Tag Archives: Bomb

This is Iraq

Yesterday I took a drive around the green zone, snapping photographs like a tourist.   The Crossing Swords, July 14th Bridge, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, some smiling footballers all imprinted onto my memory card and shared with the world on my blog.  Today I sit pondering the images, shaken but not stirred. 

Ahmed and I had popped out of the classroom this morning to have a cigarette when a huge explosion shook the ground.  It was the biggest one I have heard (and I have heard a few) and rattled every porta-kabin on the whole compound and left my ears ringing for a while afterwards.  We kept hold of our fags and joined three others as we did a heads-down scuttle into a bomb shelter [There is something so undignified about seeing non-sporty adults running].  We began to speculate straight away.  Was it a mortar?  No, too loud.  Why hadn’t the alarms gone off?  A car?  A person?  We stayed in our sweaty hole for a while (the shrapnel from a bomb can continue to land up to three minutes after an explosion). 

The story quickly began to emerge from our security team and from Iraqi news channels as they sprung into action and broadcast the carnage live into our classroom.  Mobiles started buzzing around the room and humorous ring tones  took on a sense of the macabre – as the Iraqis I was with unravelled the whereabouts of loved ones.  I tweeted a message of safety to loved ones and spoke to my husband briefly to let him know I was ok.  I thought better of explaining the networking opportunities afforded by Twitter  to my students – for I know in those moments I stopped being teacher and started being a good friend.  Then my phone started buzzing.  Other Iraqi friends checking I was safe.  I was touched.

The attack was very close to the Green Zone and there were reports that “a barrage of mortars” had been fired into this supposedly safe area.  We heard none however.  The five coordinated bombs struck on the 6th anniversary of the bombing of the UN Headquarters.  Truck bombs used again.  The target – Iraqi institutions, not international ones this time.   The crater left behind by one of the bombs is 10 foot deep.   My friend J, although safe, was even closer than I was – in that plush Rashid Hotel I was bragging about earlier this week – now minus a few windows I’ll wager.  And my favourite blogger’s home has been wrecked.

I wonder how they are over at the UN camp today?  I was there last night – bizarrely committing Murder on the Dance Floor to the tunes of “I will survive” with a merry bunch from all around the world (ok…. as one would expect from the United-Nations).  The UN bar (wittily named “UNdercover”) is nestled amidst sandbags and twelve foot tall Maori security guards at the heart of their compound.  Their DFAC (dining room) served air-conditioned international delicacies to a bustling, lively staff.  We passed neat gardens edged by white picket fences, sipping Mexican beer as we breathed in the sweet night air, it was an idyllic evening.  It even crossed my mind as I starred up at the blackness, how nice it was to be outside at night in Iraq and not to be afraid of the sky as I was in Basra several years hence.  Today I imagine the scene was a little more glum. 

You might think that this experience would lead me to stray from my mission of recording some of the recovery here in this country.  As a friend in Basra used to say (with irksome frequency) – “I remain a stubborn optimist”.  No-one has stepped forward yet to claim responsibility for the worst terrorist attack for months.  Speculation is flying around the city.  Was it Iran? (unlikely as the Iranian Embassy was damaged).  Was it “other neighbours” ? (said in a whisper).  Iraqis have told me that this doesn’t have the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack (actually they said “thumb nail, not hallmark, which made me inappropriately smile).  The mortars, the trucks, the coordination many have said means this is an inside job.  Political infighting.  The people behind it, some say are those in opposition to Maliki – wanting his government to fail and for Iraq not to flourish.  With the election not due until maybe February, it seems a little early to be pre-election violence (unless they got the country wrong – god bless Afghanistan tomorrow as it goes to the polls).

But someone made a good point to me this afternoon.  Despite many saying the infrastructure is weak, Iraq is Iraq is Iraq.  No-one can take that away.   Bombs go off in Spain, in London, in India and it doesn’t stop the government from operating.  These bombs will only really make a difference to the poor innocent souls caught up in the nonsense.  And without an ideological declaration – it’s just cold blooded murder, with no purpose.

Iraq WILL recover.  Just as other countries have (Nazi Germany springing to mind here).  It is full of sensitive, poetic, clever, peace-loving people.  And by the power of Greyskull (and the mass media) they will overcome.  These past few days have revealed to me, not just barbarism, but resilience, strength, good humour and initiative.  And although I climbed the look-out tower to snap a photo of the rising plume of smoke from the bomb, I chose to illustrate this post with my favourite photo from yesterday’s photo-shoot to remind me.  Take another look at all the pictures.  This is Iraq.


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