Living it up at the Hotel Paranoia: Room 101

10 Nov


After a night of Mr Beiber pulsating through the ventilators from the roof top bar (it really picks up on a Sunday night) and with no sense of irony, KK has been moved to Room 101. There are fewer rats than anticipated and in truth, once you ignore the stale smoke smell, it is a much nicer room. KK can sit by the open window admiring the other prison blocks and listen to the birds.


There are no less than three bathrooms, an anteroom (for welcoming all those other inmates, one presumes) and (drum roll please) a room containing a kettle, some cutlery and crockery. That’s right, a kitchen.


Already sick to the gills with chicken fajitas and jalapenos (every night is Mexican Night) this alone will make life under house arrest more bearable until a way of tunnelling into reality has been planned.


Two nights ago an Angel of normalcy visited from outside the wire and brought with her shopping bags brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, cheese and crackers and a bar of chocolate. Combine this with tins of duck pate, truffle pate and terrine au chateauneuf du pape, that’s right – pork and wine – which KK was sent out with by a dear friend, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a posh ploughman’s feast.


The Angel and KK walked around Hotel Paranoia taking in the sights and sounds. It was, Angel pointed out, designed by the same people who designed Pul-e-Charki prison, a place of no return if you err on the wrong side of drug smuggling and general banditry.


We stumbled across the Sri Lankan Embassy which, for reasons unknown, is operated out of the Hotel Paranoia and in the various atriums we counted no less than six aquariums.






In a landlocked country.


Seven, actually, if you count the one which was built too large to accommodate several cubic tons of water and marine life and now sits empty in the hotel’s reception; a vast sarcophagus of stale air. For reasons also unknown, photographing these is for some reason banned and incurs the watchful attention of an armed guard with a twitching trigger finger. Not that his protestations made much of a difference to an indifferent KK.



Posh Ploughmans Feast


Terrine au chateauneuf du pape


Iranian cream cheese

Tomatoes and cucumber

Yellow pepper.



Put on plate.





REBLOGGED: Kabul Prison Dispatch: Plenty of room at the Hotel Paranoia

10 Nov


Repost from June 2016.

Welcome to The Hotel Paranoia

That’s right, KK is back. But this time she’s in prison.

Imagine a lovely little boutique hotel in say, Suffolk or, if you’re on the other side of the pond, Montauk. The type of place where the windows look out onto open expanses of sand, skies and sea or rolling hills of emerald green. The type of place where furniture is made of responsibly sourced driftwood and walls painted in subtle yet striking hues of Farrow and Ball. The type of place nurtured by a gentle breeze, where chatter as soft as moss fills a warm dining room. The type of place you go back to year after year and consider to be a sort of home away from home.

Now imagine the exact opposite of that.

The EXACT opposite.

Multiply it by a few and add a bit of jet lag and some really long security briefings about how you will, under no circumstances be leaving the gates unless necessary for work (it’s just too dangerous), and when you do you will be accompanied by close protection wearing a ‘piece’ and you will definitely not go anywhere for social reasons (it’s just too dangerous) and certainly not after dark (it’s just too dangerous) and that walking around outside the walls is a definite no, no (it’s just too dangerous) and that laughing and smiling is frowned upon (it’s just too dangerous) [Ok, the last bit is an exaggeration but you get the picture]. Add to this a discussion about making a film about financial technology and you’ve got something close to the Hotel Paranoia*.

A sort of shiny emporium complex protected by numerous steel gates and walls. Think “private/expat hospital/dentist-come-gym-mall”. Suffolk (or Montauk) it ain’t.

Now I don’t know about you but there is something uniquely depressing about interior glass shop front windows. Put them next to a few (closed) medical centres, fill them with tired looking tat lit by strip lights, plonk a bored ‘local’ in there for saleable authenticity, make the place completely empty you’ve got a double whammy of reasons to hide in your room.

Indeed while writing, it has been revealed that one poor soul did just that a few weeks ago with a stash of Opium and, well, he never woke up.

Plenty of room at the Hotel Paranoia

Three rooms were on offer. Two of them were palatial in size but had frosted wire windows instead of glass so KK opted for the third which was smaller and looks onto a car park of armoured vehicles and (mini fist pump for that early wake up call) a mosque. It is, however the only window which can be opened and from which you can at least hear Afghanistan. And, if you lean out really, really far, you can see the Hindu Kush sitting majestically beneath a purple haze of the last light.

On the top floor the walls shook. But not from a blast or an earthquake (‘we’ve had several,’ a security contractor told me proudly) but with Justin Beiber. Following the music and KK happened upon a large purple and red room filled with with four snooker tables, a seating area and a well stocked bar manned by a figure illuminated blue, of course, by a smart-phone glow. Apart from the omnipresent Bieber, he was the only occupant of the room.

Gatorade on ice

A few guests shuffled, head bowed, into the ‘chow hall’ at supper time; rather solitary figures at tables laid for four nibbling on a buffet rich in sodium, fake cheese and jalapenos. It must be Mexican Saturday. Opposite the table where KK sat (rather overzealously laid for eight others) a sparkly light globe rotated like a disco ball. Justin Beiber joined us again overhead. When his song came to an end “I’m a Barbie girl” replaced it. Unsurprisingly no-one laughed. Apart from KK.

