A metal door opened on a narrow compound with three adobe-and-concrete homes, where Habib and two of his brothers live. In the yard stood a few drought-parched almond trees, a dry well and some chickens scratching in the dust.
Habib escorted me into a front room of his home, furnished with only two huge rugs, decorated with Turkmen-style "elephant's foot" designs, and cushions on the floor along the walls. He escorted me to the place of honor, a cushion farthest from the door. The gesture symbolizes the host's hope that his guest will want to stay a long time.
A half-dozen of Habib's male relatives had come to greet me with Saalam aleichum - "Peace be with you."
The oldest was Habib's gray-bearded uncle, who looked to be about 60 and sat in the second-most-honored spot, to the right of the guest. A jeweler who had spent years as an exile in Pakistan, the uncle had just returned to Kabul. He seemed sad. Like many Afghan fathers, his children had fled the fighting in Afghanistan and were scattered all over the globe. Two of his sons live in Germany, he said, and one in England.
Habib's brother-in-law, a former Kabul civil servant, had spent years desperately trying to get to the West. He spent almost two months on Greek soil last year before authorities arrested and deported him. "Fifty-two days," he said. He kept count.
Now, the former civil servant had applied for his old job back in the federal government, but it was already filled by a soldier who once fought for the new minister, a former military commander. Many commanders are moving to Kabul from the provinces. We discussed reports that some were seizing the homes of absentee landlords at gunpoint.
One man nodded glumly, affirming that the reports were true. He knew a man with a house and beautiful garden in the Panjshir Valley, he said - but the man couldn't grow anything there. One of Afghanistan's most prominent warlords used it to park his collection of Toyota four-wheel drive trucks.
Mealtime for the men
Habib's nephews, Murid and Sadiq, both students, came and listened respectfully. At some secret signal, they disappeared through a door to the rear and reappeared carrying heaping bowls of food - a cucumber-and-tomato salad, boiled lamb and arshula, a pasta dish in a cream sauce.
There were crashing sounds in the back, and the joyful screams of children. Habib's wife and, probably, his sisters-in-law must have spent most of the morning cooking and trying to keep the children penned up in the kitchen with them.
But even ancient traditions can't bottle up the energy of kids. They kept leaking out of the kitchen - opening and closing the rear door, staring at the guest before they were snatched away by unseen hands. One bold 4-year-old with a pageboy haircut - I assumed one of Habib's daughters - ran out, ignoring me. Despite Habib's meek protests, she demanded to nap a few feet from where we sat.
I wanted to meet her mother and sisters, but it would have been a serious breach of etiquette even to mention them. Afghans seldom open their homes to non-relatives. When an unrelated male visits, the women remain in a back room.
The boys were dying to ask questions. Did schools have soccer fields in America? Were there really public swimming pools? Was there good hunting? asked Murid, 14, who wore a Red Sox cap but had never heard of baseball. He said he loved to hunt birds with his century-old muzzle-loading rifle on the slopes of the Panjshir.
Standing in front of the window, they pointed around Kabul. See the opposite hillside? Warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, deputy defense minister, rocketed that neighborhood during the factional fighting in the mid-1990s, they said. Later, other factions attacked their hillside neighborhood. Several times, they said, their families had to flee for their lives.
Over there was the airport, Murid said, where the Americans bombed night after night. The Taliban, the boys said, turned off all of the electricity, plunging Kabul into darkness - hoping to frustrate the American bombers. The Americans dropped flares so they could see, the boys said.
They laughed at the naivete of their country's former rulers. "Those Taliban, they were crazy," Murid said.