There is an old joke which runs: “What do you call a man with a machine gun?” Answer: “Sir!”
Arriving at Kabul airport yesterday provided a multitude of opportunities to encounter “Sir”. The weapons slung loosely around the shoulders look old and well-worn, which is slightly worrying. After a mix-up in my meeting arrangements at arrival, which left me wandering alone and feeling helpless around the parking lots, we negotiated the famous 3.5 mile road into the city.
This is the road that Americans and diplomats in general will not travel by car as it basks in an inglorious reputation which I will not go into. Suffice to say that, when leaving the scrubby airport complex, I was rather jumpy when suddenly a line of airport trolleys was, seemingly deliberately, thrust across the road directly in front of us, blocking our path. The Afghan pushing them stared into my western face without emotion, adjusted his automatic weapon over his shoulder, and pulled the trolleys out of the way … much to my relief.
Our driver simply growled something and skirted past him, oblivious to my heart which apparently dropped a beat somewhere along the way.
“Welcome to Kabul” smiled my driver pleasantly, weaving his way between armoured checkpoints and randomly wandering battered vehicles, and occasional goat with a death wish. What a welcome too, I thought.
Despite its fearsome reputation and clear challenges, there is something far more real and down-to-earth than the glitz and stainless steel glamour of Dubai I had just left. The contrast between the conspicuous in-your-face consumption of Dubai, where clearly the Tallest and the Fastest and the Latest is the driving energy behind all, and Afghanistan’s basic survival can hardly be more extreme.
I did leave Dubai with an unpleasant taste in my mouth, like overdosing on totally over-sweetened rich chocolate tea. To walk (itself an unusual occupation in the Kingdom) through the wide polished-granite streets jammed with the very latest from the showrooms of Mercedes and BMW and Toyota was slightly nauseating. Over-rich, with little to do except spend even more, building higher steel monoliths into the dusty hot sky in the desert, while their neighbours…
Ah well … the oil price has crashed, and there is talk that it might be effecting the Kingdom, so who knows what the future holds. Osimandias, standing in the desert….
Here in Kabul I am slowly getting accustomed to the regular beating of the helicopters, and the more temperate heat in comparison with the 40 degrees plus of Dubai.
People live behind thick blast-walls, and life for most is clearly a daily challenge, but children play in the open areas and morning chores are underway.
I head out tomorrow to the Central Highlands province, Bamyan etc, for a week to visit a number of rural locations where water supplies and sanitation facilities are being planned, to inspect the environmental and hydrogeological implications; returning next weekend, then back to Dubai and UK.
Looking out of the window from the aeroplane and, indeed, directly out from the compound here, the scenery is stunning. But I do recognise that it is so much easier to come as a visitor, short-term, and oo and ahh at the sights, without having to suffer the daily chores of walking a few kilometres to fetch water, and wonder what tomorrow holds. So I hold this opportunity as a privilege to work with Medair and the team here, and perhaps contribute something towards helping this River Flow in a positive direction.
I value the comments and support and prayers of all.
Thanks for reading.