Taverna du Liban was a welcome respite from the pressures of living in a third-world war zone.
The cozy, Kabul restaurant with its Middle Eastern décor served up a tasty variety of Lebanese dishes and the best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten, courtesy of the Lebanese owner, Kamal Hamade, who baked the cakes himself.
But the appeal of Taverna — where I ate nearly every week when I lived in Afghanistan — was about much more than the food. It was about friendship.
Kamal treated each of his customers as a personal friend. Whenever my friends and I went there, he’d come over to chat. Each time, he sent over free appetizers and other goodies, despite our protestations about the pounds he was adding to our hips.
After Afghan authorities cracked down on Kabul restaurants that served alcohol, Kamal began serving red wine in tea pots, and we soon learned to ask for “red tea.”
I occasionally asked Kamal about why he chose to live and work in Kabul, given how the Afghan capital was growing more dangerous over time. He told me he loved the place and the people, and that business was good.
Kamal took the war raging around him in stride, having grown up in similar circumstances in Lebanon. But he wasn’t lax about security, and his restaurant was one of the few Western agencies would allow their personnel to frequent.
There were multiple steel doors separating the restaurant from the street. Patrons and their belongings were searched by armed guards before being allowed inside.
But just as other attacks on heavily guarded establishments have shown, no place in Kabul is impenetrable.
Afghan police say the well-executed bomb and gun attack Friday night killed 21 people.
The BBC reports that Kamal grabbed a gun from his office to take on the assailants. But I knew even before I read it that he had died defending his restaurant and his customers.
Like so many who had the privilege of knowing Kamal, I am absolutely devastated that he’s gone.
I will raise a tea cup filled with red wine to you, Habibi. You won’t be forgotten.