Afghanistan’s Got Karoake Bars and Bowling Alleys Galore
Anna Loshkin’s photographs show people relaxing in the most ordinary ways. Singing pop songs in a karaoke bar. Crashing bumper cars at an amusement park. Playing paintball. They could be in any city in the US, but they’re in Afghanistan. “Even in a war zone, you still want to have fun,” she says.
The Ukrainian photographer spent a month exploring Kabul, where she found a bowling alley, a paintball park, and other venues typically associated with American suburbs. Many appeared during the US occupation, and are popular with the city’s growing middle class. “A selfie-taking office worker with the UN won’t be participating in buzkashi, cock fighting, or any of the other traditional entertainments,” says Ahmad Shuja, a Human Rights Watch researcher there.
Loshkin lives in Tel Aviv and began visiting Afghanistan three years ago for a project about Afghan women. She saw entertainment venues throughout Kabul. Although clearly inspired by American culture, they follow traditional morals and values. She found few women among the patrons, and some excluded them entirely. The manager of the waterpark allowed her in only after she promised to work quickly and keep well away from the men and children inside.
Women tended to gather in homes or at the shopping mall, where they might enjoy ice cream or play games at an amusement park called Wonderland. She discovered they preferred to go out during the afternoon, for safety. “They don’t love being out at night, unless there’s a wedding,” Loshkin says. “If it’s a wedding, it’s different, because you’re celebrating and it’s a big party.”
The country’s political and economic situation has deteriorated since Loshkin shot Entertainment in Kabul, and many of these places face an uncertain future. “Many restaurants frequented by foreigners and well-to-do Afghans in Kabul have closed or are closing,” Shuja says.
Yet life continues. And many of Loshkin’s photos show people reveling in activities banned under the Taliban, or frowned upon in some quarters. Dancing at a party or swinging a bowling ball becomes an affirmation of personal freedom and joy in a country that has known no end of warfare and discord.