Kabul Diaries: the bar


Kabul Diaries: the bar
by Princess

My alarm was set for 5:45 AM so that I would be ready for 6:45 when we all would be driven to work. I made my way to the kitchen at 6:15 to have breakfast. The big table was set with cereals, jam, honey,pomegranates, honeydew melons, bananas, apples, grapes, bread, milk and different kinds of juices. The cook had already finished his morning prayers and was preparing some pancakes for those who wanted some. For someone who normally has a cappuccino and an apple for breakfast, this was a big temptation. I had a bowl of cereals with milk and some bananas and finished off with some melon.


By 6:30 most of us were ready by the gate to sign out in the book and get into the van. There were 6 of us, as one of the architects had taken the day off for a long weekend in Dubai. That left me with one German and four British colleagues. One sat on the passenger seat by the driver and therest of us squeezed into the back of the van. That early in the morning the drive to work takes about 20 minutes. I had a clear schedule for the day. I was supposed to attend the morning meeting and then spend a couple of hours with each colleague on their projects.

The day went smoothly. I walked around the muddy construction site, wearing boots and a hard hat over of my ‘hijab’. As I climbed up and down very old steep stairs onto the rooftops and over scafoldings, my understanding of the scale of the undertaking grew in proportion to my respect for my colleagues.

Working on these projects is so much more than an architect’s job. These guys are not only designing the buildings and specifying materials, but they are also dealing with all structural issues, running and managing the construction site with labourers who cannot read and write, let alone read drawings, specifying and sourcing materials in a country where nothing is done through the internet or catalogues, instructing carpenters, stone masons and brick layers how to do things, and identifying their mistakes, designing, detailing and monitoring the fabrication of every little aspect of the building, ie. door and window jams, joist hangers, light fixtures, ... you name it. And on top of all that, they are dealing with the community and all the politics involved in working in an extremely traditional community where hierarchies, tradition and formality are paramount, and where the default mode is to resist change at any cost.

By the end of the day, having enjoyed a bit of insight into each project, I was wondering if I could ever do what they are doing, especially since I have not been designing anything for the past 5 years. At the same time, if one wants to learn about building construction and development work, this is the place.

We got back to the fortress before the sunset and had acouple of hours to clean and rest before dinner. In the evening a few people decided to go out for some drinks. They asked if I wanted to join them. Curious to find out more about the people I might be working with and even more curious about life outside the fortress, I said I would love to.

A car was booked for 8:00 PM. I was told we would be going to a bar owned and run by an ex BBC reporter. There were four of us and the drive took about 20 minutes. In Kabul only the main roads are asphalted, all other streets are very rough dirt roads with many potholes. After another bumpy ride the car stopped in front of a solid metal gate. The street was dark and looked abandoned.

As the car pulled up for us to get out, a small door to the side of the gate opened. A guard wearing a rifle greeted us and stepped aside for us to get in. When we entered what looked like a driveway, he closed the door and we could see his colleague behind him. They frisked the guys, and using a flashlight asked to see inside our bags. Then they told us we could continue.

About six meters ahead, there was another solid metal door. Once we reached it, one of the guards behind us shouted something and the small door buzzed open. We all stepped into a brightly-lit tiny space of probably 1.2m by 1.8m. To one side there was a counter behind a glass protection, where another guard was waiting. The space was rather tight for four people so we still had the door behind us open. The security guard asked us if we had any guns or other weapons. When we said that we didn't, he asked us to step in and close the door behind us. He said otherwise he could not open the other door to let us through. When we complied, he buzzed the other door open and we stepped into a lush garden where a walkway was illuminated by a number of spotlights. At the end of the pathway we took a set of steps to the side of the guesthouse down to a basement space.

The low ceiling, softly lit space, was painted in dark red and was furnished with a bar counter and a number of worn upholstered sofas. The walls were decorated with framed caricatures of various politicians and world figures indicating the interests of the owner. The atmosphere was surreal as it felt like we had just entered a typical London pub hidden behind tight security in the middle of Kabul. Most of the patrons were either British or from other European countries. Some of them were puffing away on their cigarettes. I had forgotten how smoky bars and pubs could get.

