Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 2004/05
Today the world is white! Snow is falling and this part of the world is beautiful.
Landing in Kabul through thinning cloud produced a landscape of brown and white. Snow drifts piled against buildings uniform in their drabness of the city much larger than I expected. It has some 2 million residents, 30 000 taxi’s, 200 000 cars and zillions of bicycles! Twisted aircraft wreckage lines the runway and it was with some apprehension that I stood in line to confront the fierce olive fatigued immigration officials. Certainly I did not expect the smile that greeted my announcement that I had no Visa, nor the friendliness of the driver that brought me here to my home for the next while.
The Great Masud road leaves the airport, a double lane highway along which you rocket at speeds constrained only by the fearlessness of the driver. Lanes don’t exist and where necessary the other side of the road becomes additional lanes. On one side, a single row of shops in various state of ruin run alongside the road with cultivated fields behind them. The other side has more elaborate structures long abandoned by groups such as Hoechst. There are obvious signs of repair with beautiful stone walls, interspersed with high security compounds. Unexpected colour from massive brightly painted trucks. Works of art in this mono chromatic landscape, laden with goods from Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.
The UNOPS offices are in a run down apartment block. Inside, they have been renovated providing comfort enough when the electricity is working, but outside they look appalling. There is a new compound being built, the first phase of which will be ready for occupation in a few weeks. This will not include me as I take up responsibility for the rehabilitation of the University woman’s residence building. Well, that’s today’s story! From this table I can see children skating on the ice, and a few hardy people are flying kites. A landmark I was told I would find here.
The UNDP guest house (where I will stay this week) is a massive house, built on four levels with marble floors, chandeliers, a sweeping staircase and décor that jars my every sense. My room is comfortable, too hot with the heater and freezing without it, but there is a common lounge and dining room looking out to the garden.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 02
Fierce warriors on horse back, tassels at their waist, Cossack style trousers and boots, turbans giving them extra height. An incredible sight as they rode in front of the vehicle taking me home. With the donkey carts, hand pushed carts and men, all with the most amazing features, walking down the roads piles of nan (bread) across their arms I am not going to be short of things to paint!
I have declared a ‘Jihad’ on mud. Keeping clean is a serious mission, and that doesn’t take my ability to get dirty as I dress into account! It seems to be everywhere and manages to work its way onto all my clothes. The colour of the toilet paper is hilarious. Bright strawberry milkshake is the closest I can get. I’m sure I can make a fortune out of selling it to parts of Pretoria!
Woke up to the sound of the Mullah. Took me awhile to work out what the noise was and after that I could lie back and enjoy the strange specialness of it all. This was my first morning with no power at the house. Cold wash with a facecloth at the basin and a scrape type shave. Not the best, but they got it back on in time to have a hot cup of tea before I left. There was ice in the car park and I went whizzing across it, even in my boots, such fun! Didn’t even land on my bum!
At the PX (Military supply store) they quiet a good selection of wine. I have been drinking everyone else’s, so it was great to be able to put something on the table.
I went across to the University hostel and became more despondent the more I walked around and thought about it. However, it’s actually not so bad. No floors collapsed and most of it is very good structurally. All I could think about was the state of this single, small, relatively insignificant building, in relation to the state of the country and the awesome magnitude of fixing that! But it was the condition of the other building, which is still in use that really got to me. The conditions are terrible. Much worse than anything I experienced in the townships back home. It reminds me of a prison in a really bad part of the world (which I guess this is!) and I have yet to experience the slums and don’t want to know what the prison conditions are like! The students are cooking in their rooms and outside over open fires, which doesn’t do much to increase the appeal of the place.
I am trying to ensure that energy efficient planting takes place as part of the refurbishment program and gardens that include herbs and veggies that they can use in the kitchen are incorporated. Water runoff from the roof is collected for use and silly things like that. Time line: Three months, quiet a challenge!
In the ‘Bookseller of Kabul’ (I am hoping to go into town with Karen on Friday) she talks about the body smell, of smoke, fat and accumulated dirt of the people in Kabul. She is so right! Volleyball is big out here and there is a court next to the office building. They also play cricket and soccer outside on the tennis courts.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 03
13 January 2004
A taxi passed us in one of the winding roads leading into town. Suspension , or lack there of, groaning over the rutted road. The multicoloured neon light around the number plate, carefully cleaned of the mud that covered the lower half of the car. As we drew alongside I was able to look down from the Landcruiser’s high vantage point into the car, where the back, from seat to roof, was filled with the dripping carcasses of sheep. Amazing!
Reinforced concrete emplacements stand beside ancient stone and mud fortifications, the principles of holding the heights constant throughout the centuries of conflict that have ravaged this part of the world. I walked across the hill behind the guesthouse with Karen , Jenny and Loya, spiraling up through the last patches of snow. Houses, built above the ruins that covers most of the lower slopes, cling to the hillside a vertical continuation of the mud that lies thickly underfoot. Signs of reconstruction are everywhere. Men break the mountains rocks by hand for foundations, poles lean against walls ready to take new roofs. Graveyards are freshly tendered and the hillside freshly terraced and planted with saplings. All along the walk kids wave a shout in greeting, ‘howareyou?’ the most commonly known English words. Loya, being a large well cared for dog, is the object of much apprehension and the two blond woman, fascination. The walk was an unexpected treat as I had thought that we would be confined to the guest house premises for security reasons.
An afternoon of indulgence admiring the beautiful carpets of Afghanistan in a small dealer off Chicken Street. Kids scamper up the stacks of carpets; “you like?” from the consummate salesman as another treasure is added to the covering on the floor, a glowing rich red sea. Crossing the road to the local supermarket requires a fair amount of courage having spent five days observing the maniacal drivers of Kabul. The variety of goods is surprising with unexpected luxuries such as Toblerone.
The sun came out for a brief moment to provide a spectacular sunrise. My painting I am less sure of. It is small (A5) size, and I am using acrylics for the first time in years which has certain challenges of it’s own. And that’s without the cold, or rapid drying from the heating! I tried to impart the strength of the Buskazshi mounted warriors as a contrast to the power in the blue Burqua covered woman. Again I used my hands and no brushes to keep the painting simple. Sure do miss the light levels at home and the brilliantly light apartment in New York.
It looks as though I am becoming the dumping ground for all the problem projects, which is fantastic!
Feel a bit like the song in Evita; “Another suitcase in another hall …..”. I have moved to an outside room at Gary’s (my boss) house. It has a huge double bed, massive wooden headboard, with four walls around it. Also, I have moved my office across the hall to where I have a bit more space. The dirt, and mess, in this new office has been appalling, but I have most of it sorted. At least I have a window out onto a few trees and then the next apartment/office block. With the sun shining, the balconies are filled with people.
The sun brought out a whole new side of Kabul. The high Paghman mountains glistening white against the blue sky. An old fortification on the hill dominating the skyline. Now I need to get the driver to stop long enough to take pictures!
I know I should expect it, but its still a shock to be walking along and have water, plus whatever was in it, come splashing down on you from an apartment above you. The logic escapes me totally.
A culture shock moving into the new place. From an organized guest house, to what is essentially a bachelor house. The house reminds me of the farm houses in Tasmania and Mossel Bay. Charming in its quirkiness, a dumping ground for people that are crazy busy. A place that is meant to be used at night where carpets shimmer in soft candle light.
I have found a heater, put a couple more blankets on the bed and will use the floor as my workspace, as there is no room for a table. I will need to find a lamp as it’s all quiet dark.
The bathroom is crazy with toilet, shower and basin all in a tiny area and the water sloshes across the floor to a drain hole in the corner. By turning the gas heater into the door way five minutes before you use it, you don’t freeze totally.
A domestic evening, washing and then struggling to get stuff dry. The place looked like a Chinese laundry! Started on my next painting amongst this. The floor works pretty well although I am going to need one of those Afghan dress things the men wear to keep my cloths free of paint.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 04
In the thick of morning rush-hour, amongst the ‘Kabul sea mist’, as the smog is referred to, an old man grasps the handle of an improvised broom made from twigs and hunched over, sweeps the sand from the middle of the intersection.
My latest job is auditing the design and specs. of the water and sewerage on a World Bank job. Seriously exciting it is not. Oh well, the joys of being a ‘Brain Prostitute’.
One of the things I am learning slowly, painfully, is that doorways tend to be on the low side in Kabul. This ranges from those that are only just tall enough to others that are plain ridiculous. One would expect that after the first few times I would remember, however, like many things I seems to take me awhile.
Thursday night is week unwind night and Karen came across to Gary’s house for a drink after work. I managed to organize a smidgen of smoked salmon and hunted high and low for avocado’s (before finding a whole box of them going rotten in Gary’s pantry on Saturday!), but with cheese and a fantastic Aussie red wine we managed a very tasteful dinner.
Beyond the plastic sunflowers and garlands of orchids that line Flower Street, a basic room furnished with a table, a charcoal brazier and a chair for patrons, a florist spins fifteen (he insists it is the only possible number that can be used) orange roses into a bouquet of beauty. Not the long stemmed roses of a hothouse, but the crooked, slightly deformed ones that come from a garden rose bush. Certainly another wonderful surprise of Kabul, and my apprehensive navigation back to Gary’s house by foot, in the rain and mud, was brightened considerably by the flowers in my hand. They also meant that I was stopped a million times by people wanting to know what I was doing walking around in seemingly endless circles with a bunch of roses!
