Revue de Presse de L'Atmosphère
Press review about L'Atmo
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15 octobre 2007
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By Heidi Kingstone. Sept 2007
A great deal of table-hopping goes on most days at L’Atmosphere, the popular French restaurant on Forth Street in the ‘upmarket’ Kabul neighbourhood of Qala-e-Fattulah. It’s one of those ex-pat places where everyone knows everyone. In the summer its large green garden is heavy with the scent of those famous Afghan roses that grow in great abundance. When the weather turns warm the fearless swim in the cold aqua-coloured water of its sub-Olympic size pool, or just hang around drinking wine and smoking, quite a contrast to what goes on outside the heavily barricaded entrance that stops Afghans from entering. Earlier in the year when five Talibs were released in March in exchange for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, the table-hopping accelerated. Usually/often populated by journalists hard at work on their laptops or engaged in earnest conversation about Afghanistan, on this night everyone agreed that as a result of the Italian government’s action the price on journalists’ heads had just gone up. Perhaps it had. But as the story unravelled it turned out that the highest price was paid by Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi, who was later beheaded.
As a foreign correspondent Afghanistan is a gift of a place to work. Stories seem to fall from sky and access to people is often much easier than in countries where the hierarchy is established and entrenched and movement far more restricted as in Iraq, for example. Afghans not only like to have their pictures taken, which is both delightful and peculiar at the same time, they also are generally happy to talk. Compared to Baghdad where I reported from in 2003/4 there is an entirely different feel and accessibility. Kabul is party city. You can head from one reception to another, from the bar at La Cantina to Red, Hot, Sizzlin’ and can always rely on the UN or other official organisations to host some nightly soiree, which makes networking fun and easy. Depending on the kind of socialising you are looking for – whether it’s with fellow journalists, the NGO crowd, the military, diplomats or shooters – it’s all on hand.
In the four months that I was based in Kabul, with occasional wonderings around the country including a few hours in Kandahar and trips to Bamiyan and Dai Kundi, I never felt remotely in danger. Maybe I walked around in a bubble-like existence because, after all, it is a war-zone. Infrequently I would look over my shoulder, or ask a question about safety, but having largely stayed away from the real conflict zones – Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzghan – I felt protected.
Clearly, for Afghan journalists, unfortunately used to a climate of violence, this is not the case. Just before I left in June, Shokiba Sanga Amaaj from Shamshad TV was murdered in her house. Threats to journalists are sadly common. When I went to visit Saad Mohseni, Afghanistan’s Rupert Murdoch, the Afghan-born entrepreneur who had spent 20 years in Australia before founding Tolo TV, he joked that the first thing you say to someone is, “I’m going to kill you. We are a violent people.” He wasn’t kidding. After the murder of Naqshbandi journalists in Kandahar, Helmand, Ghazni and Zabul, provinces, received death threats from the Taliban.
What is not a joke is that lawlessness threatens every journalist’s right to freedom of expression. That’s certainly the conclusion of Danish Karokhel, the director of Pajhwok Afghan News, an independent news service. The consequences of what we write in our free society are hardly dire and hardly matters of life and death. IN Afghanistan to tell the truth journalists often have to relocate for a period of time, or sometimes, they can never return to a region if they have done a critical story. In 2006, three journalists were killed and 50 incidents recorded involving beatings, arrests, threats.
Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative and ultra-traditional culture, one that is unlikely to change in the near future. Women journalists have been murdered and threatened. While they appear regularly on TV, which is a positive trend, the country is so conservative that the fact that women simply smile in sight of men causes complaints.
I am not sure that in all my travels around the world I have ever come across anywhere quite so foreign as Afghanistan. Perhaps this is why it has cast a spell over foreigners for so many centuries. Something about it traps your soul, but it is equally difficult to explain why. Kabul is not only desperately poor, but travelling to Afghanistan is like a trip back in time. I arrived in February to a city covered in mud. It dripped from everything – from the sky, from the leaves, it shot upwards from puddles.
