The Strikers: Kabul's Bowling Alley

Photographs and Text by Jonathan Saruk

Mustafa Rezai lifts a neon orange bowling ball to his chin and peers down the long wooden lane. After a few quick steps and a wide swing of the arm, the crash of falling pins can be heard. Mr. Rezai's friends raise their hands in the air with approval: it's just another Thursday afternoon at The Strikers, Afghanistan's first bowling alley.

"It's like a foreign country in here," says Mr. Rezai, 23, who owns his own logistics company that does contract work for coalition forces. "When I heard about it, it was a complete surprise. We didn't have a place like this before to do sports, now we do."

The bowling alley, which opened this month in the Shawr-e-Naw neighborhood of Kabul, is owned by an Afghan-Canadian woman and boasts Western-standard bowling lanes and a restaurant catering to Afghans and foreigners. This all comes at a steep price though: $35 an hour for a lane, which is about 20 times the average daily wage in Afghanistan.

Behind the black steel door on the street, the bowling alley is a non-smoking oasis for those tired of the chaotic and polluted streets of Kabul. Past the faux-wood-paneled main dining area, 12 lacquered lanes are bathed in black-light. Neon-colored balls sit on racks along the walls and waiters bring smoothies to thirsty clients. "I thought building something for my own people would be great," says Faisal Wahab, the Administrative Director who is also Ms. Rahmani's brother.

When Mr. Wahab first began to inquire about constructing the bowling venue in Kabul, "The first question they would ask me: What is bowling?" Building took nearly eight months and all of the Brunswick bowling equipment had to be imported from China. "Getting the machinery here and properly installing it was our biggest challenge," says Mr. Wahab, who is 22 years old. Three mechanics had to be brought from China for a month-long training session for two Afghan employees on how to maintain the equipment. An industrial size generator keeps the bowling lanes constantly running in lieu of Kabul's unreliable power supply, according to Mr. Wahab. "It costs two to three thousand dollars a month just to keep the generator going."

Mr. Wahab says that his sister, Meena Rahmani, who is also the owner, came up with the idea after surveying various groups of Afghans and foreigners about how they would like to spend their leisure time. "We thought it would be great to do something for the young generation." says Mr. Wahab, adding that the lanes are mostly targeted towards young Afghans. While the majority of the clientele are men, women do come to bowl as well, a rarity in other public activities in Afghanistan.

Although security is a serious issue in Kabul, Mr. Wahab, who was educated in The Netherlands, says he has yet to have any problems or threats, but he does admit that "when you start something in Afghanistan, it's a risk."

The Strikers hopes to start league bowling in the coming months to capitalize on customers like Mr. Rezai who had already come to the bowling alley twice since its opening. "I'll keep coming back," says Mr. Rezai, who brought four friends along with him. And Mr. Wahab certainly hopes so: "Every day when I come in here its a good feeling. This is a very big thing for us."