It was great to get out and walk a bit after a day of painting. I completed two paintings, ‘Mountains of Kabul’ and the ‘Nan Seller’ and I am starting to worry about running out of canvases. Ahmed gave me a lift to Flower Street and the driver assured me it was a simple walk home. He was correct, and I will walk into town in future, and hopefully get to appreciate a bit of life in Kabul.
Karen’s birthday dinner on Friday night was spectacular. A table spread with a feast which has put back at least two of the five kilo’s I lost this week! Beef Wellington, succulent lamb, roast chicken, piles of rich green broccoli and a platter of salad. Wedges of yellow corn vivid next to the red tomatoes and green cucumber. The amount of wine meant that I was fighting wine monsters and did not try to exercise this morning! The large contingent of Norwegians entertained us in song, but it was left to Bruce (Aussie from Brisbane) to bring our part of the evening to a climax with a poem, delivered with power and passion. The Nine thirty curfew arrived very quickly.
The clouds have lifted, leaving a clear view across to the mountains brilliant in their fresh covering of snow. As most people are off work today, there is very little pollution and the air is crisp and fresh.
I have been awake since four. Couldn’t do much because there was no electricity, all very dark. Seriously frustrating! Went for a walk in Gary’s garden and looked at the sky filled with stars, beautiful but cold!
On the way home, stopped at the corner of the street to buy Nan bread and then in the market for Bar B’Q chicken. I wanted to make sure there was some dinner as I had run out of naartjies. Gary is back from Dubai and we sat around the table to eat, first time.
Managed to get out this morning which was fantastic. It was daylight! Didn’t realise that every morning and evening I was driving through a huge open market. The drive to the old house is about forty minutes, most of which is a huge bazaar. A drover with his goats crosses the street, vendors of every description, a man on a bicycle a multi coloured cloud of balloons billowing above him. Newspaper sellers at an intersection, wide friendly smiles daring you not to buy. Up through an area, the potters ‘Montmartre’ with twisting streets up the hill the lower section of the houses being used to hand pack massive pots, a small square children playing in the water from its central spout. Totally amazing.
Walked out to sleet on my jacket! Haven’t hit my head for a few days, but that didn’t stop it from being rapped on the roof of the twin cab!
A delegation of Iranians arrived at Gary’s for dinner last night. Food had been ordered in and there were a bunch from the office sorting it out. I didn’t have anything to do with the delegation as they are on the Disabled Program, which is not one of mine. But as at the dam, I made sure it all worked and sorted the mess making sure that all the elements flowed together. They seemed to enjoy it and Gary appreciate the effort. What was amazing were the bunches of Narcissus. The flowers were pale, but pretty, however, it was the scent they gave out that was incredible!
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 05
28th January 2004
Woke to the sounds of a wounded Buffalo outside my window. Gary has decided to go on a fitness kick and he had the treadmill outside jogging at four am.
I am officially tagged. Everyone here walks around with ID cards and flash card USB drives swinging from their necks. It’s partly to make sure you don’t loose them and have them at hand when you need them, but its also one of those ‘in’ things to have. Remember the calculator swinging from your belt, or the Leatherman at your waist and then the keys on a lanyard? Well now it’s the USB drive. Mine is red!
For some obscure reason, the birds are going crazy in the tree outside my window. In keeping with so much here, they are nondescript grey/mud brown things (Kabul Mud Warblers?), but the sound is incredibly good to hear.
Too much red wine on Thursday evening and then having to finish the remnants of the wine left over from a dinner at the house the next day. Cleaned up the mess, put away what could be rescued and gave the rest to the dogs. Spent an indulgent day painting before going out to enjoy sporadic sunshine and take photographs. I’m still very nervous about where it’s inappropriate to take photos but I’m relaxing more and more. They love to see themselves on the video, which makes it quiet a bit easier. I was warned to watch out for pickpockets.
One of the reasons they don’t want us to walk around alone is the threat of abduction. In my case, there is a legitimate concern that I wont be able to navigate back to the house again! I wondered about taking photos and ended up in Chicken Street where I was abducted. One moment I was standing discretely taking pictures, and the next I was hauled into a room, forced to sit in a stool, drink copious quantities of green tea and suffer the agony of bargaining for beautiful carpets. Handing over the agreed to ransom I was allowed to leave with only two carpets which now cover the floor of my room. Perhaps I can use them for the new studio? Oh, well. I did get what I set out for, which was something I can use as a table cloth for cheese and biscuits. The carpet chap gave me a scarf, which will work fantastically.
Dinner at the home of Tony and Vesna. Vesna (a Bosnian) is a colleague I am working with and Tony (an Aussie) works on the DDR program with UNDP. There were a couple of us from the office and I enjoyed an interesting evening with seven different nationalities at dinner. I am very worried about my eating habits as I climbed into the eggplant and tomato bake and I don’t like those things!
Have picked up responsibility for another couple of buildings. The Olympic stadium and one of the court house refurbishments that is in difficulty. More meetings, not my best, and freezing site visits, still fun despite the mud. Driving out to the MRRD site, it was incredible to see the contrast between the brown drab buildings and the white of the snow clad mountains.
Walking through the newly refurbished offices at the Olympic Stadium building I had my first experience of the culture clash that I had been warned about. We haven’t finished the work, but the building has been in use continually with people moving into offices before the final details, (beading on windows, light switch covers, etc) are completed. In every office there is some kind of cooking going on. Vegetables are peeled, meat skewered and tea boiled, mostly over wood or diesel burning stoves. The residue coats the ceiling, dirty dishes are piled in the corner and slops are thrown out into the corridor. At least in the director’s office, on an exquisite carpet, a cupboard is used to divide this activity from the receptions and meetings! Wonder how long the renovations will last?
It’s a beautiful day, and I’ve been fortunate to spend most of it out and about. Had my first run in with a Mullah at the Supreme Court project, very unpleasant. Lunch at a small restaurant (also a first), behind a curtain in a back room as we had a woman (Sonja – the Head of the Building section) with us for fatty, dead mutton kebabs. Then a charge out to the University site for a meeting with the key UNOPS people and fortuitously the lady in charge of the project from USAID and the American Ambassador. I have been wondering around the site at random and it was pointed out that we have no confirmation that the site has been de-mined. Scary! Found a porcupine quill in the middle of one of the floors amongst all the mess, quite bazaar.
The security situation after the ISAF attacks is stable and we are on a dusk to dawn kind of curfew, which means no walking about and no driving about town. Quiet sad, as it is all beautiful and white after two days of snow. No popping out for croissants and hot chocolate either (I wish!), and there is the added concern about my red wine stock!
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Back from an intense day with the World Bank assessment people. The process was very long, compounded by no power and a bunch of staff that really aren’t concerned about the long-term issues. Still, for me, it was great and I enjoyed the challenge. Splitting headache from all the analysis!
A gentle day with chores, painting and video’s. Brilliant sunshine and I managed a few hours sitting outside, wrapped up, and daydreaming. Not the same as being at the water, or in Central Park (my last two day dream locations) but I had a view up to the mountains and the fortress on the hill. Could be a whole lot worse!
The painting of the Balloon Man has come out well (I like it), gentle and ‘floaty’ as I had hoped for.
A star filled sky and the moon smiling brightly. Crisp and clear, actually it’s very cold! A new preoccupation for me on this last day of January, the idea of spending a year (they may only offer an initial six months) here in Afghanistan and not merely the two months I came here for. I am not sure in what role they want me, and it will be interesting to see what eventually transpires. I will need to go off for a medical as the initial step of making the transition from a brain prostitute to contracted staff.
Sitting on the floor as we are confined to base for the next few days, my hands trace the magnificent patterns on the carpet that I was forced into getting. Wonder if I will ever learn to fly one!
Valentine Donkey has come out nicely. I was a bit concerned about the complexity of the painting after the simplicity of the Balloon Man, but it works.
Spent the morning cleaning my room. Think it was some kind of acknowledgment that I might be here for more than five minutes and the dirty windows and general dirt kind of got to me. Susan made a Mexican mince dish last night, which was great. Beans and a packet mix with the mince. It was a great change and certainly warmed up my cold bones for a bit!
Gary’s 50th birthday. Security restrictions meant that the party was small, the seven house people and a couple from along the road plus our head of security. That didn’t stop Susan from cooking a turkey and a birthday cake. Eleven of us sat around enjoyed a great meal all of which was finished by half past six!
Finished a painting of the Pagman Mountains. The few days of Eid al-Adha holiday, to celebrate the sacrifice of Isaac (haven’t quiet worked out why the Muslims should dedicate a holy day to Abraham?) left me lots of time to paint. I am now trying to organize more canvases from Dubai or New York as I have only one left.
Things going bump in the night and a restless sleep after the radio all clear that no one is hurt. Rockets fired into the city at around nine but despite the loud bang they were quiet a way from us.
On the corner we pass a beggar sitting out in the cold with his begging bowl, feet tucked under him and the open sewer drain keeping him safe from passing traffic. The only difference between him and the biblical beggars is the smog that roles over him combined with the dust that eternally hangs over Kabul. Every morning I wonder what his story is and think back to the guy that dances at the Lion Park stop street.
