Category Archives: United Nations

Ten minute Turkey

Ten minute Turkey. Or instant Istanbul. I have only JUST come down to earth. Literally.

My last day in Baghdad was a blast as you will have seen. The training course ended prematurely, so we didn’t get a chance to review and reflect on much save the days tragic events. Nevertheless, some fascinating insight and frank discussion and my passion for Iraq is re-ignited – I plan to return to this place and commit more of my energy to development, not least of the communications skills of the Human Rights Ministry.

So…. on with the travel blog [more analysis no doubt in other online frequented haunts which will be linked here]. I left low-profile style to the airport like a cat slinking off the savannah. Are you saying I’m fat? No. It’s body armour, cunningly disguised under an old shirt. The bombings had produced traffic jams and road blocks and we inched our way towards our target with trepidation as the departure time grew close.

With no air conditioning at Baghdad airport and no real method of communicating gate numbers, my stay was brief and unpleasant. Back in economy class this time I was seated next to two chirpy mercenaries who having been dry for 9 weeks drank eight cans of beer each for breakfast. Class. The whole group were vaguely entertaining, but rude about Iraqis, disrespectful of Islam, and over-emotional about how close “the lads” were. Bodily function and chest shaving was a popular topic of conversation, as was cheating on the Mrs back home by pretending they had been stranded in Istanbul. Quite a lot of oppressed homosexuality going on there I would wager.

Of major concern during my flight, apart from sleeping and tending to my own bodily functions (VERY sorry gut), was the lack of check-in for the Istanbul-London leg of my journey. By the time our delayed flight touched Turkish land there was a mere 20 minutes to check-in and board the next flight. The majority of the mercenaries loitered, delighted that the turn of events meant a company paid enforced piss-up Ottoman style. But one of the more shaven and drunk members of their team was as adamant as I to catch the next flight.

The pair of us sped through Istanbul airport flashing our passports like Interpol officers. We used his superior body strength to gain ground, and my diplomatic skills to push through queues. The Turkish Airlines check-in clerk wished us good luck and told us to “run fast” as we left his desk. We arrived at the gate literally AS the doors were closing. We were red-faced and panting as our fellow passengers tutted us on board. In my mind it was a scene from a movie. A Bond movie perhaps – Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible. In reality I think it was more of a classic British Comedy. Clockwise maybe.

I’m back home now. A cool summers breeze whispers through the room. I am spending the day in bed trying to shake the afore-mentioned gut issue and the nicotine habit. Two days of rich food and alcohol haven’t off course helped. Nor has opening our house to guests this weekend to help us celebrate our wedding. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and it was an utter joy to spend time in such splendid company (and I did try not to bore guests too much with travellers tales). Although we got married on Twitter, I think it’s fair to say we know how to play in real life too – we are still clearing up several days later.

So, I will be back to Iraq as I said, and I will write about it here. But worth noting that this kind of travel experience wouldn’t be possible at all without the wonderful support of my new husband. So here’s to you, J. I love you, mate.

Also with thanks J’s family, my own family and to all our friends. Particularly A&B in Bristol. Thanks too to Albany Associates, the United Nations, Blogcatalog bloggers, My Security Team, my colleagues at imediate.org and the Ministry of Human Rights in Iraq for making the experience possible. Lastly thanks to near two thousand of you who read my blog whilst I was in Baghdad and for all the messages of support I have received for my writing.

Ramadan Kareem – May Peace be Upon You all! (which I tried Tweeting in Arabic earlier and totally f*cked up, so I’m sticking to English here)

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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

 

From New York to Glastonbury Festival

New York follows me hereYeah yeah yeah I went to New York.  My life has moved on quicker than my ability to blog about it.  I am not heartbroken, although I DO prefer to blog in real time and not with hindsight (it is of no benefit I find).  New York was…well, I am sure there are a million blogs about New York.  Wait, I’ll check out a few recommendations for you link link link.  I worked very hard at the UN (see some slightly more official blogging on the world bank site) and I bigged up the clients – actually, minor corruption issues aside, the UN IS pretty cool, and despite my previous rant on the likes of Clooney – I thoroughly approve of his Blue Hats endorsement.

 

So skimming briefly over New York here – it was mostly work; one groovy drunken night out in East Village with some media types who were impressed with the capacity of my pal from Kosovo to consume St.Vincents (girly gin based cocktails); a bout of shopping in a huge electronics store run my thousands of orthodox Jews; and a brief excursion to the apple store (where I narrowly avoided an encounter with Riana –a-a-a-a) suffice to say I DIDN’T make the most of it.  Nor did I meet up with fellow bloggers as I hoped…I am beginning to wonder whether other Blogcatalog bloggers exist in real life, or whether BC run a cunning software programme which invents helpful friends for me and is ultimately designed to make me fork out money on domain names (it’s working so far).  Sorry that’s a little unfair to Benny – I am sure he is no figment.

