Thursday, July 3, 2008

More Afghanistan Musings

Taking a break at the summit 8,514 9599 feet. A review of topographical map data showed the mountain was a tad taller than earlier reports...hence the correction.

How’s this for entertainment? We go mountain climbing. Ok, lots of people go mountain climbing, but do they do it with guns and on the lookout for insurgents? Kabul is at 5,900 feet above sea-level, which is supposedly the second highest capital city in the world or darned close. The mountains that ring Kabul are an additional 2,500 – 3,500 feet higher. We typically climb with our Brit buddies, some Afghans and some of our own troops. Now if we were being forced to do this as part of training, we’d bitch the whole way. For fun? That’s different.

This is the view of Kabul below with mountains ringing the valley.

Darulaman Palace and the Queen’s Palace were built around the turn of the last century by the Germans. Originally the plan called for linking the two palaces with a bridge that would span the beautiful gardens below. Unfortunately, WWI intervened and the Germans became somewhat preoccupied on other fronts. The beautiful garden is also long gone, destroyed like the palaces in the decades of war that have ravaged this country.

Darulaman Palace (The King's Palace)

The Queen's Palace

People selling things are everywhere. Produce vendors are on almost every street and for the most part the produce looks pretty good. I had some local melon yesterday at breakfast and I eat local eggs almost every morning. The tomatoes are particularly good.

Mellon Vendor

Kabul is crowded. The city has grown six times its prewar size. Prewar population was 700,000…current population is 4.5 million. These “cliff houses” are actually the more traditional form of Afghan housing. With almost everything on the valley floor spoken for, people have built up the steep hill slopes that rise from the middle of the city.

Cliff Houses

Goats. You see them everywhere, even in the middle of busy traffic circles.

More later. I’ve got a busy day of writing and visiting other blogs tomorrow. It was nice that our Muslim “weekend” coincided with our 4th of July Holiday this year. But for us it is just a single day off. On Saturday the new Muslim work week begins.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Another Day in Kabul

Okay, how’s this for strange? Afghan man on the street selling sexy lingerie to smiling, laughing Afghan women wearing burkhas. I know the women were smiling and laughing in spite of wearing burkhas because they had pulled the front up over their heads so they could better see the lingerie they were fondling. The effect was, of course to show their rather tasteful attire beneath the burkhas complete with Western-style raised-heel shoes. Sorry, no pictures of that yet. I was so shocked I didn’t get my camera “armed” in time before we were moving again.

Normally, in Muslim society, men who are not related to the women do not talk to women in public…it’s a big taboo. Unless, it seems, you are a man selling sexy lingerie. Things have really changed and are changing in this country.

Ten minutes later we come upon a scene where Afghan police have gunned down a would-be suicide bomber whose device failed to detonate. Allah was smiling on the folks in the market place. Our driver asked the Afghan policeman what was up. Policeman spits in the direction of the body, “Pakistani Taliban!” Spits again. “We will kill them all!” Yes, the Taliban are not very popular around here. The only people more hated, at least in Kabul, are the Arabs of Al-Qaida. You don’t really want to be an Arab wondering around Kabul right now.

A bit on my typical day…so far. Up at 04:30. Do some computer work, call wife via Vonage on my computer…the wonders of technology! Armor up and gone from safe house enroute to Afghan Army base across town by 06:00. The next thirty to forty minutes are spent in the often thrilling transit across town, though this early it is not too bad. Spend the day working with Afghan Army (sorry, can’t say more than that). Depart Afghan base at 15:30 (that’s 3:30 PM). I then transit town on the much more thrilling ride (thirty to sixty minutes depending on traffic in the market and elsewhere) back to the safe house.

Quick change to gym clothes and then back out to transit town in a different direction to Camp Eggers (the US base in town). Work out at gym for an hour and a half. Treat myself to either a mango smoothie or a berry smoothie. Call driver and head back to safe house. Usually back by 19:00 (7:00 PM). Do some computer stuff, maybe laundry, shower and all that stuff then more computer stuff, then bed. In all I spend upward to two hours per day “out among them.” That is to say, in an unarmored Toyota minivan driven by our Afghan driver through crowded streets, making eye-contact with folks all the way, especially when we stop…usually stuck in traffic.

Americans are, for the time being, thought of as honored guests. We get lots of waves and smiles along the way...our attempt to travel “low profile” is seldom successful. It helps that the Northern Alliance are the ones who captured Kabul from the Taliban and that the Afghans actually managed to stand up an army and police force faster than what happened in Iraq. The Afghans feel they have ownership…a very good thing. That does not mean that things are trouble-free. It doesn’t take very many “bad guys” to make life hell for everyone. A suicide bomber here, an IED there…just enough to shake confidence.

My next post I hope to have more pictures ready. I’m planning on some market and shop pictures. Until then, thanks to all who comment here. I’ll try to visit a few of my favorite blogging buddies in the next few days…now that I’m getting into a rhythm.