Off for my medical, injections and stuff!
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 07
Intense concentration etches premature lines into young faces. Clenched fists an indication of the tension. Rays of light burst from the middle of the circle of children, running across the grey dust that lies across the ground. Marbles. Who would have thought to find something so normal here in the ruins of post conflict Kabul.
Managed to make an omelet for breakfast and after spending the day painting and sitting in the sun updating my five-year plan. To clear my head, I did a fast 5km on Gary’s treadmill before the electricity went down. Fantastic it was.
Took advantage of being out at the dormitory site to visit the Fabled Babur Gardens. Perched on a hillside in western Kabul, the Babur Gardens were designed and built by Emperor Babur Shah, the founder of the Moghul Empire that ruled India some five hundred years ago. The gardens are slowly being restored, and as evident from the groups of people enjoying the sunshine, are being appreciated by the residents (males and children only!) of Kabul. The restored summer pavilion of Amir Abdur Rahman, (a restaurant?), stands empty; a casualty of the poor economy. Alongside the small marble mosque where Babur is buried, which is being restored, stands an ancient tree. It’s single limb carefully supported by an elaborate scaffold, a symbol of the reconstruction of Afghanistan?
Following the ridge of the hill, the remains of the dragon-sprawling ancient city walls of Kabul, built 4 000 years ago, on Kohe Sher Darwaza (Lion’s Gate) can be seen. Below it stands the Column of Knowledge and Ignorance by the Kabul River. I will try and get pictures another day, as my camera battery ran out.
There are worse ways to start a day than driving around the city proudly showing of its white winter coat. Traffic is chaotic and much of the days schedule will need to be changed to accommodate the weather. Standing under sunny skies yesterday it was hard to imagine the contractors concern about time lines that did not allow for weather. This morning, the world is white, had to smile. Something magical about walking into a warm room, smelling freshly brewed coffee and seeing a white world outside.
Heaviest snow falls in ten years and my Afghan engineers are not happy with me as I took every opportunity to play in the snow. No snowballs or snowmen, (the kids are doing that), but this kid, unashamedly spent the day cavorting around on the pretext of inspecting work. As such inspections reveal all sorts of issues to be solved, from insulation to drainage, I haven’t wasted the day, but it has been fun! I was reduced to painting by the light of my small torch when the power went out at seven.
Lunch of ‘Bulani’, a pancake type thing, with a filling of spinach and potato, cooked alongside the road on a handcart. Tasty, if a trifle too greasy for me. They didn’t have a clue about cinnamon sugar!
A clear cold night has turned the slush into ice patches that wait at every turn for unwary feet. Especially those that come home late after a pile of beers! Mark (the Kiwi) left to get married, which meant that we had a serious meeting. Met a couple of interesting people from other agencies who had spent time in New York and South Africa at various times. A Japanese type lady and a ‘girl’ (twenty four) from Bosnia. Driving home in the snow and ice was heart stopping, but our driver did a sterling task and we only got stuck once in the 250 meters to the house. I did manage to kick the top off my toe in the bathroom.
Not going to go back to the German hospital again. They took more blood as they had forgotten to do my blood type last week. Brave I was, and still no sucker from the sister! They have things to learn in this part of the world.
Sitting in the Minister for Higher education’s office, I found it difficult to concentrate on the conversation and protocol required, being distracted by the magnificent carpet under my feet. Much larger, and older, than anything I have seen before, it’s richness begged for hands to touch it and the eye follow the patterns as they whirled into infinity. Stunning!
Latest painting, Afghan Girl.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 08
Back from a trip up TV hill, one of the larger mountains in the center of the city. Mud huts cling to the side, which in another country (economy) would be impossibly expensive ski chalets. The snow and ice made for a tricky accent up the switchbacks, without any such luxuries as guardrails. From the top you could see 360-degree views of Kabul, cradled in the palm of white clad mountains. Almost like my painting!
Sitting on the floor in my room (Smarties from the PX, made in Malaysia, a real treat) enjoying the sunshine slanting in through the window bringing the rich colours of the carpet to life. Through the window the avenue of pine trees leads the eye out to the slopes of TV hill, covered in snow. The sky, a pale blue backdrop.
Karen came around to the house with Peter (the Pirate) after their meeting and the six of us had a riotous evening sitting at the table. It was very good to see her, haven’t done that for ages. Certainly we did our best to emulate Frank Sinatra’s words “Laugh the dark clouds away.” Susan made a chilly cancarne, which they kept mild for whimps like me, washed down with a fabulous Spanish Roja. Can’t believe how quickly curfew time arrived.
Still locked down, confined to the house, so no walking or visiting. Such a pity in such glorious weather. Did my washing and sat out on the patio with my book, and a beer in the sun. Not quiet Verbier! Did a small picture of a Zebra for the short story I am bashing together.
I had a fascinating meeting with the Chancellor of the University. We were served green tea and plates of nuts, raisins and almond nuts covered with white hundreds and thousand type things. He had a clock in the office, something I missed having in New York and again here. Of course, massive red carpets from wall to wall. He had the most amazing storytellers voice, which he made full use of in telling us about the history of the University and his plans.
A fleet of cars from the main mosque passed us on our way out, covered in plastic flowers, streamers and banners. Apparently they are returning Hajj pilgrims from Mecca. Don’t know whether it’s their families celebrating or the pilgrims.
Visiting the post office in the city centre was amazing. Thousands of people swarm across the streets as the pavements are covered with slick ice making them impassible, a traffic nightmare. Passing between ancient wooden post boxes, through a heavy material drape you find the parcel section. Thanks goodness I had Bruce’s translator with me and a UN ID card, a passport for anything here.
Delving through the archives of the University Library I feel like an explorer uncovering layers of a past that has been hidden from the world for 20 years. No great shakes in the history of mans ability to make a total stuff up of things, but still mind-boggling. You just have to remember to keep washing your hands, as everything is dirty. The library has been ransacked and they are slowly putting it back together using an old card system in wooden draws. The Chancellor regaled us with another of his Proverbs about a famous Mullah, Azradin, who when he died instructed that a wall be built around his tomb. They only had money for a beautiful front door and wall, leaving the back exposed. When people put up a front, or present a different face, it is known as an Azradin Wall. We did find a treasure trove of blue prints for the dormitory building that will make my life a whole bunch simpler. Some are in very poor condition and we will send them to Dubai to be copied.
Visited an Afghan gallery. Much more up market (expensive) than the shops in Chicken Street, with silk carpet covered floors and walls filled with a variety of paintings done by Afghan artists. It is an ‘official’ UN shop so doesn’t fall into the general ban on shops and as such is doing a roaring trade. No bargaining here! There was some very good stuff and I spent an indulgent hour walking amongst the paintings, running my hands over the carpets. Most of them are new, made specifically for the shop in a factory, I imagine similar to the one we visited in Cairo. The designs, although traditional, don’t have the richness in colour I have become used to. I was assured it’s because they use traditional natural dyes that will not fade, as opposed to synthetic dyes used by most carpet makers. Fortunately, nothing took my fancy.
Too many projects going on at the moment. Guessing what is required for bathrooms that can accommodate disabled people, coordinating the engineering department, sorting out sections for architects that seem to be brain dead. Thank goodness I have a competent Project Manager on the dormitory project!
Did a bit of laundry and chatted with Susan and Peter, so nothing remarkable. Finished the few small paintings for my short story. Difficult in the dim light I had, but lots of fun.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul 09
Looking for a particular type of shop, you have to get to the correct district of the city. Each trade occupies a different sector of the city, a bit like they did in medieval times. They cluster together, twenty or thirty shops, all offering the same goods and service. Ancient printers stand next to Apple Mac’s (covered in a layer of grey dust) and the people are incredibly friendly. Certainly helps to have an interpreter with you!
Sogol made an Iranian Stew, Imam Baiildi, for dinner last night. Beef with eggplant and a ton of spices, very good indeed. The recipe is at the end. Ideally, the eggplant is cooked over coals, which makes it ideal to do on the Weber, and the rest as a stew/stir-fry.
A French bakery out near the dormitory site, the find of the mornings adventure. Mostly American things (donuts, brownies, carrot cake) but they are learning and the bread is heavenly. Beautiful sunny picnic weather, if there was a spot where one could have one?
Over the past few days I have noticed some beautiful prayer beads, called tsabe, in Afghanistan. The Minister of Commerce had a particularly lovely string, which seemed much longer than those I have seen used normally. It could have been lapis lazuli, mined in the Badakhshan province and highly valued. Probably made from 99 beads to signify the 99 Names of God, rather than the more normal 33 beads. Typically the beads are counted out in formulas recited 33 times after the end of the five daily prayers to focus your mind on God. Interestingly, the Catholic Church adapted them to form the rosary during the 13th Century.
Dropped my wallet at the Olympic Stadium during the inspection with the Italians. Not the cleverest thing to do with my passport and everything in it. Fortunately my driver picked it up, so my apprehension only lasted a few hours. Red wine monsters attacked with a vengeance this morning. Sonja (the Dutch lady) came around to the house and with the film crew that are staying with us; the lounge became a wine bar, too much of it without very much food.