As the night was still young, we managed to get a table in front of Stalin. While sipping on drinks we began chatting about life in Kabul and our past adventures. A couple of hours later, long before our midnight curfew, we were all completely unwound ready to go back to the compound . We called for the driver.

When we were leaving, two Americans were coming through the second security door. As I was waiting for them to come through and clear the way, I saw them each take a gun out from inside their jackets and hand it to the guard behind the glass. They were handling those life-ending tools so naturally. The guard put the weapons in a locker behind him and buzzed them through. I had never seen a gun up close, and never expected to see one on a social outing. It felt disturbing.

On the way back, I could not stop thinking about those men and their weapons. My colleague must have noticed I was quiet. Referring to my day on the site, he jokingly said, ‘You know, you are starting to develop a reputation already going through so many men in one day.” I laughed and replied, ‘I wonder what it says about the men?’

By the time we arrived at the Qala, I had forgotten the guns. I slept well that night.


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more from Princess

Princess I wasn't teasing, I actually know a bar w/ that fascia!

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.


Pull the other one

by amirkabear4u on

You said;

"Some Westerners are good at detecting where they can make money, even in a place like Kabul"

haha you are so funny. Why don't they just invest in property in Iran? first their currency goes a long way there, secondly there is no saying how much profit they make in a few years.

By the way what is your educational background again? I can not remember. Where you there for buildings or medical?




by Princess on

Some Westerners are good at detecting where they can make money, even in a place like Kabul. I will write more about this in the next segments.


Anonymouse and MPD

by Princess on

I knew somebody was going to tease me for my picture choice of this blog. Fine! I just did not have a photo of the bar, so I decided to post a photo of the House of Screens to show what the poor architects have to deal with. :)

And Multiple, bear with me, there will more of what you are asking. 



by yolanda on

It is very interesting that Ex BBC reporter is investing in Kabul. Since the customers have to go thru very tight security checks, the bars over there may be safer than here....I have not heard that bar customers get frisked here.....I may be wrong..... I am not a bar person...




Wow it's like you were

by desi on

Wow it's like you were living a 1940's Sam Spade esque script.  How intriguing and surreal.  Enjoyed this.  Thanks.


Come on MPD! If you want a soothing song Peck! Peck! Hair! Hair!

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.

Multiple Personality Disorder

If I were you I would not go to that bar again :O)

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

Okay, you're a novelist and you have a story to tell, but I'm in dire need to read more about some of the characters in this undertaking of yours.  Tell more about the cook and the illiterate construction laborers.  And tell about the places you see.  Tell me more.  I can't take it anymore.


I actually know a bar with this façade !

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.


Princess jan you're quite a story-telle!r

by Monda on

I just read your bar adventures for the 5th time I think. Reading you puts in a very different mindset for the daily tasks ahead. I hope writing these entries helps you with fully processing what goes on for you over there. I also caught myself hoping that you don't feel obliged to reply to each and every comment - unless interacting with your audience doesn't interfere with your presence in your extraordinary journey.



by Princess on

Amir jan, you are one of a kind! 

Thanks for reading and commenting. 


What a carry on !!!

by amirkabear4u on

Hello I wanted to mention two points.

First one is, as I have not been able to follow your previous blogs so my assumption is you been to kabul for charity work. As no other reason there can be unless you lived there before for some reason or other. Mostly because even I do not want to be there even if they paid me.

Secondly, your comment;

"a bar owned and run by an ex BBC reporter

it is so typical with these brits, it reminded me of james bond or carry on movies. There is always a cafe, night club or casino owned by them. But off course there is no political motives for it, as we all know.!!!!!!!!! haha


I mean no harm Princess jaan! Just thinking options ;-)

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.


Anonymouse, you don't give up easily, do you?

by Princess on

I like that. I shall see what I can do.



