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In an Afghan capital scarred by years of war, a young Afghan woman has bet $1 million that her countrymen could use a little fun.
Located just down the street from Kabul's glitziest mall, is The Strikers, the country's first bowling alley and owner Meena Rahmani's gamble on the capital's newest entertainment venue. But more than a place for family fun in a city largely devoid of options, the 12-lane center stands as a reflection of both the country's hope for the future and the challenge of securing one even as NATO's fight against the Taliban enters its 11th year.
"We can never compare a bowling center ... in Afghanistan and one ... in the West," said Rahmani. "Afghanistan needed a place like this."
Aside from the cultural significance of such a center in a country largely lacking entertainment choices, building the bowling alley was a massive undertaking. All the equipment is imported, the engineers came from China and the alley is powered by several industrial-sized generators. The entrance to the alley sits behind blast-resistant steel doors guarded by burly men toting AK-47 assault rifles.
Like most everything else in Afghanistan, the alley is a study in contrasts and challenges...
"This is so much better. Finally, a bit of excitement on our days off," he said dressed in a pressed, white traditional shalwar kameez.
For most people in this city of about 5 million, there were, for years, few options to while away the hours.
There are kite fights, picnics or paddle-boat rides on a lake on Kabul's outskirts, as well as football games on dirt pitches that ring Darulaman Palace, the bombed-out seat of former Afghan kings. Some rusty amusement rides have been set up for children, including in a graveyard.
Snooker clubs also have sprouted up around Kabul, but they are largely seen as attracting unsavory characters - people who Sediqi described as "not the kind of open-minded people" one would find at the bowling alley.
Like most everything else in Afghanistan, the alley is a study in contrasts and challenges, not the least of which is that it's a business started by a young woman in a country where women have traditionally been pushed firmly to the sidelines.
Rahmani, who left Afghanistan in 1992 and spent 15 years in Pakistan with her parents before moving to Canada for graduate studies, said the idea came to her when she visited her home country several years ago and found there was nothing for Afghans to do beyond occasionally going out to eat, going for walks or visiting family.
Here, on our days off, we walk aimlessly in the streets. This is so much better. Finally, a bit of excitement...Navid Sediqi, an Afghan businessman
While men so far make up the bulk of the bowlers, Rahmani said women are increasingly making an appearance, coming with their husbands and families. She sees their presence in the alley as an encouraging sign of changes in the country. If it catches on, she said, she sees expanding to other provinces and starting bowling leagues in the country.
"This place is made for our own nation," she said, stressing that politics has no role in the push for fun. "It's just a sports place."
Kabul's unreliable electricity network meant she had to install industrial size generators to ensure a steady stream of power. The operating expenses for the first month alone came to $30,000, most of it for utilities.
Those expenses mean that it's a pass-time for a select few in the capital.
An hour of bowling costs $35, which can be divided between as many as six players to a lane. A cup of coffee costs $5, more than the average local daily wage.
She concedes its unaffordable for most in the country, but says that when expenses and startup costs are so high, she had little choice but to charge such rates. If it catches on, prices could quickly drop.
This program aired on October 30, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.
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