No painting on my day off, this work business really interfering. But did manage a good walk around town with Bruce. First time in a month that we have been allowed out. The weather was glorious; the streets filthy, people as friendly as ever. There is a wide variety of headgear worn by Afghan men. The pakul (pakol, pakoul ) wool hat, Muslim cap worn by tribal men of Afghanistan originally from the Chitral region of Pakistan is probably the most popular. The design of the hat is based on Islam. When a Sunni Muslim man prays, his forehead must touch the ground. The round part provides a cushion. By contrast, when a Shiite Muslim prays, his head must rest on a rock. This type of hat would not be suitable for a Shiite. Shiites often carry a rock in their pockets to pray on. In the Shiite mosque there is a pile of rocks for the men to pick up and use in prayer. Then there are the Fez turban or skull cap, large turbans with a long end hanging down the back, neat around astrakhan hats, woolen knitted hats and large fur sheepskin hats. Specific types of turban caps (kolah) and Ways of tying the turban cloth (Iungi or dastar) identify various groups among the Pushtun, Tajik, Hazara, Aimaq, Baluch, and Uzbak. White is still the favorite turban cloth, although many, are stripped, rather than the red check pattern seen in Jordan and Egypt.
In most of the refurbishments we are doing, we are installing ‘western’ style toilets rather than the ‘eastern’ squat toilets. I’m not sure where this decision came from, but a consequence of this is that the attrition rate of plastic toilet seats is huge. Toilet users break these off because your feet slip on them when you stand on the rim to squat! Tragic but hilarious.
At the new UNAMA office compound they have opened an Italian Pizza and coffee shop, all very festive with a decent cappuccino and cake for $3.00. Unfortunately the coffee comes in Styrofoam cups, my pet hate! The Pizza’s are a bit bland. Think I will apply for a job there and make decent ones for them.
Collected my carpet from the Chicken Street shop. Looks much bigger than I remembered! It’s a Bagdori pattern and is made in the Kunduz region of Afghanistan. Kunduz is the Eastern-most limit of Afghan Turkistan carpet producing region, which lies along the border with Uzbekistan- and is about 300 kilometers North of Kabul. The carpets are characterized as firm and supple; back ridged; tight knots double weft; mostly synthetic dyes; selvedge blue, red or undyed sheep wool; Persian knotted carpets. It’s very pretty indeed.
Imam Baiildi Iranian Stew
Recipe for 4:
Medium onion (white or red) 2 to 3
Eggplants (large) 4 to 5
Tomato, medium size 4 to 5
Beef cubes 400 to 500grms. (100 grams per person)
Green Bell Pepper, Medium size 2 to 3
Garlic 5, 6 cloves
Hot peppers, small ones 2 to 3
Tomato paste 3 to 4 spoon full
Cinnamon one pinch
Turmeric one pinch
Salt and pepper as needed
Slice the onions to 1/8 –inch thick, cut the garlic cloves in 4 pieces. Then heat oil in skillet over medium heat and onions and garlic toss gently to coat. Add a pinch of pepper and turmeric and let the onion to turn gold stirring occasionally. Add the beef cubes and the tomato past and cinnamon, stir until they are half way cooked.
Dice the eggplants into to ¼ inch slices and grill them on the BBQ or in the stove (you can fry them as well).
Dice the Bell peppers and the tomatoes. Cut the hot peppers in half.
Add a little bit of oil to a deep pot and spread a layer of BBQ eggplants at the bottom of the pot, stack a layer of sliced tomato and bell peppers on top of the egg plants and a layer of beef cubes. Add a little bit of hot peppers here and there for taste and aroma.
Repeat the layers until you are out of ingredients. Add water to cover ¼ of the ingredients in the pot. Cover the pot and bring to boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 30 to 45 mins. (Check on it and make sure it is not out of water).
The stew is ready to eat, can eat with rice or bread.
I hope you enjoy the Iranian stew.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Back in the office, a bit weary but glad the formalities are over for this round. I have moved office again, for the moment, and the pile of stuff waiting for my attention makes me want to run away and see how the dormitory project is getting on!
Spent the day in Dubai tearing up the pavements. Eight hours of charging around looking for electrical contractors and other information and my bum can certainly feel it, but no blisters! Propositioned by three ladies during the day. First time I have been offered a nights entertainment in exchange for the sharing of my hotel room. At least there were no men involved this time! Took a water taxi around the creek, easing my soul and soaking up the feel of water storing it in my system for the dust and dryness ahead. A dinner of grilled salmon, fresh baby vegetables and a bottle of crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on white linen overlooking the Dubai creek watching the sun set, felt like an interim step on the path down from the luxury of the past week to here. However, flying in felt fine and it was good to see familiar street scenes, be part of the traffic ballet and smile at the first hooting by my driver. Crazy I know! The afternoon call to prayer a reminder of how short a week is in the cycle of Afghanistan.
Cleaning a week’s mess from my room. Dinner of naartjies and cheese and a cold shower this morning, all a reminder that I am back in Kabul. Wonder if they changed the sheets?
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Warm enough for short sleeves and a single layer for most of the day, and spring doesn’t start for another two weeks. Summer could be seriously interesting! There are green shoots on the tree outside my window. Green, not grey! Driving out to the dormitory I noticed a whole lot of birds in cages. Some precariously balanced atop rubble heaps and others on balcony tables. Perhaps with the warmer weather they are able to bring them out? I have heard that there is a huge bird market here, but it is probably better that it falls within the area still consider a security risk, given that so many birds of prey are caged in hideous conditions.
Spent my Friday ‘off’ cleaning, trying my hand at making an omelet, frustratingly erasing the content of my flash disc, painting and generally lazing about. I’m happy with the result of my painting, which I have called ‘Wisdom’ (something I seem to need lots of), and did the layout for the miniature of Jessica. Wonder if I still know how to use a brush!
Spring has brought out blossoms and a seriously congested nose. It’s warm enough for me to be outside and try my hand at skipping. Managed ten minutes of falling over the rope (think I did get to four continuous jumps) before my lungs imploded. Think the neighbours fell out of the window laughing and will be selling tickets soon!
Standing atop the dormitory building looking down at the sheep grazing outside the new security fence. They are great big black coloured wooly things, in total contrast to the small stature Afghan students that wonder between them, dressed in their predominantly white robes, books or papers in hand, faces drawn into fierce scowls of concentration. A more tranquil scene I have yet to find and one that takes my imagination back decades to Sunday School.
Walking through the grounds of the Italian Embassy for my ‘uitkak’ by the Ambassador, I was confronted by an amazing wall of bright yellow blossoms. I have seen them before (England or Russia?) but don’t know what the bush is. Also amazing was driving alongside the Kabul river. I passed a stretch where the trees are full of delicate white/pink blossoms. Translucent against a background of tilled green fields, a fleeting touch of softness in this harsh country? Much like a Van Goch painting, except for the bright blue burqua’s, that is! Couldn’t get a photo, worst luck
A bit taken aback during our first coordination meeting for the refurbishment of the woman’s dormitory, when the lady from UNESCO asked us to include cooking facilities for woman in each room. The horror on our faces must have been evident as she quickly explained the cost problems involved in maintaining a central kitchen facility. We had the previous day been out to witness the results of a fire in a men’s dormitory at the polytechnic, which had been totally refurbished in January and now looked like a disaster zone. We have trashed the idea.
Covered in sand after inspecting the roof of the Olympic Stadium. Not my best on these things, and with a dust storm raging my tolerance for another poorly executed job was not in evidence.
With so much destruction all around, seeing the erection of maypoles of coloured lights at traffic circles and across streets seems totally out of place. Preparations for New Year’s eve on Saturday to usher in the year 1383. Already there is a growing sense of excitement and enthusiasm. Bit like the Circus is coming to town!
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
25th March 2004
I have passed an old man, beard grey and ragged, ridges etched into his face, a few times in different parts of the city. Hunched forward, he has the huge bow of his musical instrument slung over his shoulder. Not sure where he goes with it, another amazing story?
A sky full of the most amazing stars. One good thing about a city which has little electricity is that when the clouds are absent and the dust settled, there is this incredibly gorgeous sky covered with stars. Don’t know what any of them are, but its as if I can reach up and grab a handful, or jump and be amongst them. Are they closer to heaven here?
My room smells of oil paint. A welcome and familiar one for me, but one that I have not smelt since I left my studio in December. Painting Jessica, a miniature for Jessica’s Restaurant in Montagu, was a bit nerve-racking as I have not painted a miniature since I left New York in November, and haven’t used brushes since then either. Fortunately, she worked well and now the challenge is to get it to dry without the dust affecting it.
Persian New Year, the celebration of Nawroz, the first day of spring. Streets blocked with celebrating people, still so strange to see only men. The coloured streetlights were working and added to the merriment. I went to an Iran New Year party at the World Bank guesthouse with too much wine, funny French stuff and some equally funny South African stuff. Trashed my sinuses! It was interesting to talk to them about the traditions and how they blend them to cater for us westerners. Dinner on New Years Eve is traditionally a rice dish, but they had pizza and chicken for us. Breakfast on New Years day is a meal with seven (for luck) dishes which all start with S. Not sure if those are Persian names or if it makes any difference? The timing of New Year coincides with the solar calendar, hence it occurs at 11h20 on the 20th. The climax of the day is the raising of the janda (looks like a flag), or standard of Ali. It is wrapped in cloth, and whoever gets a scrap of it might find good fortune in the coming year. Gifts are given to woman and New Year messages sent. In the evening a meal of white fish, rice and herbs is served. I will probably have naartjies! This starts a forty-day festival including music, story telling and games.
