Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hotel Kabul by Mark Finkel

My friend Mark Finkel has just returned from a trip to Kabul, where he was doing a project for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). Here is his review of the Hotel Diana, Kabul. (All photos by Mark Finkel.)

(Car and driver, Kabul, Afghanistan)

Entrance to the Hotel Diana, Kabul, Afghanistan
The two armed guards in mismatched uniforms greet you with suspicion, but that is friendlier than how they could greet you.  Don't worry that you are entering an unmarked door in a walled block, you will be greeted by yet another unmarked door before you are in the courtyard of the cozy hotel. 

Courtyard and facade of the Hotel Diana, Kabul, Afghanistan

The man at the desk doesn't speak English, but the bell man has a thorough command of 'Hamed take your bags' as well as a smooth move to take said bags, along with most of the skin on your palms.  After trying to decide what a 'Sirename' and a 'Prename' is on the registration form, you realize it really doesn't matter since Hamed, the most literate person there, is unlikely to care.  So, after registering as 'Bill Meelater' you follow Hamed upstairs where a blast of cold air greets you as you enter Room 5.  Stumbling into the dimly lit room, Hamed quickly closes the door, leaving him between you and any hope of escape.  Lowering his voice, he quickly shows you underestimated his command of English by conspiratorially intoning, "Hamed can get you a beer, if you like."  Only wanting him to leave, you reach into your pocket and thrust the smallest bill you have at him realizing, by his grin, that you have just doubled his monthly salary. 

Guard house and tower of Hotel Diana, Kabul
Many makeshift structures in Afghanistan are made from shipping containers. 

With your eyes now somewhat used to the light, you open the bathroom door, facing an even colder blast of air and you are now faced with a serious dilemma:  do you keep the door closed, preserving the 50 degree temperature of the room, but meaning you will have to shower in a 35 degree bathroom, or do you leave the door open and split the difference?  The smell of the bathroom cinches it for door closed. 

You try to turn on either the desk lamp or the bedside lamp, but neither has a bulb.  You think about calling Hamed, but then think better of it.  You can now turn to your other senses and focus your hearing on the roar of the generator outside your room and the reassuring sound of a dog barking outside as if he either has not eaten for a week or there is a terrorist trying to scale the wall.  You know you are in for a great night's rest. Reading is out of the question so, after flipping through all 6 channels and exhausting your vocabulary of Pashto, Urdu and Farsi, you go to bed cursing yourself for not packing your full high peaks outerwear and your minus 40 degrees-rated sleeping bag. 

Waking up early the next morning, you thrust open the curtains to a refreshing view of two coils of piano wire vaguely visible through the dirt-encrusted cracked glass.

View from the window of the Hotel Diana

Remembering the advice of your hosts in town, you go downstairs to tell the person at the front desk that you want the hot water turned on in the bathroom.  You then go upstairs to wait the half hour before showering.  Checking, the red light is lit on the hot water heater in the bathroom.  This lasts for three minutes before that light and all the other power in the hotel goes out.  Resigning yourself to a cold shower in a 35 degree room, you line up your clothes and run in to take a shower.  The trickle of water is so slow anyway that you decide to just go with the extra application of deodorant and, at that moment, you have taken your first step to going native. -- Mark Finkel

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