The Dog Days of Kabul

J2E – Afghanistan – In Afghanistan, there is a breed of dog called the Kuchi, or Anatolian shepherd. Dog fighting in Afghanistan is an unofficial national sport, and Kuchis are the ideal competitor. Fearless and massive, the animal has crushing jaws, a heavy skull, muscular shoulders and chest and long limbs and hindquarters.

For millennia, Kuchi dogs protected flocks of sheep and goats from predators like jackals. Today, the animal’s fighting prowess is exploited every Friday on the Muslim weekly holy day. Following prayers, the men of Afghanistan retire to a dusty dog-fighting ring where Kuchis—tails and ears docked— are pitted against one another. Thousands of dollars are bet on the outcome. Former British Royal Marine Pen Farthing rescued a Kuchi while on a tour of duty in war-torn Helmand province, an act of kindness that snowballed into a national rescue centre for stray cats and dogs called Nowzad Dogs. Adopting strays as pets was common among troops stationed in Afghanistan while fighting Taliban insurgents. Having a dog by your side, says Farthing, allowed the soldiers to “pretend for five minutes that you were back home instead of being bombed by the Taliban.”

The huge fellow pictured here, rescued from the dog-fighting ring, is called Sherak, which means ‘little lion.’ He lives with Farthing at the Nowzad Dogs shelter in Kabul. Sherak will not die of starvation, rabies, being shot at, poisoned, run over or torn apart in a dog-fighting ring, making him one of the lucky few. (Dogs are poisoned in Afghanistan because they carry rabies: 1,000 people in Kabul died after being bitten by rapid dogs last year, according to Farthing.)

Pregnant or with litters, abandoned, injured or feral—all are brought to the shelter to be vaccinated, spayed or neutered, socialized and adopted out. Some feral dogs cannot be socialized and bite if approached. Nonetheless, Farthing says, homes are found for them, too.

Nowzad Dogs is a charity, and depends upon donations to sustain operations, says Farthing, who retired from the marines three years ago to lead mountain climbing charity treks to raise money. Check out the centre’s video at

Taverna du Liban & Park Star Hotel

In Kabul, you never know what lies behind high, thick metal walls topped with barbed wire. In some cases, it is restaurants serving fresh, spicy food that expats especially enjoy due to the establishment’s liberal leanings. At the Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant, our dinner was accompanied by red ‘tea’ that came in gold-painted teapots with elegantly curved spouts. We also drank foaming ‘cappuccinos’  served in white coffee cups. Against a far wall, a group of a dozen business-suited men, including several government members, spent the evening eating, smoking sweet-smelling tobacco out of hookahs, and discussing corruption. The dinner was followed by a visit to the Park Star Hotel, which was hosting a  big party to celebrate a renovation.  There were about eight women, 200 well-heeled and well-groomed men, and one female MP, who rolled her eyes at the criticism she knew would come her way from being in the company of males. (Among religious conservatives, women should never be in the company of men who aren’t family, even though they might be elected MPs.) Musicians played traditional Afghan instruments: the tabla drums and sarangi guitar, said to be extremely difficult to play, and everyone drank bottled water and fizzy pop. According to one expat, the men would go home and discard their  pious public abstinence by downing whiskey.

Khabaad tempest

J2E-Afghanistan5 – In Afghanistan, there is a dry, hot wind the nationals call the khabaad, which is pronounced hogbot. It begins in the late afternoon, stirring the tops of trees and sweeping dust off the surrounding mountains. Within a few hours, the khabaad has worked itself into a tempest: trees bend at 45-degree angles, windows blow open, household articles fly off the shelves and visibility is reduced to almost nil. Woe to the poor bicyclist caught in this maelstrom; they are enveloped in dust, dirt and garbage, becoming virtually invisible to passing motorists. 

Kabul traffic

In Kabul, it’s ‘every man for himself’ on the streets. (An antiquated aphorism but appropriate, as I have not seen any women driving.) The concepts of ‘yield’ and ‘right of way’ and ‘lanes’ don’t seem to exist—nor do stop signs or streetlights. This makes driving quite simple: everyone goes where they want as quickly as they want. The result is numerous accidents; our first day here, our driver pulled in front an oncoming car, which swerved to miss us and smashed into a tree. No one was hurt, luckily. No exchange of papers; the two drivers knew each other and would deal with it in their own time and their own way later on.

Yesterday, en route to Zarif Designs, our cab became stuck in traffic in the middle of an intersection. There were several vehicles vying for the centre: one from the left and two from the right. There was a car right in front of us, another coming straight-on and our driver simply inserted his cab into the middle of this mess. It was like trying to undo a Gordian Knot; none of the vehicles would budge an inch and the drivers all sat glaring at one another. One diplomatic fellow decided to back up – quickly and in a bit of a rage, and nearly took out a bicyclist coming up behind him, who swerved just in time to avoid being squished, all the while maintaining the same calm, benign expression.

Afghanistan – first impressions


J2E-Afghanistan3 – The journey to Kabul took two days, but we’re here, and have already sampled the tasty and healthy Afghan cuisine at Sufi Restaurant and Gallery. The name honours the great Sufi poet, philosopher and mystic Muhammad Rumi, who is referred to as Persia’s Shakespeare. As the occasional NATO helicopter thundered overhead, we drank fresh mint lemonade and watermelon juice and ate pumpkin, eggplant, chickpea, rice and meat dishes, served under a huge open canopy, all the while seated on luxurious, hand-woven carpets.

The city is extremely dusty and bears the unmistakable signs of ongoing conflict, with police and military visible on street corners and armed private security personnel protecting hotels and businesses. There are very few women on the streets and you see fathers shepherding their small children—girls and boys—through the potholed, gravelly streets.