With the whiff of fear and paranoia lingering more heavily in the air than cheesy chilli, the whole set-up is that of a more dystopic, more Orwellian version of The War Machine**. With slightly poorer taste in music. Indeed, it almost makes the current incumbents at the Place Formerly Known as War Machine look like a proactive, happy organisation that probably does mindfulness courses for marines and is wholeheartedly dedicated to making Afghanistan a better place.

Hotel Paranoia is in the heart of Kabul and yet so far removed from Afghanistan proper that were it not for a faint tinkle of bicycle bells in the roads outside, you’d be forgiven for forgetting where you are entirely.

As the plane touched down earlier in the evening a jolly fellow with pea-green eyes sporting a backwards baseball cap over his sparkly skull-cap and fluorescent Nike trainers poking from beneath his shalwar offered up a packet of chocolate biscuits. Declining, as the cheesy jalapeños have proved, was an error. Suddenly 18p tins of tomatoes don’t look so bad.

But as the song goes, ‘you can check out any time but you can never leave.’ For 11 and a quarter days, that is. And not with out close protection.

‘We are all just prisoners here…’


* Real hotel name changed to avoid getting the sack on day 1.

** Since 1st January 2015 The War Machine has been rebranded to make it look like the war is over and all the troops are doing are, you know mindfulness courses and stuff but really, we all know it’s still a War Machine and everyone is just biding their time to get back into the thick of it. In the mean time, security companies are keeping everything on ice with a lot of threat reporting***.

*** This is not to say that things are really safe here, they aren’t. But it is a money game. Keep the threat level high and security companies and militaries are in business.****

**** There’s a massive aside and parallel here about Ebola and humanitarian cash but I’ll save that for a rainy day

From Kabul to Conakry

29 Apr

A year or so since the not so expert last dispatch and KK has moved, albeit temporarily, to Conakry, Guinea.

She has just arrived and has two suitcases with her. One is filled with cameras and ‘Guinea appropriate clothes,’ the other with… wait for it… some cheese, chamomile tea, earl grey tea and tinned tuna fish.

She has yet to see the kitchen but hold on to your hats and move over to… for some unlikely adventures of a filmmaker/photographer in Eboland with some curious ingredients.

An Expert Delhi Dispatch

14 Apr


It was with great excitement that KK bounded to Delhi for the very first time last week with The Expert and later joined by French Flower.

‘It’s a s*** hole, it’s polluted, it’s clogged, it’s chaotic, it’s broken,’ is what most people sa about Delhi. But after Kabul, it’s like Paris, agreed KK and FF. It is a rhythmic, sprawling city of colour, cacophonous traffic and mild chaos. But it’s a safe city with light like ambrosia and, most importantly, a functioning city.

Apart from, that is, the kitchen in The Expert’s apartment. The Expert lives in a splendid apartment in South Delhi. Splendid but also empty, Expert having just moved in. Continue reading

Kabul Gold and The Last Risot (o)

10 Apr


KK is soon to be leaving and in the post election maelstrom of excitement and long overdue holidays, many others are too

So to say goodbye to the nearest and dearest who would be gone by the time KK returns from The Land of the Hindus (see picture, totally unrelated I know), a risotto was called for.

The recipe was a variation on one rustled up by cousin KK, an artist, who having learned his trade in Italy, is a dab hand in la cucina. He had cooked it as ‘the last supper’ before KK returned to Kabul in late December. We called it The Last Risot. A fitting last supper for the KK cohorts, therefore.

Trouble was apart from peas and some mushrooms, KK, having never made risotto before, had absolutely no idea how to proceed. Continue reading

Fishy Election Fish

7 Apr

And so the country voted. At least, most of it did. Maybe. Perhaps. Almost.

In Kabul, if you ask those with clean hands (votes are cast by an indelible blue finger print) why they didn’t vote, they shrug and say there’s no point, or they don’t know who to vote for, or, in the case of one twenty year old rap star, ‘Man, I’m a stoner. I can’t be f****d with that dumb shit.’

Outside in the provinces, many were unable to vote either because the polling station was attacked or because they had been threatened or because the station had run out of ballots. Those who did vote, however, were reported to be feverishly rubbing off the ink so as not to alert those friendly Talibs of their blue-fingered, democratic crime.

Inside one Kabul polling station, tensions were high. A squabble broke out amongst a group of women who believed the monitors were telling them who to vote for while another was accused of voting twice. However, KK can’t be too disparaging. There was something remarkable about seeing a long line of women queuing up to vote and humbling about one lady in particular who bore the ravenous, facial scars of an acid attack. Continue reading

First day of Spring. Rolls. (And some chilli toffee).

31 Mar

There are few trees at WM and those that are may as well be dressed in uniforms, so forgettable are they against the concrete and gravel. Beneath layers of dust, perhaps they already are. But behind a corrugated tin container near WM offices, there is a tree in blossom; it might be cherry, it might be pear, it might be hawthorn, it might be apple… who cares, it’s blossom and as such, a single beacon of colour and light.

And even when a Black Hawk lands nearby and every one at WM holds onto their baseball hats and guns against the bladed up-gush, the petals stand firm; stubborn and resolute as only proud blossom should. A reminder that perhaps not everything here is dead. Yet.

So, after weeks of taunts, spring is perhaps, maybe, possibly, fingers crossed, here.

Thus in celebration of this proud pinkness, KK decided to put to use a cooking course (her first) taken in the land of the Thais last month. Continue reading