When the weather changed the mud turned to dust, which went
everywhere, in your eyes, in your throat and to the darkest recess of your
cupboard. As everyone who has ever been will tell you, the percentage of faecal
matter in the air, due to open sewers and the geography of the capital, which
is 1800 metres
1800 metresabove sea-level, is frighteningly high. Afghans, in general, want to leave. Foreigners, like myself, are desperate to stay despite the hardships and restrictions, especially for women. Life is intense and the work satisfying, quasi-explanations. As a foreign journalist there is much to say.
At the moment the media situation is mixed, a momentum has built up that may be difficult to stop despite the threat from institutions or lack thereof, official intimidation, pending legislation, insurgents, lack of funding, past history and present culture. Just a few of the overwhelming problems that face Afghanistan. After almost 30 years of conflict starting with the Soviet invasion in 1979, the civil war fought by the Mujahdeen, and the rule of the Taliban that ended in 2001, institutions, much like the country itself, were left in ruins. The middle class had fled, universities closed. There was no educational system and no capacity. This remains almost as big a problem here as corruption, which isn’t to say there aren’t many talented and capable Afghans, there are, but capacity remains an issue. There is also a hunger for information. The first thing people buy is a $50.00 TV set and at $30.00 generator. TV ownership is running far ahead of electricity access bucking an international trend.
Afghans have become great survivors, some say opportunists. There is the famous story of a communist who within days had grown a beard and become a mujahideen who within days grew a longer beard and become Taliban who within hours shaved off his beard and was known as a technocrat. As a result people need to understand what’s going on because it’s survival. [Based on surveys and focus groups conducted by Tolo TV, which has 60 percent of the market share, people can tell the difference between propaganda and news.]
On the one side there are weeklies, dailies, monthlies which are a recent nationwide phenomenon, but a lot of times what you read in the papers is defamatory, there are no facts, no balance, just insults. When I went up to Bamiyan, the province in the north where the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas, I spoke to the governor, a feisty and impressive woman called Habiba Sorabi. She was dressed conservatively, as women are, and she lamented the fact that her opponents could just hurl insults at her through the media without any restrictions or redress. There is also some simply dreadful journalism. Take for example the story of a suspected suicide bomber: “He said police detained the suspect after five-hour [sic]. He said: After searching the suspect, we came to know that he was a retard.” Another story explained graphically that "the whores were arrested from the restaurants where they were doing prostitution and where wine was also sold. He would not say to which countries the sluts belonged.”
Perhaps the government shouldn’t fear the media as much as it does. It feels the need to limit what is put out as the country because it is in a state of war. Neither the government nor the public understands what freedom of the press means. Why should they understand the concept any more than they understand or want ? democracy. It is the responsibility of the fledgling media to hold the government accountable for its actions and also for the media to be held accountable for what it writes. This is a new phenomenon. Afghan journalists get intimidated and are vulnerable in ways that Western journalists can only imagine, so the independence and freedom and diversity is extremely fragile, and will likely remain so until, or if, the security situation is stabilised.
As government ranks are stuffed full of [former] warlords, drug barons and many other unsavoury characters, it is hardly a leap to say that when there are reports on corruption these people don’t react well. There is still a feeling that the government can control information.
Until 2005-6 Afghanistan’s media was feeling somewhat positive. Law reforms had come in 2004, guaranteeing freedom of expression, replacing the existing Afghan press law of 1943. But in June the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament or literally house of the people, passed a new media bill. [, which goes to the upper house of parliament and subsequently for presidential assent before it becomes law.]
The controversial bill has undergone many changes due to protests from journalists, MPs and the media itself, which rebuffed the original broad-ranging restrictions on media content. But licences will continue to be issued by the Ministry of the Interior and Culture. The law also stipulates that there needs to be a balance. It’s vague enough for people like Mohseni to worry about possible prosecution.
