Category Archives: Afghanistan

Frontline Journalist Released after Six Day Afghan Ordeal

I’ve just learned from a Frontline Club Tweet that award winning Guardian journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and two other journalists have been released after being held hostage for six days in Afghanistan.

I met Ghaith in Iraq a few years ago.  I hadn’t met many journalists before and to be honest my view was wholly negative.  Tabloid, paparazzi, no respect for privacy and out to make money from stories any way they could.  But over the summer of 2006 I met a different breed of journalist which made me change my mind about that.  Ghaith was one of them.

Along with a CNN crew (including Michale Ware), Ghaith and I shared a few intense days working  together at the British base in Basra. Ghaith and his friends had been living outside of the green zone in Baghdad and scoffed at my tales of incoming mortar attacks and narrow misses.  This bunch had looked death in the eye far more frequently than I.  They spoke of the dead burning on the streets of Baghdad and stood outside to smoke during rocket attacks.  When I tried to brief them on security – to rush undercover as soon as explosions were heard – Ghaith chuckled and his CNN pal muttered that they would in fact do the exact opposite – capturing the devastation of war on camera was their mission.

I have since battled with myself as to whether the media coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have actually helped resolve conflict or made matters worse.  There is argument for both.  But what is clear is the exceptional nature of this calibre of journalist.  People like Ghaith spend their whole lives amidst unrest, their mission to record it as best they can, whether they are embedded with coalition or NATO troops, or hanging out with villagers, they are moved by a desire to tell us back home how it is for the people.  Today’s war dead are 75% civilian.  Just a hundred years ago it was only 5%.  Like the War Poets of the first world war, who used their craft to express the horrors they witnessed, so does the modern day journalist.

In homage to the people I had met, I embarked on a series of portraits.  It took me over two years to complete, and the collectionCorrespondents in Conflict – War Poets of Today was fittingly shown at the Frontline Club in London earlier this year (and continues to tour).  The portrait of Ghaith (above)  is one of my favourites – he is wearing his “lucky” body armour streaked with salt from sweaty encounters.  I wonder if he was wearing it in Afghanistan this week – for it appears as if luck may have been on his side.  Long may it continue that way.

Advertisements

Kabul – Just Photos this time

In response to your comments and messages (particularly from the blogcatalog fraternity) I have pasted some more photos below.
The view from my bedroom window

The view from my bedroom window

Nomadic on Passport Lane, Shar-e-Naw

Nomadic on Passport Lane, Shar-e-Naw

Kabul Street Scene

Kabul Street Scene

Kadeer and I

Kadeer and I

 

Kabul from Kam Air Flight 006

Kabul from Kam Air Flight 006

herat glass shop kabul

herat glass shop kabul

Nomadic and the distinguished Mr Mobarez

Nomadic and the distinguished Mr Mobarez

Buying a mobile phone in Kabul

Buying a mobile phone in Kabul

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?)

Kabul

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