(Keith Shawe, front left, leads a yoga class at Kabul's Fig Health Centre.)
On one level, yoga and armpit waxing might seem a tad out of place in the middle of a war zone.
On the other hand, a Jacuzzi soak and Moroccan massage might just be the things one needs to relieve the stress of living in Afghanistan.
One of the strangest things about life in Kabul is how normal it can sometimes seem. Relatively speaking.
Social calendars fill up with salsa lessons and ballroom dancing, soaking by the pool at the local French restaurant and watching the World Cup on a big screen under the stars.
As Time Magazine's Tim McGirk noted earlier this year, "Kabul's expatriates go out and partake in the manic craziness of the city's bar and restaurant scene in houses reminiscent of America's Prohibition-era speakeasies, behind 20-ft.-tall blast walls and an outer perimeter of armed Afghan security guards."
(Some people in Kabul grumble about Tim's story and blame him for sparking a police raid that hit some of Kabul's most popular drinking holes a few days after his story came out.)
The unusual Kabul social scene draws regular media attention.
But there is an awkward subtext to life in what some call the "Kabubble." It is off-limits to most Afghans, save for the country's elite.
Afghan law bans the sale of booze to Afghans and Muslims.
In the post-Taliban era -- where petty corruption is commonplace and bribes are used to get things done -- Afghan officials look the other way when Kabul restaurants serve booze to expats.
To enforce the selective booze ban, many of the restaurants that serve alcohol simply bar Afghans from coming inside.
But there are no set rules. Private Afghan security guards act as bouncers, deciding who can come inside and who is sent home.
On a recent evening, the bouncer at the French restaurant (whose owner was arrested during the recent raids) turned away a respected Afghan journalist who was planning to join a group of expats for dinner.
As Aman Mojadidi (the Kabul-based artist behind the inventive "reverse bribe" police film) noted in a recent essay: "These private-run establishments cater largely to the international workers and Afghan expats living in Kabul (a de facto rule at any of these establishments, more particularly the ones serving alcohol, is that you must have a foreign passport to enter, hinting, if ever so faintly, back in history towards other segregation efforts from the United States to South Africa)."
Mojadidi's essay, "The Well-Intentioned Dog Washers," views the Kabul social scene through a sociological lens.
Afghans refer derisively to some political leaders as "dog washers," a term that may be the product of an urban legend, but has basis in reality.
According to Mojadidi, the derisive term dates back to the early days President Karzai's post-Taliban interim government, when scores of Afghan exiles returned to help rebuild their country.
As the story goes, one former pet store owner with little political acumen became a trusted aide to Karzai in the palace. Thus the term "dog washer" was born.
As Mojadidi sees it, unqualified Afghans who have returned to positions of power and prestige in their country may be doing more harm than good.
"By using their social wealth in the form of family connections to obtain positions they are unqualified for, they are perpetuating a corrupt system that determines a person’s worth based on who they are and who they know rather than their knowledge, skills, or even behavior; a system that seeks to keep power and control in the hands of a minority elite while refusing to empower Afghans so they may take an active role in their own country’s development and reconstruction," he wrote.
"The result, therefore," Mojadidi says, "is that Afghan society becomes a contemporary configuration of an old, dichotomous class system with the elite on one level and the masses on another. So rather than working towards a society that is more inclusive and pluralistic, Afghan expats can often be found to be actively working against this kind of society as it would mean giving up some things in return; the political, economic, and societal wealth upon which everything they have built stands."
"Unless the elitist breed of Afghan expats does not give up its belief in an inherent right to their status, position, and economic benefit, begin to take responsibility for the work that they do, and look ahead to what the country will look like if (when?) they and the international community leave or minimize their presence in Afghanistan, then all the positive results from the good work many Afghan expats have done, and that one can tangibly see across various development sectors, will be perceived as tragically irrelevant, if considered at all," he concludes. "And in the future, when Afghans still living in Afghanistan look back on Afghan expat participation in the “once upon a time” reconstruction of their country, it will at best be simply remembered as 'the Era of the Well-Intentioned Dog Washers.'"