Afghan cafe puts freedom back on the menu

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For young people in Helmand who want  to relax and enjoy their evenings and get a respite from the pressures of war,  Ayenak Restaurant and Cafe is the place to go. (AN photo)
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For young people in Helmand who want  to relax and enjoy their evenings and get a respite from the pressures of war,  Ayenak Restaurant and Cafe is the place to go. (AN photo)
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For young people in Helmand who want  to relax and enjoy their evenings and get a respite from the pressures of war,  Ayenak Restaurant and Cafe is the place to go. (AN photo)
Updated 09 September 2018
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Afghan cafe puts freedom back on the menu

  • A small cafe in Afghanistan’s Helmand province has brought back a way of life cherished by many young Afghans
  • Afghanistan’s Helmand province, once described as “Little America,” now struggles with the effects of the opium trade and Taliban attacks on foreign forces

HELMAND: Afghanistan’s Helmand province, long notorious for its security challenges, is one of the most dangerous places for foreign forces operating in the country.

The area is also known for its opium trade and has a reputation as a Taliban stronghold. Even today, residents live in a state of perpetual fear since the extremist forces have yet to be fully defeated.

Nevertheless, there is an urge among Helmand’s youth to live and enjoy life. In a socially conservative culture that has left people starved for entertainment, many have discovered the magic of Ayenak Restaurant and Cafe in Nawa district.

The cafe and restaurant were designed for young people who want to forget war, relax and enjoy their evenings at a venue surrounded by a beautiful landscape with the added option of swimming in the river or visiting gardens laden with fruit.

The breathtaking beauty of the place draws visitors from across Helmand and Kandahar. Most come with friends to unwind. The restaurant also offers guests Afghan food, tea, coffee, juices and shisha.

“Our cafe can accommodate about 400 guests at one time. It has a huge yard, cabins and places for people to sit outside,” said Abdul Shakur Alham, the 26-year-old owner of the outlet.

However, Ayenak cafe is not only a tourist attraction but also a symbol of defiance. While many outlets in the main cities offer flavored tobacco and shisha openly, this is the only shop providing the service in an insecure, Taliban-dominated area.

The militant group believes that tobacco is forbidden and followers should avoid such guilty pleasures. Another pastime that can easily offend a Taliban commander is the use of playing cards. Yet the cafe continues to offer these facilities even though the area remains within reach of the militant group.

“Everything is natural in this cafe,” said 23-year-old Abdul Hai Mutmaen. “I like all of it, but shisha is something new for us in this area. I enjoy it a lot.”

Mirwais Bosti, 24, a visitor from neighboring Kandahar, said: “We have many cafes in Kandahar city, but they do not have such lovely weather and picturesque landscape.”

In the 1950s, Helmand was known among Afghans as “Little America.” At the time US engineers and experts worked there to transform the valley along the Helmand River into a modern society. Irrigation canals were built to feed farms that produced large quantities of food for export, helping Afghanistan to earn substantial revenues. New schools, modern hospitals and recreation centers were built and factories were powered by electricity produced at the Kajaki dam.

Model towns emerged in the area with streets lined with trees, and boys and girls went to community pools together. It was not difficult to find clubhouses along the river where one could play cards and consume drinks.

Helmand’s reputation changed after the Soviet invasion when it became a dangerous location for Russians and Afghan communists. More recently, it has also proved deadly to NATO and US forces. However, after decades of death and destruction, the province’s residents want peace and a happy life.

“I invested $13,000 to build this place,” said Shakur. “I’m happy that I’m making a good income from it.”


Georges Hobeika steals the show at Paris Couture Week

Updated 22 January 2019
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Georges Hobeika steals the show at Paris Couture Week

DUBAI: Lebanese fashion house Georges Hobeika sent models down the runway in a dreamy collection of gowns on Monday as part of Paris Couture Week.

The elite fashion week, which kicked off on Jan. 21, features four designers from the Arab world — Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Georges Hobeika, Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad — who are showing off their latest couture collections alongside the fashion industry’s most sought-after labels. 

The Lebanese labels are joined on the fashion week schedule by the likes of Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier and Ralph & Russo in the four-day showcase that will wrap up on Jan. 24.

Hobeika’s spring/summer haute couture collection went on show at Paris’s National Theater of Chaillot and saw models, including French star Cindy Bruna and Angolan Maria Borge, strut down the catwalk in a line-up of regal evening wear.

Pastel shades, sequins and feathers were interspersed with dramatic dark gowns, with A-line skirts and bare shoulders on show.

Highlights included a lilac, 1950s-style dress with a tea-length skirt and boxy jacket with a square neckline. The look was completed with fingerless gloves, which looked more chic than punk due to the fine embellishment on show.

A galactic gown dazzled onlookers with its rainbow-toned palette and glinting sequin work that created the overall effect of a multi-hued milky way drifting down the runway.

The couturier employed a range of rich fabrics in the collection, such as silk, duchesse satin and chiffon and even presented a bridal gown that was encrusted in crystal work with a semi-sheer bodice and wide, train-heavy skirt.

Lebanese designers Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad will round out the Arab offerings at Paris Couture Week with their shows, both of which will be held on Wednesday.