For many, though, the flourishing of the media is one of the real success stories of the last five or six years. That’s certainly Chris Alexander’s take. He is one of UNAMA’s two Deputy Special Representatives and at 37 already Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan. Sitting in the UNAMA’s Compound B in Kabul he says that “when history is written the vibrancy of independent media will be found to have played a pivotal role in the parliamentary and presidential elections.” He points to the 250 media outlets in this country, some tiny, some microscopic, not always economically sustainable but compared with 10 or 15 under the Taliban, extremely lively.
Statistics about media in Afghanistan are notoriously hard to come by and media outlets, often operated by one man or woman, open and close regularly. When I was there some long-term Afghan watchers suggested that failed-states-on-the-rebound need first to concentrate on political stability and physical security, otherwise, like Afghanistan, they won’t rebound for long. Some ask which is more important, the survival of an Afghan free media or survival of the Afghan nation-state. Perhaps the framework of ‘reconstruction’ as established at Bonn and upheld, ever since, needs a government that is perhaps liked, hopefully respected but ultimately feared.
As it is the international community has poured huge resources into training journalists, producers, photographers, editors, Tolo takes people when they are young at 20 or 21, some even at 17, and they get on-the-job training. That is how they attempt to break the mould of Soviet-style parrot-like reporting. People from the BBC have also worked with Tolo, and ‘intellectuals and academics’ review everything. “We try to employ people who are brave and intelligent, who are eloquent and have common sense,” says Mohseni. “Everything else then falls in to place.” But many international agencies, once gung-ho about training and funding, have lost interest after realizing the media outlets they had started were a long way off becoming sustainable. There is still no overall structure in place for the development of the media, and without international funding many papers and radio stations ?? could collapse. Journalists are still threatened by powerful people and bribed to take a certain line.
We take for granted the ability to call things as they are. When I was talking to Mohseni in his Kabul office, with the requisite number of multiple TV stations on in the background, the Blackberry beeping and telephone ringing, he made an interesting comment. “It’s a must now for people to be telling the truth. Our credibility is one of the reasons why we are successful. Bad things happen in our society, and we force the government to face up to the challenges. We can’t lie to our people even if it goes against Afghan culture, which is not very abrupt.” Honour, politeness and diplomacy are fundamental social skills in this rigid society. Just look at Pashtunwali – the Pashtun tradition of hospitality. Perhaps as a nation it is time for Afghanistan to change. If the media can impact how Afghans express themselves, more honestly, it’s a good thing.
For Afghanistan's journalism to flourish, and it is a big if, some of the issues it has to look at are teaching the police and other law enforcement bodies that the media is something to be protected, not muzzled or manipulated. Chris Alexander believes the government has to improve its strategic communications, and resist the temptation to blame the messenger; a credible public broadcaster needs to emerges; funding and manipulation of media from abroad needs to decrease; and a solid advertising market needs to emerge on the back of a flourishing private sector. All this is still very much a work in progress. In this insecure situation, the media has a similar challenge to almost anyone and anything else in this country - and that is to survive.
Heidi Kingstone is international correspondent for The Saturday Star in Johannesburg and writes regularly for a number of British and foreign publications. She has recently returned from four months in Afghanistan
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Joëlle Roumat a apporté le soleil et l'accent du Sud-Ouest dans son restaurant afghan
Constance de Bonnaventure
Le confit de Kaboul
Cela va faire un an que Joëlle Roumat a fait ses valises pour venir s'installer à Kaboul, en Afghanistan. Restauratrice pendant plus de vingt ans, elle a décidé, du jour au lendemain, de retrouver sa fille en poste dans la capitale afghane. Aujourd'hui, elle navigue entre Kaboul et Islamabad, deux villes agitées et sous les feux de l'actualité.
Qui eut cru que l'on pouvait déguster de
bons plats du Sud-Ouest à Kaboul ? Lorsque l'on passe la porte de L'Atmosphère,
le restaurant français, le léger accent du Sud-Ouest de Joëlle nous transporte
immédiatement ailleurs. Nous sommes bien loin des rues poussiéreuses et de la
tension qui règne dans la capitale. Pour les expatriés, Joëlle est un cadeau du
ciel. En plus de ses recettes magiques, elle a apporté ici l'accueil chaleureux
dont tout le monde a besoin.
