When it is night in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, you forget for a moment that you are still in Afghanistan – or at least, Afghanistan as it exists today.
The streets, paved and numbered – a rarity in Kabul – are empty. Here and there a security guard stands sentinel outside of a gated house and a lone dog pads silently towards a destination unknown, its tail low and feebly wagging. For the most part, however, the streetlights cast their pale glow over nothing but the Kabul standard of dust and haze.
It is quiet in these moments after dark. Sometimes you’ll hear a peal of laughter from behind the tall walls that protect its residents – and especially its women – from the gaze of the outside world. Other times you’ll feel even more than you’ll hear the shaking of the pick-up trucks, with their load of menacing armed men in the back, as they speed past you.
For the most part, however, Wazir at night belongs to the few of us pedestrians that want it. And I, for one, want it. I relish the relative peace and privacy and, above all, the sense of normalcy – hypernormalcy, even – that it provides.
I had one of those wonderfully normal nights earlier this week, when Una and I had dinner with two of the bandmates of District Unknown, Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band. Over Lebanese food and shisha, we had somehow gotten onto the topic of our totem animals.
“If you were an animal, what would you be?” One of the guys asked.
Thus started a long and lively discusion and, even after we left the restaurant for the Wazir night, we were joking, laughing, and loudly imitating the sounds of whale and marine mammals. As Pedram was pretending – with surprising accuracy – to be a dolphin, I saw the silhouette of a private security guard, who poked his head out from behind a door at the unexpected noise. I imagined him shaking his head and chuckling at our antics, and hoped that in his dolphin-imitating, Pedram had made his night as much as he had mine.
In that moment, we were just another group of irreverent friends in another tree-lined street in another residential, semi-urban neighborhood. It could have been anywhere in the world – but it was not. It was in Kabul, as the concertina wire curling over the walls on either side reminded us.
But even in Kabul, in that sleepy little neighborhood where a deadly suicide bomb had exploded days before, there was normalcy. And normalcy = hope.
Hope that these irreverent, carefree moments and that “alternative Afghanistan” are neither so fleeting – nor, for most Afghans – so far away.