The messages across our security radio remind me so much of those on MASH. They are nearly as hilarious and manage to make me smile whenever I listen to them. The fields and trees are green and it’s almost pretty looking out to the mountains. Just as well, because it’s ‘Kabul Green Week’ and they are planting a million trees in the city. I managed to secure a thousand almond and cherry trees for the Dormitory gardens, as these are traditional trees of Kabul.
I have been brought a steaming mug of black tea. I have learned not to ask too many questions about the state of the mugs cleanliness before the brew is added, but I have seen them rinsing them, which gives me some confidence. Tea, for Afghans, is a very important part of society. There is a proverb that says, “If we drink tea, we don’t fight.” Wherever we go they offer you tea, and during meetings you are expected to drink tea throughout. This provides a logistic challenge as to toilets and where one can find them during a day out visiting building sites.
Not my best this firing people, too many tears in this land, mine too, more family’s lives trashed and dreams shattered.
Every lunch time at the dormitory, our Afghan staff take it in turns to prepare food. This means you get to experience a wide range of local dishes, most of which consist of rice and, perhaps, lamb or chicken. It depends on the seniority of the person and his disposable income. Today it was one of our drivers turn, and we had a fried rice and veg type thing. Hygiene is almost unknown, so I’m never sure when I’m going to hit a bad one. I manage to keep my exposure to the one day a week, but today was it, and whatever, my system has gone crazy. That together with the Iranian dinner has proved to be too much. Compensation was a fabulous red wine, 2000 Rupert and Rothschild St. Emilion, and an Iranian nougat for after’s which was truly excellent.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
1 April 2004
Visited my trees out at the dormitory, and arranged to have them replanted as they were battling. Already they are shooting a sign that they are happy in their new temporary accommodation. Threatened the contractors with instant death if they trash them. Driving out, helicopter gun ships descend out of the sunset, towering mountains their backdrop. Primitive, predatory and strangely exciting.
Stomach a bit better, still gurgling away merrily, but no chills. Understand that the probable cause is not food, but the content of the dust I have been breathing over the past week. Susan prepared a fabulous dinner for the USAID people. The six men who have been fending for themselves the past two weeks attacked the food as though they were starving dogs. I managed to eat a weeks worth of veg. but left enough room for her superb baklava cheesecake desert. I couldn’t bare to eat such a wonderful meal with tissues as serviettes, which is the standard practice here. Hauled out my precious ones from home, and the bright yellows and blues exploded on the table. Fabulous!
Cleared the decks for my first finger oil painting here. Quite a few distractions during the morning but it’s looking promising. ‘Kabul balloons’ has been a challenge, having to get used to oil paints again after a few months working with acrylics. Didn’t think there would be much difference, but I was wrong! Think there is too much in the painting and the blue balloon focal point hasn’t really worked. Tried orange, but that wasn’t any better.
Sitting outside on the patio watching the sunset. I have my pot of tea (Vanilla, Ginseng and Blackcurrant), which has become enough of a ritual to be commented on. Such a ‘pain-in-the-arse’ creature of habit am I! It’s certainly not a substitute for wine, merely a preliminary. The closest I’m going to get to daydream here?
The musical bowed instrument I mentioned in a previous diary is not an instrument at all but a Toshak, used for, and named after, fluffing up feathers in the big coloured cushions that people sit and sleep on.
Had dinner with Namira, late because the day went on a bit more than I expected and then at Gary’s house the electricity went ballistic. I got a nasty shock that left blisters on my fingers, but no damage done. She did a very good eggplant pasta dish, and a few too many bottles of wine resulted in a wine monsters visit at three thirty. Her house is big, spacious and much better than most I have seen. Lots of talk and laughs.
This is being written in the back of the car waiting for Justin before going out to the dormitory. Amazing how much you can do when you have one of these things with you all the time. No wonder they are making them lighter and simpler to use. Also says something about having a driver. Also security guards that carry your bag to and from the car, an assistant to do any shopping you need, etc. Life is tough here!
Interesting to see the Dorm come alive. The contractors have set up a Volley Ball court in what is called the Lounge and Lobby area, on the original plans, and after work the sound of their laughter fills what was, a few weeks ago, a dead place. One of the new Engineers I have appointed in the past week is showing his improved status. He still comes to work on his bicycle, but now he has a tie, a new jacket and good shoes. Such a little thing, but his life has obviously turned.
Went to see the house with the security people. It needs some modification, but they have accepted it and I will get started on sorting it out this week and signed the lease. I will be moving to Street 5, House No. 77, Apartment 2, Ansari Watte, in Shar-e-Now District of Kabul. Not an address that can be used for postal delivery! I will move in on Friday.
It has a beautiful lounge, full of light and ideal as a studio, two bedrooms with their own entrances, a tiny kitchen and one shower room. I may look at putting in a bathroom if it gets too expensive and I need to share the house. A wonderful patio looks out onto the garden and the other house on the stand, where an Italian couple stay. Will be good to have a place of my own again. There is a lovely Siberian husky type dog called Michael, all in all a great find.
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad
2 April 2004
Automatic rifle shots echo across the valley, fiery ricochets spin into the air, the burnt out shell of a Russian tank an indicator that these sounds are no stranger to the rugged mountains that soar above us. Light reflects from the curved arc of the male mountain goat’s horns as, in an avalanche of dust and pebbles, it tumbles down the mountainside towards the cheering men. Men who have ended the life of what was, a few minutes before, a proud sentinel on the slopes of the pass through the Hindu Kush mountains. We had barely noticed the animal when the security guards attached to our convoy, jumped out of their vehicle and began to pepper the hillside with automatic fire.
The road between Peshawar in Pakistan and Kabul carries four thousand vehicles a day, over two major mountain passes, along the most horrendous of roads. Driving down the pass is a frenetic roller coaster ride. The river tumbling next to you for much of the way, chuckling, coaxing and encouraging you to go faster, be more daring, twist, turn between trucks and roar across the crater sized potholes.
Twenty minutes outside Kabul we came across the first of the Cucchie encampments. The nomads having moved up from the low-lying winter pastures around Jalalabad to their higher and cooler summer pastures. There doesn’t seem to be any restriction on their movement (other than minefields) and heir presence is accepted as a natural part of the cycle of life here. Their massive tents dot the hillside and dress bright spots of colour in a barren landscape. Huge camels lie, or stand around, their bright tassels, silly grins and languid movements making them the Rastafarian’s of the desert.
Between pale brown cliffs, a flood plane covered in the golden colour of maturing wheat, farmers anxiously watching the daily rising of the lakes level wondering if they will be able to harvest the crop before the water reclaims it.
Passing quickly through the frontier like settlement of Sarobi, our armed escort turned back for Kabul and we continued the mad dash for Jalalabad. Reaching the relative smoothness of a potholed-tarred surface, our driver relaxed as Jalalabad was an easy twenty minutes drive. The radio chattered into life and the four drivers reached consensus that lunch had been delayed long enough.
The small hamlet of Darunta made this inevitable. At Darunta, the main road chokes through a series of tunnels, and the approach is lined with provision and eating establishments. The ‘eateries’ lie next to, but high above, the lakes edge. Decks, covered in cushions overhang the water where they serve a local fresh water fish, fried to a crisp and eaten with bread and bowls of natural yogurt, spiced with herbs.
Jalalabad, an administrative centre for the province, is the confluence of three rivers, which flow from here into Pakistan. It is far lusher than anything I have seen in Afghanistan to date. Tall date palms rise above the green canopy of mulberry, syringe, fig and gum trees. The green punctuated by lilac and purple Jacaranda. A never-ending stream of gaily-painted tuck-tucks that bob and weave patrols the streets between trucks, taxi’s and busses.
A brief visit to the office and we were back in the vehicles for the hour’s drive into the district to see the villages where schools and clinics have been built and refurbished. Water canals frequently cut across the narrow twisting lanes, fields of wheat, eggplant, and tomatoes are interspersed with the harvested opium poppy fields. Carts piled high with poppy pass our vehicle on their route to the markets where a kilo can fetch $300.00. Smiling faces greet us wherever we stop, community leaders proud to show off their new buildings. No wonder people are adamant that this is where the real differences are being made in Afghanistan. My days are spent arguing with official’s over the colour of the marble they want on their floors, or the quality of painting between doorframe and wall, yet here I’m being asked if I can’t extend a school to cater for the growing demand for education, or build a wall to give the privacy parents require if they are to increase the number of girl students.
I’m staying at the HealthNet International guesthouse, where a million birds are shrieking away in the trees. Looking out onto an overgrown garden still wearing the last of its spring finery, framed in the bright blooms from the bougainvilleas, enhanced by the heady scent of jasmine and syringe. All this overlaid by the ‘put-put-put’ sounds of tuck-tuck’s in the background. The garden is actually a big orange orchid, the trees towering above me. Too late for the spring flowers, but it remind me a lot of Monet’s garden. Water rills line the pathways, and large beds of annuals rampage between the trees.