 

So that was New York and this is Glastonbury.  Rock and roll.  3 days in the mud and sunshine drinking cider and feeling young at heart.  Well…erm….sort of.  My mum does kind of live in the village so I have to confess my nights were not spent under filthy canvas, but under fine linen sheets.  And, I caught myself in work mode on more than one occasion making comparisons with El Fasher IDP camp in Darfur.  The close proximity, the stench, the rubbish.   They even have an annual arts and music festival there (I bet you didn’t know that).  Clearly there are some obvious differences.  Like war, rape, abuse, tribalism, abject poverty (as opposed to gross indulgence) and of course the residents aren’t able to stuff their cheap Tescos sleeping bags into the back of their Renault Clios and zoom home to the luxury of a hot bath.   But one thing DID cross my mind.  Why doesn’t Michael Eavis and his posse get involved in humanitarian relief?  I know they raise millions for charity (Greenpeace, Oxfam, WaterAid this year- but with the exceptional ability to facilitate 180,000 people (not official figures, just a guess based on a rough head count after a few bevies),  collect 800,000 million gallons of human waste from 2,500 toilets (ish), and operate a pretty efficient refuse collection service – I’d think the Eavis family would be pretty well placed to have the know how to offer emergency relief after eathquakes or other such natural disasters (or even man made ones).   The healing field would be a great asset too.

 sorted for recycling   

Yes.  I must have been really fun to be with.  No wonder my teenage daughter decided to disappear with a couple of friends during the Hosiers just to annoy me.  (in 900 acres forget needles in haystacks, think more needles in New York City).

 

This is the world’s biggest open air arts and music festival, ladies and gentlemen.  But to say I got away from work and relaxed completely was probably a bit of a stretch.  The Glastonbury experience with three kids and your mum isn’t traditionally rock and roll – but I tell you I had as much fun watching a man climb into a green balloon in the circus tent and seeing my son learn to unicycle as I did rocking to the Wombats (and the dulcet tones of Elbow, of course).  And no, I didn’t see Jay Z, Biffy Clyro was a more attractive prospect at the time.  The point is I was back in the land of my birth (ok…perhaps another slight warp of the truth – I was born and raised in inner city Bristol not the mysterious Vale of Avalon – but the cider is the same, my lover). And I haven’t failed to notice that the inaugural festival was held around the time of my birth.  OK, now you know too much.

Caroline Jaine in Pilton

Trying not to be in the same country as George Bush

 So I am now entrenched on floor 11 of Beekman Towers.  The longest day of my year is now fading into dusky quiet (all that stuff about New York never sleeping is crap).  I eventually got some food.  I asked for Asian Vegetarian, which normally guarantees a curry and dhal of decent temperature, but America airlines don’t dabble in such foreign muck, so I had to settle for a sort of slop that reminded me of Rohan Candappa’s  description of school dinners in Pickle Head (“raisins really have NO PLACE in a main course” – I recommend the book, it is a VERY funny read).  This was followed later by pizza (c’mon, you kidin’ me right?). 

The chap sitting next to me was perhaps the least friendly New Yorker I have come across.  He really didn’t want to talk to me at all, so I invented a nasty story about his week long visit to see a “friend” in London, which included rent boys visiting his B&B in Victoria.  The only gem he offered was a grandiose slating of his President (who has just been less than well received in Europe this week)   At one stage he asked whether I was trying not to be in the same country as George.  I made some quip about Ban Ki-Moon stalking me as he too was in London (considering I was heading for the UN this week I thought it relevant) but it went over his head and he was lost to his book, and I happily went back to mine (more Bonfiglioli).

 

The weather was pretty good on landing.  Which was a surprise because my original flight was cancelled because of poor conditions in JFK.  Well.  It was a lie wasn’t it?  I KNOW it was cancelled because they didn’t sell enough tickets.  I was told this truth many times (and rather emphatically) by my fellow travellers.   I adore old aged Americans, especially New Yorkers.  I cannot for one moment imagine my grandmothers generation wearing baseball hats and jeans and big white trainers (sorry, sneakers).   The all have such loud opinions – I want to seat them on park benches in Central Park and give them brown paper shopping bags (perhaps some could be jogging in flannel jogging suits, towel around neck).  I actually forgot how much New York looks like (or IS) a movie set.  It’s not just the steaming manholes, the fire escapes, the fire hydrants (fire theme emerging here) – it is the very people themselves.  No matter what origin there is a sense of being a New Yorker – which is strong like glue and chipper and friendly and proud.  Whether they are driving taxis, working in delis, swanking along 5th Avenue with dogs in their handbags, they all belong here.  And I can be marvellously British here (which I felt less able to in Bonn for some reason).  I like it.  At least for a couple of days.