Pouillon et le Maroc. Voilà près de un an que Joëlle, à peine effleurée par la cinquantaine, s'est installée dans la région. Landaise, née à Pouillon, près de Dax, elle étudie à Bayonne puis à Pau. Les rencontres et ses choix de vie l'ont ensuite amenée à passer près de vingt ans au Maroc, pour revenir en 1997 à Pau, où elle ouvre une brasserie, Le Carnot.
C'est presque à contrecoeur que notre
Landaise se retrouve en Afghanistan. Objectif : rendre visite à sa fille
Jessica, humanitaire à Kaboul. « Je ne pensais jamais rester. C'était juste
pour faire plaisir à ma fille. » Jessica prévient sa mère que le restaurant
français recherche quelqu'un pour superviser la cuisine, refaire la carte et
former des Afghans. Joëlle hésite, dit oui, puis non. Et, finalement, en
septembre 2006, elle atterrit à Kaboul et découvre alors cette ville crasseuse
où la pauvreté est omniprésente. Mais quel n'est pas son étonnement quand elle
débarque ensuite à L'Atmosphère ! « Là,
j'ai eu un choc. Je ne m'attendais pas à trouver ça après avoir traversé cette
ville aux rues si sales. » Dans un jardin fleuri, autour de la piscine, il
y a plein de jeunes, de toutes nationalités. « C'est un autre monde », glisse
Très vite, elle prend ses marques. La cuisine, française, est influencée par le Sud-Ouest : foie gras, confit de canard, salade de gésiers ou encore jambon de Bayonne de quoi ravir les expatriés en manque de nourriture occidentale ! Le soir, elle fait le tour des tables. Elle explique et fait partager sa passion. « Ici, je suis un peu la maman de tout le monde », raconte-t-elle avec un grand sourire.
Sa popularité. Le pari n'était pas gagné pour cette femme coquette et indépendante. Elle a dû s'adapter très vite aux conditions du pays, où les attentats rythment les jours. Porter le voile, ne jamais sortir seule, être sans cesse vigilante. Mais professionnellement aussi, car Joëlle doit gérer une équipe entièrement masculine : sept hommes en cuisine et six serveurs. Malgré la barrière de la langue, la complicité s'est très vite installée. « Joëlle a apporté un réel rayonnement humain qui a fait beaucoup pour attirer les clients. Elle a su s'adapter très vite », explique Marc Victor, patron de ce restaurant. C'est vrai que sa popularité est notoire à Kaboul.
Aujourd'hui, Joëlle, Marc Victor et leurs associés ont ouvert le même restaurant à Islamabad, au Pakistan, que Joëlle va gérer, ainsi qu'un autre au sein de la base militaire française de Kaboul. Leurs projets ne s'arrêtent pas là. Reste à savoir quelle sera la prochaine destination.
Le « Tour de France » vu de Kaboul
Constance de Bonnaventure
Un verre à la main, les yeux rivés sur l’écran, ils sont Français, Anglais, Américains ou encore Afghans. Tous se sont donné rendez-vous dans le restaurant français de Kaboul, L’Atmosphère, pour regarder une étape de haute montagne du Tour de France. Il est 2 heures et demi de plus qu’en France. Le lieu contraste avec les rues poussiéreuses et sales de la ville. Beaucoup d’expatriés de Kaboul aiment se retrouver ici, qu’ils soient humanitaires, entrepreneurs ou encore journalistes. « C’est un petit coin de France que l’on vient chercher » entend-on souvent.
Pour Marc Victor, patron de l’Atmosphère, c’est devenu une habitude de retransmettre les événements sportifs français. « Ma mission dans ce pays est aussi de faire découvrir la culture française et le Tour de France en fait évidemment partie ».