I have a glass of wonderful red wine and there is soft jazz seeping out from the house to where I am sitting in the fading afternoon. A fitting end to a long day of interviews for a new team I am forming here to work under Babs.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
8th April 2004
I have a new carpet in my office, which I sent my receptionist lady out to get. Not quite what I would have chosen, but incredibly good quality all in reds and blues, and a fraction of what they would have charged me for it.
Chaotic traffic. Gaudily painted lorries, their metal chain skirts clinking, tower above our car and completely block the intersection as they try to force their way in the opposite direction down the one way. Everyone honking their horns, laughing and making rude gestures to the Pakistani drivers. It’s a big circus.
My painting of The Great Dragon Mountain in the moon light evolves under my brush by torch light, while I listen to La Traviata , and my mind writes the presentation I will give on Saturday. A dinner of biltong, Chardonnay and smarties a fitting last meal here before I move to my new house.
There was something special about being able to leave Gary’s house and walk to my house as darkness closed in on Kabul. Spent the afternoon braaiing for about a 100 UNOPS people and now I am here sitting, very dirty, listening to the thunder reverberating through the walls trying to get up enough courage to wonder through the rest of what feels like a mansion. Wonder if it leaks?
Many of the buildings have elaborate ceilings. The one in my bedroom is a good example, quite neglected but attractive. This despite the most terrible light fitting, a great big blown glass thing. I have wide window ledges, bathed in morning sun and make a great place to sit and eat my cereal. I imagine I will be doing that outside as soon as I can get myself organized.
A walk down the road to the nan shop, my local baker, to buy two round pieces of nan (even though I only need one) standing in line with the kids doing their chore. “How are you?” the inevitable greeting, and then walking home, nan wrapped in my Kikoi (street smells are not something you want to carry unwrapped food past) to sit on the patio drinking tea and watch the moon rise, a glowing orb in the sky.
The contrasts here are still amazing. My favourite horsemen riding down the middle of the road, incongruously followed by a brightly coloured tricycle tuc-tuc, speakers blaring out the unmistakable music of an ice cream van. Fabulous.
Amongst a day of mounting problems needing to be resolved, a dust storm that turned my insides into jelly, a traffic jam forced us to walk through the money exchange portion of the market. Hundreds of people stand and offer different rates of exchange from dollars into Afs and Afs into dollars. The moneychangers of biblical times are the only comparison I can draw. No animosity or tension in the air at all. The trip also took me alongside the Kabul River to a section of apartment buildings with amazing architecture. Will have to try and get back to take photos. Next painting? On the way back to the office Boskashi horseman were showing off there riding skills, galloping wildly across the field. The same field where a game of cricket was being played, without any concern for these uncricket like activities. Does make me smile!
Home to dust a foot high inside the house. I left the windows open to get air through the house providing a fabulous path for the dust whipped up by the dust storm.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
14th April 2004
No Easter eggs in the shops, so I decided to make a small Easter basket. Blew the innards out of a few eggs (seriously difficult) cleaned them and spent the morning painting silly pictures onto the shells. Can’t remember when I last did something like this, but it was great fun and the kind of quiet gentle day I needed after the last few, stomach induced, rough days and nights. A sprinkling of Godiva chocs. and Easter has arrived in Kabul!
A walk down into town to choose four rattan chairs for the patio, turned into a minor shopping spree with Sogol and Namira. They have to be accompanied by a male on their shopping trips, hence my usefulness. Did find the ‘Short Walk in the Hindu Kesh’. The chairs sit on the patio waiting for cushions. Next is a table and I will be ready to sit and enjoy the patio.
Went with Namira to a restaurant up the road from the house called ‘Anaar’, which is the name of a fruit similar to an apple. Behind the predictable high walls is a restaurant with a fabulous atmosphere. You can sit at conventional western tables, or on the floor on sumptuous cushions. Chose the floor and had fun trying Thai and Indian dishes that sound familiar but look and taste completely different.
The mountains are purple and blue, their feet green, and they are stubbornly holding onto their tiny crests of white. Reminds me a lot of the Breeder River Valley.
Arrived here to find that the chokidor had filled my nice empty house with furniture from Georgio’s. Great big heavy stuff and my nice empty clean studio was packed from side to side, including a bowl of hideous plastic flowers. They are working on the floors in the other house and they wanted the stuff out of the way, which is understandable. But not here it’s not! Moved it all into the spare bedroom for the moment.
As expected the food at the Italian Easter Party evening was superb, with awesome basil lasagna. A whole lot of people here are vegans. Not sure if it’s for idealistic or practical reasons, but you get all sorts of stuff that does not require much, if any, meat. Silly people! The evening was still chilly, but I spent most of it outside chatting with a couple of people from the Red Cross about the country I have not even managed to get to see yet.
Had lunch with the President of the Appeal Court. Seated in his office, on another stunning carpet, they brought around a brass bowl and jug to wash our hands in (very biblical?) and then mounds of brazed lamb and chicken.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Sitting on the patio, a garish kettle of tea, (dropped the other one, which wasn’t much better) in my shorts (a real treat as you can’t wear them in public) listening to the birds and enjoying the warmest evening I have had here. No table as yet, but on the floor of the studio is the most beautiful carpet. My office is covered in sumptuous cushions. Quite glorious. Farida made cushions for the saddlebags I had her buy, one a particularly lovely antique. If they sit as comfortably as they look, it will be amazing.
A brutal morning seems an apt description. Nothing like having months of work trashed and no comprehension of the effort involved in getting it to that point. Guess that’s what happens when expectations are high. Certainly not boring, but gentler would be kind of good as well!
Its pouring with rain over my washing, the Weber is assembled and my painting of ‘Shattered Dreams’ is done. The first real painting I have done here in the studio. Feels quite odd.
Michael (the dog) and I had the same dinner. Tuna and nán bread. My father would say that is an improvement, as he only gets what the dog will not eat. In fairness, he did have a huge tin of no-name brand (in Afghanistan that is going some) tuna while I had dolphin friendly, humanly captured, no added preservatives, zero calories, no fat, guaranteed to be tasteless John West Tuna. Oh, my nán was so hot it could hardly be carried, while Michael had to make do with yesterday’s nán.
Chatted to Terry, sitting out on the patio, the warm wind a reminder of the desert summer heat waiting around the corner. We had city power last night and I was able to paint until quite late, enjoying the sounds of the night and the freedom of the studio. Dirt still an issue, but I am coping slightly better with it.
Walking into the office there were a group of men sitting under the mulberry trees chatting. So very much like the storyteller’s I had imagined and the painting I am trying to get started. There seem to be so many waiting for my hands to mess paint over the canvas. The one I am busy with at the moment is a spring flower basket. Felt as though I couldn’t let the season change without some reminder, and brightness, of spring.
I have managed to get a garden included in the refurbishment of the Appeal Court building. One of my more disastrous projects, but at least with the garden I feel as though I am doing something that feels right.
I find the Persian writing intriguing. Like magic picture writing, a blank page is covered from right to left in whirls, dashes and dots. I have found an alphabet translation, but as so much of it is phonetic, a direct transcription from words in our alphabet has people here rolling in the isles. They won’t tell me what I have written, but what the heck; it is fabulous to see it appear under my pen.
Namira braved dinner. Can’t remember when I last pealed onions that made me weep so much. The fresh smoked salmon pasta worked a treat, even tasty. Didn’t manage to sort out a salad, or roast veggies, which it needed. However, the house worked well, and as it decided to pour with rain, we ate in the studio, which in itself was special. No vase, but I used a clear glass pudding bowl, and floated a couple of roses in it.
Finished my ‘Spring Basket’ painting. Have to find a way to hang them up while I wait for them to dry. I may ask Eng. Jimu Gul to put up a picture rail to which I can fasten clips for the paintings.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Walked into town and found the DVD of Frida, which we can add to our collection, if it’s a reasonable copy. I also managed to buy a whole bunch of veggies and will do a stir fry tonight with a bit of turkey breast from the PX. Beautiful and clear after the rain of the past few days, and you can smell the fresh snow on the high mountains. Can’t describe it, but it’s as recognizable as the smell of the veld after a thunderstorm.
Shelling peas, chopping carrots and beans reminded me of watching Granny Mary go through a zillion beans in a second. Me, it took ages, I cut the hell out of my finger, they went all over the place and now I have a massive bowl of chopped veggies to stir fry. Except these are not those nice succulent young veggies from Wollies, but great big dead things.
On the way back I passed an alley where a guy was busy with his ‘toshak’ separating the cotton used in bedding and upholstery. Obviously it gets all compacted and with this machine they pull it apart again. Quite fascinating and glad I had the video with me. It does have a tune of its own, but hardly musical!
Did the ironing and then spent the day painting a picture of an old man. Mostly done, a few things to sort out, but another painting I am happy with. Probably the last one I will be able to do before I leave for Dubai. Amazing
Past a working traffic light this morning, the first I have seen. Not that anyone bothered to pay it any attention, and the traffic policeman standing on his podium in the centre of the intersection continued to wave his lollypop type baton and blow on his whistle in an effort to bring some order to the growing chaos. Coming in early, I get to miss most of the morning traffic circus, but they block off streets for passing dignitaries and other fun things to cause chaos when none is about.