Thank you, Ari!

by Princess on

A few pints of beer could be a life-line in this environment. Please do not underestimate! :))

Thanks for reading. 


Dear Azadeh

by Princess on

Thank you for your warm comment and for continuing to read my humble journal. 


Thank you

by Princess on

Dear Shifteh,

Believe me, being proud of myself is the furthest thing away from my thoughts. I have been very unhappy with my job and needed to do something that felt meaningful and worthwhile. I've just been lucky to get the opportunity to come here. And just to clarify further, this is most certainly not missionary work.

Thank you for your good wishes! 


Dear Bajenaghe Naghi

by Princess on

Yes, anything for a glass of bear or a whisky. :) Ironically, I think I have had more alcohol here in a couple of weeks than I normally have in a month in London.  

Thanks for reading and seeing the humour in it.


So it was a caricature! I thought there may be a poster

by Anonymouse on

So it was a caricature!  I thought there may be a poster for "nostalgia" or something!  

Bummer for the blog pic not having a cable.  How 'bout your cell phone's camera.  Can you take one and move the memory chip to the computer, or maybe someone with cell phone capability can take a pic and email it to you.  I just think it'd be neat to have a blog photo but I won't pest you anymore ;-)

Looking forward to the next blog.

Everything is sacred.



by Princess on

Thanks for the encouragement and thanks for reading!



by Princess on

Good question! I think local colleagues and the labourers are quite bemused by my presence on the site. Especially the fact that I hang out with the internationals and to them look like one, yet I speak Farsi.

So far they have not shown any discomfort to follow instructions, but that might very well change once the novelty wears off. on the other hand many have spent years in Iran, so they might be used to working a female architects. I don't know, but we shall see.


Dear Irandokht

by Princess on

Thanks again for reading. 

I agree with you, I don't ever think I would get used to weapons. I wish the world would get rid of them for ever. 



by Princess on

Sorry about not 'honouring' my promise, but I have not downloaded any of the photos onto my computer yet as I have forgotten to bring the cable with me, so I will have to wait until I get back to London.

And yes, I meant the caricature of Stalin of course! :) 

Ari Siletz

Bit my nails off...

by Ari Siletz on

...just reading about some friends going out for a beer. Princess, your work has a higher quality of nearness than any I have read on Afghanistan.

Azadeh Azad

Great writing

by Azadeh Azad on

Thank you, Princess Jan, for another movie-like account of a city "where the default mode is to resist change at any cost." Can't wait for the next segment.





by shifteh on

All i can think of is WOW what an adventure!  You must be so proud of yourself (I think many of us who read your diary are, already) to have taken on such a daring missionary work.  It is just amazing and your writing about it is mesmerizing. 

Please keep safe.

bajenaghe naghi

princess jan

by bajenaghe naghi on

I enjoyed reading your third episode. It was very funny and amazing what people have to do to get a drink out there! It reminded me of movies made about the prohibition time in the United States where people had to go through so many doors to get a sip of their favorite beverage.

We take so many things for granted and it is always nice to know that in many ways we are so blessed. 

Keep safe.




Great journal

by Abarmard on

I wait for your next writing, these are very interesting.

Thanks for bringing life of Kabul to us.

Jahanshah Javid

Cold Bar

by Jahanshah Javid on

Reminded me of the Cold War, James Bond, even Nazi bunkers. And a bar owned by an ex-BBC man. Just perfect :)

You mentioned how traditional the people are. Have the workers under your supervision shown any discomfort/resistance to taking orders/advice from you because you are a woman?


unexpected and surreal

by IRANdokht on

Dear Princess

I can't tell you how I devoured this one! This was completely unexpected and you described everything so well, it felt like being there.

Although I have seen many guns (and machine guns for that matter) up close and even aiming at me, I still feel the same way about them: life-ending  tools! and they shake me up every time. I still don't know how some people get so used to handling them. 

Thank you so much! and like Anonymouse, I am looking forward to your next blog and hopefully some pictures of the work site or the fortress (if possible). 

Be well and safe