain in many ways like you said oblivious…

AC: Yes. We are. I wonder what the guys are doing. Probably sleeping like stones.

Me: BTW I would be in favour of electric helicopters, like the car, they wouldn’t make so much noise!!

AC: Hahaha

Me: They must be! Good for them!

It turned out both our colleagues, had not slept that well either and were like us very happy to be leaving the next day. We sometimes pretend to be brave, and we do our work, but these experiences are shocks to our systems. The first, such a pleasant surprise, to be invited to go bowling was about the last thing either of us had expected to do in Kabul. Like Aziz had planned a nice team outing for us, that could have happened anywhere. The other experience was to be expected in a city plagued by war and instability for decades, but when experienced firsthand, the harsh reality of remnants of war and constant fear of return comes in like a bulldozer that you had not expected to enter into your peaceful bedroom. We learned the next day 3 people had died because of the attack by a Taliban suicide bomber.

And still my majority of memories of this week are about the normal ways people try to build a life, but perhaps most about the appreciation they have for these normal things, like a relaxing bowling evening. One of the participants turned out to have lived in the Netherlands, spoke perfect Dutch and he had been to our Keukenhof (the famous tulip garden) three times, while I have never been. I had to promise to rectify this next spring.

And I have never thought much of gold fish in a bowl, but the way the guy of the reception was cleaning the bowl and lovingly putting in three colourful stones, while next to him one of the eight hotel guards was sitting with his fully automatic gun, looking at it with a smile, made me anything but complacent about the situation. It resulted in the following poem. For all the wonderful people that gave us a safe stay, their unforgettable hospitality and who are trying to restore ‘real’ normality to their country.


I find myself
goldfish and gun
Reflecting on
innocent orange
Entrusting to
merciless steel

I hide myself
blankets and helicopters
Enjoying the
inner warmth
Ignoring the
outer explosions

I protect myself
steel doors and veils
Pretending to
live invincible
Hoping to
smile eternally

– Kabul, November 2014


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