La télévision est branchée sur une chaîne Sud-Africaine. « Ce qui me manque, ce sont les commentaires en français » déplore Jérôme Mathieu, responsable du développement dans une ONG média. Les serveurs de ce bar-restaurant sont afghans. Ils passent régulièrement devant l’écran : « c’est Paris ? », « les routes sont belles et tout est vert » s’étonnent-ils. Jérôme apprécie le côté international de cet événement, le fait de se retrouver avec d’autres nations. « On se rend compte de l’ampleur du phénomène au niveau mondial » souligne Sébastien Turbot, entrepreneur en Afghanistan depuis 5 ans. « Pour nous qui sommes très loin de chez nous et dans un environnement si différent, regarder le Tour de France nous donne un goût de notre pays » ajoute-t-il. Un brin nostalgique, les Français de Kaboul admirent les paysages montagnards et la verdure de la France… Alors qu’en Afghanistan on commence à voir sur les routes des cyclistes aux tenues bariolées…
Jasmin Afghanistan mars 2007
AK-47 appetizers for main-course security
KABUL - December 10, 2007 - Guests at L'Atmosphere restaurant in the afghan capital are srutinized by the meanest bouncers on the planet.
You push through a woolen flap, through a courtyard lit by kerosene
lamps - and straight into the hoppingest war-zone nightclub since Rick's joint
The lounge is usually jammed wall-to-wall with diplomats, civil servants and
aid-group employees from 100 nations.
There's a decent house red wine, cold beer, a full menu, a killer sound
system and a roaring log fire - wood being the only reliable source of heat in Kabul since the city lost
hydro when the river dried up six years ago.
Owner Marc Victor, a former French radio journalist, opened the restaurant two and a half years ago. But the muscle has been in place for only about six weeks.
"We were told by the British Embassy that our security wasn't good enough, that their people could not come here," he said. "So, we made some changes."
Newcomers to Kabul are always being told the city is safe, but it's a funny kind of safety. Westerners do not venture onto the streets unaccompanied by night, and never without a car. It's not even considered a wise practice in daylight.
Every residence for westerners, from the posh Serena Hotel
to the humble guest houses, is a walled compound with armed guards.
"We don't really get to see much of the city," said one foreign aid worker. "All day long, you pretty much stay indoors."
Actually, it's been pretty tranquil in Kabul
for the past month and a half - by Kabul
standards, at any rate.
That's how long it's been since a suicide bomber blew himself and 10 Afghans to atoms outside the Ministry of the Interior office in the city centre. There's another French restaurant on the same block.
That road is still blocked by massive concrete barriers, which appear
from time to time on Kabul
streets with no explanation. No wonder the city has traffic jams.
"We get phone calls from the Ministry once a week," says Aziz, our Afghan "fixer" - kind of a combination driver, guard and tour guide. "They tell us what the security situation is, and what we should tell our guests to do.
"Basically, you don't go outside after 11 p.m., not without a driver. I don't go out after 11 p.m. But things are very calm and safe now.
"I would say your chances of being kidnapped or killed by a bomber are maybe one in ten."
Top Kabul restaurant takes Afghan youngsters off the streets
The man might be struggling a bit now but he is on the road to a good career that is a far cry from the petty low-income jobs on the streets of the Afghan capital that he once depended on.
The youngster is among 15 Afghan men aged between 15 and 18 who are mastering the restaurant trade in a unique training programme at one of the busiest establishments in the city -- L'Atmosphere.
Marc Victor, one of the owners of the restaurant, initiated the project after he had trouble finding staff even though about a third of the people in the city are unemployed.
"It annoyed me a little that I could not find trained people and so I thought there was room to teach people this trade, a job which is very practical," said the journalist and writer who has now also become a restaurateur.
"It is a modest project, we are not going to put thousands of people in the job market, but it's simple and it is solid," he said.