Back from chaos. More rain in the stadium roof, and the President expected any minute, and a contractor fell through the ceiling into Gary’s office five seconds before a downpour. Please tell me there isn’t someone up there with a sense of humour!
Twenty-four delay in the trip to Jalalabad as the security escort for our road trip did not materialize. Seriously frustrating. As Bab’s had moved out of her accommodation, she needed a room for the night and I had my first houseguest to stay. First of many? Michael loved the company.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
A wonderful week on the beach in Dubai. Lots of sun, swims in gem blue waters, more wine and food than is reasonable and tons of mischief. Such fun! We shopped for the house here, and I have exchanged my blanket for sheets and a duvet (In vibrant red’s). Even pillows in crisp clean linen from the UK. I have abandoned my horrible plate and cup for white china, extra special because it came from Woolies!
Dust, grime, potholes were all in abundance, a welcome back to Kabul, and as it has managed to do over the past five months, it rolled out its special ness just when your mind seriously started questioning what you are doing back here? The longest ‘Cushi’ caravan I have seen, camel’s way above the roof of the shuttle bus, coloured tassels swaying in time with the rolling gait, moving down the Jalalabad road. Devastated to find that my nan shop is undergoing renovations, and the one further up the road was sold out, so biltong, balanced by tomatoes and naartjies for dinner. Gourmet chef I am!
The sun streamed through my bedroom window at five and finally forced my lazy bum out of bed around six to be part of a beautiful morning. The washing out on the line, the patio washed and sparkling, and I am here with my pot of tea, small table and chairs. All very boring and settled. I have put feelers out for a cleaner and hope to get someone in this week. Georgio and Maurie (?) will be back on Sunday, but I will be in Jalalabad, back on Monday. Then at the end of the month I go out to Paktika, one of the more troubled spots.
Enjoyed watching ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. Didn’t enjoy the book, but the movie is fabulous. In my newest painting, the rider is emerging from the background, in vibrant blue’s, soon to be relegated into the background as the remainder of the painting develops.
Bab’s has been staying over and we went to B’s for dinner. It was quite pleasant and we could sit out on the patio, under spreading trees and enjoy the summer evening. I had a salad with walnuts, apple and blue cheese and some kind of chicken and cheese dish. I decided not to risk the meat so soon after coming back.
I am going to have to discipline myself to get up half an hour early and make the most of this gorgeous time of the day. At the moment I am benefiting from being in the office at six and getting tons out of the way.
Three huge boxes of canvases that I ordered from New York arrived yesterday. Enough canvases to last me till Christmas and I now have a very serious looking studio. Lots of fun ahead of me that’s for sure.
I had to kick open one of the office doors to get Bab’s things that were locked inside. For security reasons they have removed all the spare keys! In the morning when we asked the staff why they had locked her stuff inside, they told me that they had left her a key on her desk. Then locked the door. They did feel very silly when they realized what they had done and laughed about it all day.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul/Jalalabad
27 May 2004
Thank goodness I have not been using this computer at the office. The prognoses on mine, following its virus attack, is that it will need a new hard drive and the data is cyber junk. Very sad.
I met an interesting lady, ‘Carla’. She is an Italian working for UNDOC (Drugs and Organised Crime) who is charge of their prison division, if you can believe a woman leading such a group in a country like this one. I am going to be working with her on refurbishing the prison here in Kabul. She is on her way to Vienna to see if she can raise money for the project. You can only be amazed at these brave people and put that extra bit of effort into supporting her work. Another Karen?
Finished my painting of the Buzkashi horsemen. Lots of movement and colour, but not sure they jump out of the painting with the energy I wanted to convey.
A new product has emerged on the barrows that line the street selling all sorts of things, from fruit to plastic buckets. Clear cellophane packets with a single fish swimming inside it hang around the perimeter of the barrows roof. The fish is about the size of an Angle Fish, much too small to eat (I would have thought), yet on the barrow is a burner and dish. Intriguing.
I have a beautiful small table, made from ‘Shisham wood’, inlaid with brass scrolls and an exquisitely carved dining room table coming on Wednesday. Michael and I both have fresh food to eat and the evening is cool and peaceful. A garden concert with Paverotti and red Valpolicella wine from Verona.
It’s early in Jalalabad, but not impossibly so, and hot already. Left the office after six last night, the temperature in the mid 40’s and immersed myself in the UNICA swimming pool. My body doing its best to empty the pool as it hungrily absorbed moisture. Wrapped up the days work discussing logistic issues of getting work done in Noristan, sitting on the edge, feet dangling in the water. All with the help of a few beers. Very civilized indeed.
The team I have put together here is 13 engineers, one logistics person and two community negotiators. Only one of whom is a woman and for her we had to employ her brother to act as a ‘Muharrem’ chaperone wherever she goes. I realized, again, how little I know about what their lives are like, when the vibrant chatty woman at dinner, turned into this shrouded no-one the moment we stepped into the street. She is one of the very lucky, who has a first class education, has refused to be ‘sold’ into marriage and has (as far as I know) avoided being raped by brothers, father, uncles or any male that comes into the house. In addition she has Bab’s who fought the system to have her employed.
Dinner was to welcome me onto the team and, as happens so much here, to introduce a venue (owned by someone’s family contact) that can be used for conferences. Plates heaped with fried rice and mutton, the deep yellow brown studded with ruby red jewels of pomegranate seeds, platters of deep fried chicken on a bed of green stuff that tasted nearly as strongly as rocket. Bowls of pasta with a goat and sour yogurt sauce flavoured with garlic and goodness knows what else. Probably the best Afghan meal I have had. It was spoilt by being accompanied by warm coke and not the glass of good red wine I enjoyed when we got back to the house. I’m very pleased to say that my stomach is behaving wonderfully!
I have moved to the patio at the office, where I am getting the morning breeze and I can look out over the green trees to the mountains that lie a just over the top of the bougainvillea.
Spent an indulgent (can I actually be indulged any more?) half an hour reading through our Journals from Wall Tree Farm. They were comforting and wonderful, like listening to an old friend talking.
Phew, I will be glad to get back to the relative cool weather in Kabul. The wind decided it had played enough, the dust settled back to earth and the heat crept in. Silently it oozed into every corner before tightening it’s suffocating grip. No electricity, so no fan’s or air conditioning and by three in the morning the temperature inside my room was above 40 degrees. Not a whole heap of sleep.
They say that projection is a huge part of making things happen. I passed a double cab, blue lights flashing with ‘Highway Patrol’ emblazoned across the sides. Not sure what movie they have been watching, but they are a long, long way from anything that remotely resembles a highway. You certainly can’t fault their optimism!
Somebody dusted the mountains in a light sprinkling of white icing sugar snow. You don’t want to breathe in too quickly as the chance are it will get up your nose and make you sneeze! It’s already hot enough that those who did not get up early will not even know of the beauty they missed, seeing only a day filled with dust and grime.
Being a member of the early morning Kabul world, I am greeted by the furniture maker, his doors flung wide to capture the early morning light onto his bench, where he carves and shapes the leg of a chair, or is it a table? The child sitting in the window of the nan shop, greeting early morning patrons, marking their ‘credit sticks’, pieces of wood into which he makes a notch for each piece they take. Guards outside their huts, lost in the ritual of early morning prayers.
Diary of an Adventure to Gardez
1 June 2004
The drive down to Gardez was amazing. Leaving the city limits of Kabul through a valley that became greener and increasingly lush the further we drove. Trees grew in groves, fields of wheat stretched to the mountains and villages dotted the countryside.
Deep in the valley, fruit trees grew in profusion, the air permeated with the smell of ripening fruit. Mountains stretched away into the distance, luring, taunting, tantalising.
The drive was made very personal by our driver who comes from the region and pointed out where his father had been killed by a Russian tank shell, and the mountainside of graves of his uncles. A solitary flag marked the resting place of his young son, lost to illness. He showed us where his village was and what they were doing to move it to ground where there is more water. A big undertaking, as it was the village of his grandfather and moving isn’t taken lightly.
Once past Logar, the country changed radically and we were soon in open desert. Not the red desert of Dubai, or the brown/grey desert of Jalalabad, but a yellow/grey green desert studded with Kuchi tents, their brightly coloured clothing flaring like jewels. Tons of camels lined the road using the road markers as rubbing posts, or roamed across the desert floor. My spirit lifted as their heads turned to watch us through impossibly long eye lashes.
Leaving the desert we climbed up into the mountains, rugged and unfriendly to Gardez. The guest house is located within the UN compound and there is a definite claustrophobic feeling to it. Patches of lawn between the individual units that make up the guesthouse complex are lined with tall hollyhocks.
Gardez (Gar– dust and dez – gone; thus Gardez means ‘blowing-dust’) is a sleepy town, totally shattered by war. Fortresses dot the surrounding hills, and in the town itself are the remains of numerous walled fortifications. Sanitation doesn’t exist and roads nonexistent, rather you have a four wheel driver testing track in the middle of the city.
