Summer has given way to Autumn. There has been an abrupt drop in temperature and the leaves are rapidly yellowing. If the season has changed, so has the pace of life. It is the month of Ramadan. Almost everybody is fasting from dawn to dusk.
Everything, as a result, has slowed down. People seem drained of energy. Offices close earlier. A different rhythm has taken over.
Everybody around me is fasting but I am not. Never do I feel more of an outsider than at this time of year. It is difficult to go to restaurants. They are open all right, but practically empty, and all the waiters and other employees are fasting. How can one gorge with them looking on?
21st century apartheid
Afghans going to restaurants face problems even at other times. They are often barred from restaurants the expatriates frequent. Yes indeed, there are prominent signs outside some of these saying 'no locals please' or 'foreign passports only'. A curious form of apartheid persisting in the 21st century! The reason is that, as an Islamic country, Afghanistan prohibits liquor consumption. Yet licensed establishments are allowed to sell liquor — but only to foreigners. Some restaurant owners claim they keep locals out as the latter, once they have taken a table, insist on being served liquor too. Others claim that allowing locals inside an establishment that sells liquor gives the police an excuse to raid or harass them, even though they take care not serve liquor to locals.
No house numbers
There is much that is lacking in this country, but one such feature is rarely referred to: house numbers. In many places the roads do not have names either. Thirty hours of strife have destroyed any semblance of house numbers and plot numbers as whole areas have turned into rubble. With many emergency priorities, mapping the city is not high on the agenda of the government, and will have to wait. In the meantime, locating a place armed with just its address, remains a nightmare.
One manages by asking around and being told: 'Turn left by the naan shop and go down till the orange door by the four goats,' though the abundance of naan shops and the rapidity with which standing goats turn into kebabs, makes such directions unreliable. But the real difficulty is with mail, postmen have a hard time delivering them, specially when they are new to an area.
(The writer is a senior Indian journalist who has been based in Kabul for the past three years.)