A few days ago, I was invited by my friend Mary-Ann who has been valiantly conducting reconstruction projects in Kabul for over seven years. There’s an exceptionally courageous woman if ever there was one. She kindly invited me to stay over, even gave me her bed which has an adjoining bathroom. A bathtub, a soft mattress, heat, in brief, paradise. I clambered into the tub- a rather 1950s affair in dull blue, reminded me of my Auntie’s Sadie’s taste in bathrooms ( circa 1962) which was Afghan except she did n’t know it, back then in Golders’ Green, but that’s another story. Anyway, I sit there soaking, my head full of shampoo- Mary-Ann has lots of different kinds, it took me a full five minutes to decide which I was going to pour on the few inches of desiccated straw that sprouts from my skull, flattened by heavy veils. A few instants later, total black-out. A power cut. I thought that this sort of thing was finished when I got out of Farah and three hours of electricity a day. I remembered Mary-Ann saying something about a power cut before the Taliban blasted the centre of town a few days back. Then in  I find myself thinking  aloud: I don’t care what happens, but the Taliban are not going to get me with shampoo running down my back for once I’m enjoying warm water…So I fumbled my way to the taps, to rinse my hair carefully and exit in a regal manner. The lights eventually came back, the Taliban never materialized that night and I slept blissfully…

The scenario reminded me of that night many years ago, in 1994 in Sarajevo. I had missed the possibility of going back to ‘my’ suburb’ of Dobrinja so a French officer said, look you can’t go back now, but you can sleep in a room at the Holiday Inn (where the journalists thought they were embedded in the war.) The soldier who slept there had been evacuated on sick leave. By then, I did n’t care if I caught whatever he’d been flown home for though eventually I did pick up assorted bugs and lice. They had just put in purportedly bullet-proof windows at the hotel. In the suburb of Dobrinja where I was staying, there was nothing of the kind, everything had been shattered a long time back and we stuck plastic sheeting to what used to be windows. I was used to noise and shooting, as we actually lived about three feet away from the front-line. In the room at the Holiday Inn, it was quiet, too quiet. Lying in bed, for the first time, I felt panic creep up. How do I know if I’m alive if it’s so deadly silent in here ? So I got up, opened the window- to let in the noise of war (and possibly stray bullets) : this was the only way I could sleep…P1000337

A view of Kabul in November 2009. It seems that public attempts at putting dustbins are to no avail: sheep and street children compete for the garbage….IMG_0252

Self-portrait on the roadP1000279This photograph was taken at the official opening of our Women and Children’s centre in Farah. Four female PRT officers came, flanked by about 25 heavily armed soldiers and at least 5 armoured vehicles.I went out to greet them, offering  them Iranian cakes (the only tasty ones available). I said: ‘Have an Iranian cookie, live dangerously’,  to which the one on the right answered ‘ I already do’! The smiling officer who handed me that very heavy gun for the photo has three children: many of his pals have big families to look after and the job market at home and elsewhere, as we know, is saturated.. They lead tough lives here in Afghan desert, rarely going home and in fact looked happy when they can communicate with the kids who throng the vehicles outside. No, they’re not sanguinary, blood thirsty types out to kill- certainly not the ones I saw, . These guys laughed their heads off when they saw me handling that fierce bit of armour, I honestly could n’t work out the front from the back.

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One Response to “The Afghan Diaries Part 3 (November 2009)”

  1. on 04 Déc 2015 at 8:14 Amjad

    hope our so called lardees(mush,zardari,nawaz,altaf,fazl,qazi ) would have played mind games with foreign forces willing to destroy us BUT they opt to play games with the future of our country and nation for their personal agenda and lust of power and now country is facing fight within(we don’t need enemies now we have plenty within our own).our army feels proud in conquering our own land,institutions and killing people and declares victory over nothing instead of defending the homeland.i m not saying to straight away fight a war but to stand for the pride and freedom of our nation(and if things go worse then instead of surrender fight is a better option).we need to have short and long term strategies for that which i dont know how u can expect from a traitor like musharraf.who betrayed the oath,who compromised the sovereignty of nation, who himself propagates that the biggest problem we have is extremism(y he doesnt say roti coz us ki khud ki roti aur power iss war against terrorism say judi hai) and how can u forget the role of his most trusted shaukat aziz in the economic disaster of our country.