Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Life in a Kabuli guesthouse pt. 2

from a journal written when I spent five weeks in Kabul during the summer of 2005 consulting with an Afghan company that was developing an educational TV network

The guest house where I live in Kabul has a common room and a large screen TV with about 250 channels featuring one of the best selections anywhere of Indian movies and music videos. Afghans are mad for them. India now is the world’s largest producer of movies, but they are almost never seen in the US. After about 3 minutes of watching one, you might understand why. There is a broad cultural divide going on here. Sometimes I watch them during breakfast. They’re great wake-me-ups.

Indian music videos have two basic plots:

#1 -- White-looking Indian boy chases whiter looking Indian girl through a slightly interesting locale, which after a minute becomes pretty tiresome. It could be a zoo, a playground, a marina, a beach, a hilltop, a valley, a river bank, a boat, a garden or farm. Dancing into and out of, and always on top of a conveniently parked stylish car, at least a dozen times as part of the chase, is a critical piece of action. The girl and boy sing lines alternatively to each other while they shimmy across the setting like a pair of courting peacocks. The boy is consumed with looks of hopeless desperation, crawling on his knees, pulling his hair, beating his breast, collapsing in misery. The girl is a minkish vamp gyrating her ample hips like an out-of balance washing machine. She sports a long diaphanous scarf constantly blown by an off-screen wind machine. Sometimes their lips barely brush against each other, but just in time, she runs away to another part of the locale, only to lie seductively on a park bench, bale of hay, boat, car hood, etc. etc., until the boy catches her and moans his desolate lyrics. Oh, it also rains at least 3-4 times during a video, or they run through a fountain, or some other water attraction. Water is the magical element in the courtship of Indian videos. In a country with 115 degree summers, could you expect anything else?

#2 -- White-looking Indian boy chases whiter looking Indian girl through a an immediately tiresome interesting locale, with all the same action as #1, except this time they have 30 friends all fiercely gyrating in the background of every single scene. The Indians obviously like it, because probably 80% their movies include the exact same scenes too. Indian cinema is culture divide I can’t seem to cross, but I acknowledge their popularity with everyone in the guest house.

I am also the only westerner in the guest house and it’s a struggle to understand the pidgin English. There is a Chinese-Malaysian, a full-Malaysian, a couple Pakistani, and several recently repatriated Afghans. The population changes regularly due to people traveling around the country on Afghan Wireless business. This and 14 other guest houses are owned by Afghan Wireless to house their foreign experts. The residents are computer specialists, electrical engineers, customer service specialists, heating and cooling installers. They are all very friendly and gracious, helpful, well-educated, like to discuss politics, and always greet me by name, though I really can’t remember nor pronounce any of theirs. But my smile-filled southern Hey, good mornin'! works well enough.

Unassuming and forgiving, they mostly admire America and Americans, though mostly all they know about them is what they see in the movies an TV. However they're happy to point out how wrong-headed our current government can be. Their idea of average Americans are Tom Cruise and Paris Hilton and they're amazed that a real live American would actually be living with them. (to be continued)

No comments: