Working as a filmmaker in Kabul can be extremely complex. There are security issues, the corruption, the inscrutable bureaucracy and the constant gawking from the locals. A crowd will gather in seconds if a ‘kharajee’ (foreigner) is doing anything remotely interesting: tying your shoelaces, eating some bread or just walking upright. Bringing out a camera is akin to hosting the World Stare-Out Championship. If gawping were an Olympic sport the Afghans would be scooping all the medals. However they don’t usually interrupt every interview. The film-maker’s true Afghan enemy is the ice-cream men whose hand pushed carts patrol every avenue and alleyway of the dusty capital from dusk till dawn. Each frozen-sweet-laden cart is equipped with a plastic megaphone belting out a special “selection” of off-key anthems: ‘Fur Elise’ by Mozart, the Titanic anthem, ‘My heart will go on’ and… errrr… that’s it. Every single take I have ever recorded seems to have one of these cacophonous electronic tinkles interrupting at some point. They are so omnipresent I now hum them in my sleep.
Meet Abdul Nabi a 30-year-old ice-cream salesman who hails from Ghazni, a grand walled city in central Afghanistan, once filled full of sumptuous monuments, heaving libraries and grand architecture. Nowadays if you’re not a Talib, it’s in the Top 10 Places to Leave in Afghanistan.
Abdul left Ghazni to find work in Kabul. He has been an ice cream seller for around six months. His typical day starts around 7am where he heads to the local depot in Khai Khana to load up his cart with his frozen goodies. A selection of fruity ice pops and chocolate covered ice cream lollies. There are around twenty other sellers packing their carts but there are plenty more parked up gathering dust.
It’s a beautiful sunny brisk autumn morning as we finally venture out into the streets. Pushing his cart (musical soundtrack by Celine Dion and the olfactory accompaniment of raw sewage) through a typical Afghan suburb, Abdul is quickly, despite the ungodly hour, met by phalanx of feral kids waving around tatty Afghani notes all chomping at the bit for tasty tarooz treat.
It’s now mid-October and peak lolly season is over. During the summer the streets are positively humming. On a good day Abdul will earn around 400Afs ($9) working on a 20% commission on ices sold. Prices start from 5Afs and the most expensive is the chocolate at 15Afs. He tells us that his most popular item is the watermelon flavoured ice cream that has a sweet yet claggy consistency vaguely reminiscent of creamy cement.
He seems very popular and his graceful Pashto demeanour gives him the impression of a man who enjoys his work. But he tells me later, when we stop do an interview on camera, that he absolutely hates his job. He complains that the sound of the tinny megaphone is like ‘a dick in his brain’ although this quote may have lost something in the translation.
Right on cue we are rudely interrupted as another ice cream seller passes by, “Dee dee de dee dee, dee de de de dee dee”…ad infinitum. CUT!