Last time I traveled to Kabul it was on the UNHAS flight, and all previous trips to so called war zones have been diplomatic (ha!) so I was slightly perturbed by the prospect of a lone civilian arrival. The airport smelt like the inside of a new car, and the Japanese funded concourse with a handful of shops and smiling shopkeepers children not an unpleasant place to await my gracious host, Dr A to arrive from his flight from Peshwar.
Dr A was gracious indeed and made sure I was fed traditional Bolani washed down with lemon tea within minutes of our arrival at his office which doubled up as his house. Bolani was stuffed with leeks, dripping in fat and meant to be doused in sour yoghurt. I apologized in advance, feigning a weight problem (you saying I’m fat?), but then surprised myself and gobbled down the whole plateful, to the joy of one of the cooks – a small lady dressed entirely in black, who later cared for me like a mother, bringing green tea, filtered water, rubbing my aching shoulders and even closing the blind, less my delicate European eyes should wince at the mountain sharp sunlight. So to receive messages citing my bravery are frankly an embarrassment – there is nothing brave about being treated like a queen – unless you are Hilary Clinton.
Despite the quips about ancient air conditioning, the lodge was a wonderful place. I had an enormous wooden paneled room, with a large writing desk (that called me to it in weaker moments and teased me with an intermittent internet connection) – and it even an en suite. The shower was never warm, nor was it a shower (simply as waist high tap), but hey, the toilet flushed and the window opened to let in fresh air. AND there was a light and a mirror, so I could fix my head covering arrangement appropriately. Here is a tip for female visitors to Afghanistan – people WON’T get to see your hair, so DON’T bother washing it. Washing it makes it slippery and silky, and for the amateur head scarf wearer, this is a constant anxiety. Filthy, greasy hair provides far better friction (there is a sentence I never thought I would write). And forget using volumising shampoo (what was I thinking?)
The Lodge catered to my vegetarian tastes pretty well too. The first evening we were treated to a vegetable stew and potatoes, where every single bean and vegetable was cooked to utter melt in the mouth perfection. And the green tea flowed and flowed, as it did throughout the week. Enjoyed mainly on the seating outside next to the rose and geranium borders washed down with nicotine and the Afghanistan Times.
Travel around Kabul was in a dusty four by four and our preferred driver found his way to our meeting points by getting lost, questioning policeman and having long and multiple phone conversations. I was here to research the media in Afghanistan and talk to journalists – they were not always easy to find it seems. As this is my travel blog I think I will stop there. I am sure in days to come I will blog some Nomadic Wisdom and some public diplomacy not to mention a fair bit of World Bank on more serious notes, but this is a more personal take on Nomadic’s travels, not her work.
I want you to know that the majority of people in Kabul don’t where Lungee turbans nor pakol hats, and many of the women don’t wear Burkhas. I want you to know that Kabul has streets lined with shops, some very modern looking, akin to malls even. People have mobile phone, have a choice of 30 newspapers and hundreds of radio stations to listen to and TV to watch. They can fill up their modern cars at the smart new petrol station and drive past a beautiful park in the centre of town (al be it down a pot holed road). To say the people I have met are resourceful would be an understatement. They are able to learn a whole new language (usually of an occupier) in the blink of an eye, and carry out business in the most extreme conditions.
As I mentioned, a few weeks ago (if that) a bomb tore through the Shar-e-Now district, where I was staying. It killed 41 people, mainly Afghans who were queuing up to apply for visas to India. The stores along Passport Lane (which surprise surprise houses the Passport Office) were blown apart – ceilings collapsed, glass windows shattered, equipment destroyed. Young students were also blown apart, bits of them landing on the lawns of the lodge I was staying in. But just weeks, if not days later, all that remained was a small pile of twisted metal and rubble littering one side of the street. Shop fronts restored, generators bought in, businesses making do and bringing in an income. And smiles on faces, perhaps a little jaded, but there for this curious foreigner. I was impressed. Without getting too political (I did say I wouldn’t do that) – the only mystery to me is how a country which is under going multi million pound regeneration and a reconstruction project list as long as your arm has an unemployment problem. That, my friends, is an outrage!.
Far too long for a blog….I’ll tell you about houses dotting the side of the mountains, goats, Herati glass and carpets next time.