As the Asia House Lit Festival draws to an end, A personal highlight for me was to hear Heidi Kingstone in conversation with Jemima Steinfeld. Both women have written accounts of working abroad and in this conversation we were treated to Heidi’s memories of being a war correspondent in Afghanistan and a reading from her new book, Dispatches from the Kabul Cafe.
Heidi began by explaining the phenomenon, Kabubble, which arose in Kabul as a result of all the western cash flowing into the city. It sounded like quite the party town!
Heidi felt the biggest misconception of Afghanistan by far was its women. She conceded that there are many issues and problems to face but the women are not all victims in burkas. They are just as complex as us: lovely, witty, good, bad, bitchy, and people forget that about Afghan women.
Heidi also told us of a thriving press which simply did not exist before. This development is most encouraging as it brings Afghanistan closer to peace and accountability.
A poignant moment came when Heidi said that there is something about living in the edge of someone else’s war that has changed her. She felt sadness about not being able to do more … Not guilt, but sadness. Although she felt privileged to witness Afghans rebuilding their country with love.
Was Heidi scared for her safety in Kabul? She said no, they had unarmed guards. She found walking around Kabul by yourself as an unaccompanied woman absolutely fine. For foreigners life there was fine. It was just an amazing place, full of beauty and history with wonderful characters.
We all then had a giggle with Heidi and Jemima when Heidi was asked about how she decided how much to reveal about love affairs and were there any regrets. Heidi had no regrets, but did cringe a little when her parents asked for copies of the book! Haha, I can imagine!
There was grief as well as love in Kabul for Heidi. Her friends were killed and I really felt her loss when she described her friend who died in his cafe with 21 customers and Heidi also told us of a team of doctors who were killed. It sounded truly tragic.
We left on a positive note and Heidi said that there are small victories every day in Afghanistan. Healthcare has improved, more children attend school and the new generation of Afghans is extraordinary and living in extraordinary times.
Is Heidi bored to be back in London? She admitted it does take her months to come down, and London is home, but it won’t be long before she starts a new project.
Bubbly and I have our copies of Dispatches, make sure you get yours!