Back from Kabul – part 1

street in central kabul

street in central kabul

So I am back safe and sound from the Stan.  I did try and write in the few moments I could grab between filthy Marlborough Lights and restless sweaty sleep (interrupted by the throb of an ancient air conditioner and momentary power losses), but I was too busy living it, to be writing about it.  At last I am lancing the cyst and allowing some of my Nomadic tales to tumble forth.


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.   




boy at kabul airport

boy at kabul airport


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?)


nomadic in the bathroom mirror

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.

green tea and newspaper

green tea and newspaper

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.

passport lane bomb debris Kabul
passport lane bomb debris Kabul


13 responses to “Back from Kabul – part 1

  1. Thank you! It’s so cool to be connected to a real live nomadic via blog! Very good read.

  2. Ah, I am almost jealous of you and your journeys but am happier to read them from the safety of my boring life here in Idaho hehe. 🙂

    I love the photos, well except for that last one. 😦

  3. That is a wonderful post! I felt like I have been traveling in time and space for those several minutes while reading it! This is when I love the internet and such wonderful people, like you, who share their experiences, expand our horizons and inspire :o) Thank you!

    Best wishes,

  4. Thanks Alexander and Natalie – and Chelle. Glad you liked the photos, I wanted to stay away from the tyical romantic images of poor Afghans in traditional clothing, however tempting it is to snap them, it isn’t an accurate reflection.

  5. I must say I was really surprised when I saw the first pic of a Kabul street. Definitely not what I thought it would be.

    Good to know that the country is limping back … and good to know you’re back safe and sound. 🙂

  6. @alex. Great! That is exactly what I wanted. How much good is it to constantly portray Afghans as violent peasants who live the the debris of war? Some might argue that the picture I chose of a street in Kabul isn’t representative of the city. However it WAS taken in the city and is as representative as any…..

  7. Your article was very interesting and I’m enjoying the fact that you are sharing your journey with us. Like Alex I found the photo of the city street to be a big surprise. Obviously I have been sucked into envisioning Kabul as war torn mess, rathe than a functioning city. Thanks for bringing us this truth.

  8. wow nice pictures!! Must be fun to travel so much 🙂

  9. Nomadic, I came over to see if you were in Afghanistan. I see you are back safely. I am delighted you are safe, but regret that I missed the live reports as they were happening, assuming there were some. I just wanted you to know I am catching up with you.

    I have been devoted to launching a website for a fascinating non profit, run by a fantastic friend of mine from work. You can check it out at

    Do you know ‘the secret?’ I think you do.

  10. Thanks Dan. I think I know the secret (Kung Fu Panda told me). Interesting link. I would like to know more…..

  11. Pingback: Miscellany from the Blogosphere 5 « Stoneman’s Corner

  12. Very inserting place! thanks for sharing this post with us!

  13. Pingback: Hilary Clinton On Best Political Blogs » Back from Kabul - part 1

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