Friday, March 6, 2009

Dinner in the Palace

This past week I had dinner in the Queen's palace...the Afghan Queen's Palace. Of course there is no longer a Queen and her palace has seen better days, but even looking at the ruins one can visualize those better days. The Palace is also the scene of some dark times. Before the Soviet invasion it was the residence of President Hafizullah Amin. He and his family of about thirty were murdered here.

The Queen's Palace in 1987 when it was the Headquarters of the Soviet 40th Army.

The Queen's Palace today.

The gardens and all but two of the trees are gone now.

The Queen's Palace is more structurally sound than the King's Palace. Both palaces were heavily damaged during the Civil War that broke out after the Soviets left. There's sort of a roof. A little bit of plywood to seal up the big windows against a cold early March night, some candles...ok, a lot of candles...a charcoal fire and it was downright cozy.

We were there to bid our British Colonel farewell as he ends his tour and moves on to other duties. We had great Indian fare, three different curry dishes, rice, naan, and all the trimmings...except no Kingfisher or Taj Mahal beer...or any other booze. Bummer.

The Grand Stair.

Another view of the Grand Stair.

For those who did not come with flashlights, the way in was lit with chemlights.

The Brits know how create a nice atmosphere even in a war zone. Flowers, fizzy grape juice and...yeah, I know I said there wasn't any booze. That is a beer can...sort of. It's Beck's non-alcoholic beer. What's the point?

Our staff is composed of British, US and French.
For those who remember the "Freedom Fries" and all that nonsense that went along with our disagreement with the French at the start of the war, I can tell you that even though our governments are often at loggerheads, our soldiers get along quite well. There's something about shared danger.

A real live Frenchman!
Our other French officer (the one with an English first name and a Spanish surname) missed the event. Something about making sure the wine at the French Embassy was properly secured. Maybe this one was wishing he was at the French Embassy too.

I did say it was cozy, right? Well, about 40°F cozy.
So there was hot tea and coffee to take off the chill.

It was just a nice little gathering of the guys.

Ok, well...there were some babes ladies present. Hey they were in uniform! The embassay ladies were too in uniform! Note that the Brit Brigadier came equiped with a pair of shoulder warmers embassy staff. They did keep their coats on. After all, it was a bit chilly.

What is it about the Brits and feathers in their hats?
I frequently wear a pakhul, a flat wool hat many Afghans wear. The Brit Colonel, the guy on the right, commented that no matter how you wear a pakhul, you can still look foolish. To which one of our Air Force guys replied, "but if you stick a feather in it, you look British.

The group picture.
Ok, so the ladies did take off their coats, but only for a wee bit. I mean after all, they went to a lot of effort to select just the right revealing, correct tasteful attire to help torture cheer up the guys. As we finished up the picture session, there was a loud explosion. To which one guy said, "Oops, time to go!" Another said, "Oh great! Fireworks!" The bad guys had attacked an Afghan National Police checkpoint down the road. No casualties, but a solid reminder that we are in a war zone.