I have lived in empty multi-storey houses, farmhouses, art projects, cute little huts on mountains and cosy apartments in buzzing cities. I have slept on carpets in shops of Bazars, on the ground of a language school, in prayer rooms and on designer-couches. Never have I lived in a city as expensive as Kabul.
When an internet friend told me how expensive the capital of Afghanistan is, I wanted to laugh out loud and take it as a joke as it seemed too far removed from my reality. I had found rented places in Pakistan and even there the people had told me that I was paying a foreigner price that was too much. But against the Kabul prices, Pakistan seems to be a renter’s paradise.
“So there is nothing below 55 US Dollar a night? Not a single guesthouse?”
“Well, there are guesthouses that are cheaper. Maybe just 30 Dollars or 25, but no foreigner stays there anymore. It is too dangerous! You need a place with good security. Especially when you are alone as a woman! But, doesn’t your workplace provide you with a place to stay?!”
They didn’t. And actually, I am glad about it. Most foreign workers who come to Kabul for work, stay in so called compounds or special guesthouses with high walls and even higher security restrictions. They live in these compounds and most of them can’t move around much. Some of the foreigners can’t go for a walk at all, due to their security restrictions. They are not allowed to take the local taxis (yellow taxis) and even the ‘secure’ taxis (white taxis, which cost 5 US Dollar no matter where you go in the city) are not always allowed for them to be used. If they don’t live according to these expectations, which include nightly curfews at 10 or 11 o’clock and restrictions on which restaurants or cafes to visit, then they can expect their notice of leave. Meaning, they can pack their bag and search for a new job.
I came without any of these restrictions, I came alone to Kabul.
Prices of secure guesthouses (including breakfast) start around 55 Dollars a night.The cheapest range around 50-80 USD a night. Which sounds still acceptable but starts to add up. One month in the cheapest place would cost you 1650 Dollar! If you still think this is well affordable, because you are earning a lot of money, please calculate these prices with the background of a student or a person at the beginning stage of your career with literally no money whatsoever.
I decided that this wasn’t affordable for me on the long run and I began room-hunting in Kabul. The possibilities vary with the person you are. As a native looking person (with dark hair, brown eyes or darker skin) with decent Dari or Pashto skills (the local languages) you might be able to find an appartement in Microrayon or other parts of town for about 500 USD a month. This option wasn’t available for me as a blond-blue-eyed-light-skinned-farangi. People told me to search for sth that was secure. But what is secure? A place with security in front that might be easily spotted? Or better a not so visible private house? And what kind of neighbourhood to choose? One where there are more foreigners around and people won’t notice one more? Or a mixed neighbourhood which might not be that quickly befallen by suicide bombers or kidnappings? And then: close by to an official building because the streets around will be more secure or better far off of them to stay clear of the threat which is posed on them because of all the foreigners who work there?
Many questions and no simple answers.
“Peace is not a static thing; it is the supreme example of balance in movement” Mr Rowlett once wrote to Vikram Seth.
As this is true for the general situation in any wartorn place (relationship, inner state of mind, replace it as you wish), this is also true for finding the right place to live in Kabul. So where to start? I browsed the adds in Kabul’s survival guide and found several offers for places to stay. The prices started with around 800USD for a 12 square metre room and went up until several thousand Dollars (a friend here pays 2000 USD for 70 square metre for example…). Adding up if you stay with a partner: Of course it won’t stay 800 USD when your partner joins you in your tiny room, uses the same heating and lightbulbs, of course it’ll raise up to 1200USD a month. That’s the Kabul logic.
Some people predict that the prices may fall once the troops pull out in 2014/15, but who knows where I’ll be right then. So I decided for a place, a colourful place, a shared house with a consultant from Canada, a Turkish woman in search for work, a microfinance consultant from Kenia and an american piano teacher. The athmosphere is relaxed and casual. At least until I start thinking on how much I have to pay…