The training programme offers something new that can take advantage of the booming restaurant trade in a city filled with expatriates who have few other options for entertainment, little time to cook and cash to spare.
"It is something completely different and which no one else is doing," said Alexia Van der Gracht from the NGO Afghanistan Demain, the main partner in the project.
"There are quite a few NGOs that do job training but it is always the same thing," she said. "For girls it is sewing or being a beautician and for boys it is mechanics, carpentry or shopkeeping."
There is a cultural gap to bridge with French dining customs worlds away from those in Afghanistan , where people traditionally eat with their hands.
The gap is even wider for those who come from the poorer classes, as do Victor's trainees.
The nine-month training course is practical: at L'Atmosphere it covers the basics of the hotel and restaurant business -- including how to lay a table, a bit of history about the hospitality trade and hygiene.
Afghanistan Demain teaches the men to read, write and use a computer, or brushes up these skills.
There is a strong focus on English, which is indispensable for working with foreigners. The language is studied for 10 hours a week with vocabulary angled towards their future jobs.
And this is a job of the future, said Victor.
"I don't say that it is a country which is going to become very touristy in the next two years but in the longer term that will be the case," he said.
The job is demanding but it pays well. A L'Atmosphere waiter is paid 150 dollars, but he can triple this wage with tips, Victor said. This compares to a policeman's 70 dollars a month and a teacher's 50.
The French embassy also believes in the project: it has contributed 40,000 euros (50,600 dollars) to train around 30 trainees in the next 18 months.
The trainees -- who were selected by social workers who trawled the streets for suitable candidates -- are paid 30 euros a month, more or less what they might have earned doing odd jobs.
The sum goes some way to persuade families in this conservative Islamic society to let their sons work in a place where alcohol is served and where they have a lot of contact with foreign women.
But L'Atmosphere will not be seeing waitresses any time soon.
"We asked the social workers and they said, 'No, never!'" said van der Gracht.
"There may be some in the restaurant business one day but they would have to from a much higher and open social class," she said.
Cherchez le garçon...un restau français de Kaboul sort les enfants de la rue
Ils sont une quinzaine de jeunes garçons afghans dans les jardins et les dépendances de l'Atmosphère à apprendre les arcanes des métiers de la restauration.
Marc Victor, l'un des propriétaires du restaurant, avait du mal à trouver du personnel, dans une ville où le chômage touche pourtant bien plus du tiers de la population.
"Cela m'a un peu agacé de ne pas trouver des gens formés et je me suis dit qu'il y a quand même un espace pour former des gens à ce métier, un métier qui est très pratique", explique le journaliste-écrivain devenu en plus restaurateur.
"C'est un projet modeste, on ne va pas mettre des milliers de gens sur le marché de l'emploi, mais c'est simple, c'est concret", souligne Marc.
Selon l'UNICEF, il y a 40.000 enfants travailleurs à Kaboul, qui font très souvent de petits boulots mal rémunérés.
"Il y a pas mal d'ONG ici qui font de la formation professionelle et c'est toujours la même chose", se désole t-elle, "pour les filles c'est de la couture, ou esthéticienne et pour les garçons c'est toujours mécanique, menuiserie ou les métiers du bazar", renchéri Alexia Van der Gracht, dont l'ONG Afghanistan Demain est partie prenante dans le projet.
A l'Atmosphère, "c'est des cours d'hôtellerie, de restauration, d'hygiène, un peu d'historique de l'hôtellerie, qu'est ce que c'est qu'un restaurant français, comment on met une table", raconte Marc Victor.
Afghanistan Demain prend en charge le reste, lire, écrire, compter, ou rafraîchir des connaissances émoussées par des années loin des bancs de l'école. L'anglais, indispensable pour travailler avec des étrangers, est appris de manière intensive (10 heures par semaines) et avec un vocabulaire axé sur leur futur emploi.
La restauration est un secteur d'avenir en Afghanistan. "Je ne dis pas que c'est un pays qui va être extrêmement touristique d'ici deux ans, mais sur le plus long terme ce sera le cas", affirme le patron de l'Atmosphère, où la clientèle d'expatriés se presse.
Dans la capitale, les restaurants fleurissent, et les étrangers qui y travaillent ont de l'argent, peu de temps pour faire la cuisine, et surtout le besoin de se distraire du quotidien.
Le métier est exigeant mais il paye bien. A l'Atmosphère, un serveur est payé 150 dollars, mais il triple son salaire grâce aux pourboires, selon Marc Victor. Un policier ne gagne que 70 USD par mois, un instituteur 50 USD.
Pour Gullam Mubin, 18 ans, l'argent est important. "En tant que serveur je peux gagner de l'argent. On a beaucoup de soucis à la maison parce que mon père est instituteur" et que son salaire ne suffit pas, explique-t-il.
L'ambassade de France croit au projet. Elle le finance à hauteur de 40.000 euros pour une trentaine de stagiaires formés sur 18 mois.
Pour convaincre les jeunes, et leur famille, ils sont payés 30 euros par mois peu ou prou l'équivalent de ce qu'ils gagnaient dans leur petit boulot. Il a aussi fallu que les assistantes sociales de l'ONG, en appellent à leurs pouvoirs de persuasion pour laisser le fils travailler dans un restaurant, où un bon nombre de clients sont des clientes et où se vend de l'alcool.
Un signe encourageant: tous les stagiaires sont restés après les manifestations qui ont endeuillé Kaboul le 29 mai et qui avaient une forte connotation xénophobe.
En revanche, les serveuses ce n'est pas pour demain. "On a demandé aux assistantes sociales et elles ont dit: non jamais!", se souvient Alexia van der Gracht.
"En fait je crois qu'il pourrait y avoir des femmes dans la restauration mais il faudrait qu'elles viennent d'un milieu social beaucoup plus élevé et beaucoup plus ouvert", souligne t-elle.
Ann Marlowe in Afghanistan
Kabul - Friday, October 7, 2005
L’Atmosphere is something of a scene, a large restaurant with a bar and many tables set in a huge garden with a swimming pool. Sean is in the middle of a group of expats -- no Afghans go to places like L’Atmosphere, with the exception of young overseas Afghans -- and it seems we’re all waiting for our ride to the party. Everyone is some sort of journalist. I’m surprised that the sex ratio seems even, but I guess the mercenaries and security types are a cadre unto themselves. You can usually spot them right off -- bigger, burlier, and walking with a lumbering gait never seen in the journalistic world.
It occurs to me as I observe the body language of the group drinking in the garden that expat society in Kabul is split in two classwise: the press corps and NGO administrators who are middle to upper class, and the security people who are from the same strata as the armed forces most of them were trained in. My impression is that the Americans and Brits here are skewed to the upper class: two of the Americans I know here graduated from Harvard, and Sean went to Eton. Like their kindred spirits from England who went out to India and the farflung bastions of empire a hundred years ago, these young Ivy graduates have gone to work in a country where they can have more responsibility- and power- than as investment banking grunts back home.
The party is a big one -- maybe 100 people. Sean and his friends drift off into more or less urgent flirtations, and I don‚t want to get in their way. It‚s so crowded that it‚s easy to meet people anyway. I talk with a Spanish NGO worker, an Australian who seems to have been drifting around the country for nearly a year without any particular mission, and then, just as I‚m casting about to see where the handsome men are, someone calls my name. Sven is towering over me. I met him and his brother Eliot and his sister in my friend John’s Bowery loft eight months ago, when Eliot was between jobs in Afghanistan. They’re a strapping, attractive, quintessentially American upper class set of siblings. Sven and I quickly make plans to play golf tomorrow, his last full day in Afghanistan.
I went to the bathroom and took a walk around the party. Any handsome men? There were a few, but they had that odd hostility that I’d noticed on other trips here, a defensiveness that wasn’t going to help them move the gender ratio in their favor, or they were wimpy Euros…