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September 02, 2014

In Rolling Stone: "Last Tango in Kabul"

A current Rolling Stone feature by Matthieu Aikins covers the Kabul expat community from government contract boon days to the present, giving a vivid if troubling picture of increased danger to expats and contractors still in Afghanistan. It was originally published in mid-August. Excerpts:

It was so easy to make money in Kabul that it felt like we were all citizens of some Gulf oil state. If you could string a few coherent sentences together into a grant application, odds were that there was some contracting officer out there who was willing to give you money, no matter how vapid your idea. Want to put on a music festival in Kabul? Here's a few hundred thousand. Shoot a soap opera about heroic local cops? A million for you. Is your handicraft business empowering Afghan women? Name your bid.


The Kabubble economy was so hot that kids out of college were making six-figure salaries, and former midlevel paper pushers were clearing a thousand a day as consultants for places like the World Bank. "All of your expenses are paid for, you don't buy anything, you're getting this massive salary that you bank," Peter, the journalist, says. "Do that for a few years and you've saved half a million before you're 30. You could basically class-jump, by going to Kabul."

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These days, expatriate life in Kabul is a sad reflection of its former self. Diplomats and aid workers operate under drastic security restrictions that keep them from attending restaurants or private parties, a condition that has been prolonged by the drawn-out crisis over the presidential election and who will succeed Karzai. Several of the restaurants and guesthouses that sustained the expat scene here have closed down. "A lot of people reached the point where they were like, 'OK, I'm out, I'm done,'" says Luisa Walmsley, a media consultant living in Kabul. "You start realizing that you're really close to all this stuff and that it's just a matter of time that you're going to lose someone."


Posted by JD Hull at September 2, 2014 12:20 AM

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