As with Jalalabad, the staff is exceptionally proud of what they are doing and starved of knowledge and praise. The police headquarters is located on the top of a hill that dominates the city in one of the old fortifications. It would make a terrific hotel for someone with lots of money and incredible optimism of the future. The prison, is predictably, even worse. Ancient, dilapidated, mud brick walls stretch for miles on either side of the imposing entrance. Towers rise above these crumbling walls at each corner, creating a closed space that contains an even more dilapidated prison building. Only one room is habitable, and barely that. Depending on the prison population, inmates have to stand upright during the evening lockdown. During the day they are able to lie down in the shade of the single tree, fettered at the ankles. However, they looked clean and healthy, a far cry from many of those outside the prison walls.
The meeting with the Director of the Gardez Municipality was one of the stranger ones I have been to. A huge room, with couches lining the walls, and clusters of fiercely turbaned and bearded men, papers clutched in hands, gesticulating wildly. I was led to one of the couches besides a man fast asleep. A hand on his shoulder alerted him to our presence and we proceeded to discuss our concerns with this half awake person. It was all in Dari, so I didn’t understand a thing, but eventually after tea, in none to clean cups, there was general agreement and we left. Amazing.
Bee hives in rows across the hillside, laughter and walking (ever mindful of landmines) through a small forest down near the river have made today far more than just another one in Afghanistan. I saw what looked remarkably like a Wood Hoopoe, but given my bird identification expertise, I wouldn’t go looking for it any of the books! Does it migrate? Wild flowers grew in drifts between the neat kitchen gardens, which themselves were squeezed between the adobe walls of houses on any flat piece of ground.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
School is out and the street transformed into a colourful sea of noisy kids. The street barrows are dispensing fresh fruit drinks as quickly as the old arms of the barrow operators can wind the mincing machines. Volleyball nets are strung, courts paced off, and balls surge into the sky in a series of looping arcs. Amazing feats of balance on bicycles, with three kids arranged on handlebars, cross bar and saddle, weave through the throng. Drinks with Karen after work. So wonderful to see her after so long, and looking so very well.
A perfect summer afternoon, not a breath of wind, sun shining. The noises of a weekend flowing in rivers from the doorways, rooftops and gardens that surround the patio where I am sitting with my tea. The garden has been tidied, sort of; rugged country style and we have been walking up and down Chicken Street engaging in the master salesman behind the counters. One kid was truly fabulous. All of ten years old, selling the wears in his fathers shop, a true professional in every sense, he bartered and extolled the value of what he was on display. I bought a couple of small lapis and silver pendants that will make great key rings.
Dinner with Georgio and Mayra was everything my Sunday school perception of Italy is. Bowls of bright roses, rich red tomatoes sprinkled with green parsley. Goats milk cheese on proscito sprinkled with chives. 30 month old parmesan and pecorino, pungent and spicy, contrasting with soft fresh bread, served with marvellous Parma ham. (But not just any old Parma ham. This is from the bum, not the leg, and from a very special region within Parma. The best of the best!) Pasta, pesto and garlic. Red wine by the cask. Delightful and special.
Lunch in an Afghan home, but this could hardly be called typical as they have lived in Russia and Europe. But some things are the same. Someone to wash your hands when you arrive, a rectangular table at which you eat. The table being coffee table height, a bit below the height of the settee on which you sit. Of course, no woman to be seen. There was a mountain of food, spread across the table. I did manage to bash my knee with my elbow and so send a fork full of food in a wide arc across the table. Not my finest moment. Unusually, they served alcohol. Whisky or beer, with the Afghans eager drinkers of both, made for lively conversation about the future of Afghanistan. Interesting, especially as we get so little real information about what is going on in the villages that constitute the country.
There is some art to taking cell phone calls and fielding questions about why you are stripping staff from a program that is already battling, while braaing for a 100 UNOPS people. Trying not to cry at turning thick chunks of fillet (toughest fillet you have ever seen in your life) into hunks of tasteless, texture less stuff It must be well done, as that kills germs!?
Things are getting better around the city. Small things, but I think indicative of where it’s all going. The fountains in the center of the city have been turned on. Water gushers into the air, falling cascades driven by the wind across the road where children cavort in the rainbow mist. Traffic, slow at the best of time, crawls as people point, laugh and generally enjoy the spectacle. At the traffic circle near the office, the garden is being cleared of head high weeds and roses bloom within the structured beds revealed. Tables and chairs grace the lawn outside the National Gallery.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
10 June ‘04
Italian national day at the Embassy, an elegant evening, under a full moon playing hide and seek with the clouds. The huge red and green Italian flag twisting in the slight breeze adding colour to the fragrance of honeysuckle that gentle perfumed the air. The food was delicious, the wine evocative of picnics under the Tuscan sun.
My painting is finished, the green eyes of the ‘Wild Child’ glaring out of the canvass at me. As always, I’m not sure it has worked quite how I expected it to, other than the eyes, which I wanted to make the focal point of the painting. More importantly, Babs is happy with it. She wanted it painted to take to her partner in Canada. First time I have worn through the fingers of one of the gloves painting. Must have got a bit carried away!
Vesna prepared a great spread with chicken, her eggplant and tomato dish, salad and some kind of kebab. Best of all was a tremendously good cake to accompany the last of the red wine. I strolled around their garden in the last of the day’s light, absent mindedly deadheading roses, which gave everyone a good chuckle, that I was whipping them into order.
Lots of wine with Babs, wine monsters in the early hours, and a swim through the middle of a compost heap this morning. The windstorm yesterday left the pool covered in debris. I made very sure that I didn’t swallow a thing.
I paid the next four months of my rent. That will take me to the end of September, a month longer than my contract, but as there is every chance they will extend it I didn’t think the risk was too high. At least I don’t have to worry about moving till then, however with the first of our team going to Sudan, who knows what lies in the future!
The dormitory is moving along with its own quirks. Contractors are using their artistic license with the floors. Stars and diamond patterns, filled with green, red and yellow inserts. I would not have chosen it, but it does make me smile and isn’t in the least offensive. The specialist stone work has been an amazing success and it’s a real pity that there is no commercial outlet for it after this project finishes. We may try and use it on the new Italian Legal centre to be built on the campus, but further than that I can’t find an application. It’s too expensive and the stonemasons will return to their villages, the craft lost.
A gentle start to the day, in air scrubbed clean by last nights thunder storm. I turned in early and listened to the storm building. Nothing as intense as the ones we get over the dam, that seem to want to destroy everything, but still wonderful. I didn’t get up to go swimming, lazing in the sunlight defused by the fig tree outside my window. The birds kept me company until I needed to get sorted for the day.
For any mail, please use the address below and allow months for delivery!
Jan Raats UNOPS
C/O Thushanti Selvarajah,
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Walking back from the nan shop into the most amazing sunset. Streaks of light blast out from behind the mountain turning the clouds into fiery red balls, a lightshow choreographed with the call to prayer. The air is stirring gentle, enough to cool wearied limbs, without agitating the dust. Tea has been replaced by wine and pate.
It is incredible that I am looking down onto a perfectly manicured clay tennis court, lines white against the yellow grey earth. The umpires’ chair, flanked by two bright blue umbrellas, looks across to rows of appreciative spectators on their plastic yellow chairs animated in their applause and encouragement. Children’s faces press against the fence eyes following the trajectory of the luminous yellow ball. Engineer Qader Dashti, one of my engineers, won the Afghanistan Open Tennis championships, a title he has held for the past ten years
Faintly I can hear an Italian aria from the house across the garden. Sunshine pours into the studio, brilliantly lighting my paintings which are beginning to accumulate against the walls. ‘Jalalabad Donkey’ is finished. I find that if I start at five, have a break for a swim during the day, and paint the rest of the day I can almost get the painting finished. It’s quite important as there is so much rubbish in the air that I can’t leave the paint out overnight. I can use it for touch up bits, but that’s about it. I am sitting enjoying one of my Mum’s last pieces of shortbread with my tea.
Being the single non Italian, I sat at dinner with this cacophony of conversation washing around me. Hands flying from larger than life characters, cigarettes used as pointers for emphasis. Lighters, clothing jewelry, glasses may be functional, but it’s their fashion statement that is important. Daniel, was one of the characters in this opera. Hair slicked back, highlights artfully applied to blend into the curl in the nape of his neck. That so much work went into his hair seemed incredible as he was almost completely balled on top! Suntan, combat boots, military styled jacket. A Versace special forces veteran? It was fascinating, but hard work and I was glad to escape.
Had a ‘bargar’ for lunch. One of those, ‘don’t you dare refuse’ things from my staff. It’s a great big spring role type thing, filled with chicken bits, curry and yes even chillies. Although tasty it is incredibly oily, and I’m pleased to say I didn’t mess at all! Apart from spilling my tea that is. It was followed by ‘shepira’, a sweet made from milk, walnuts, other bits and things I have never come across in my life before.
I was looking at the busses and taxis while we sat in the traffic. Not that they in themselves are remarkable, but they are another indicator of how quickly things are changing, in Kabul anyway. In January when I arrived, woman were confined to the back portion of the busses, in a screened off section. Where no such section existed, such as in the cities new buses (donations from the Japanese government), they stood at the back. In taxis, they sat in the rear portion of the station wagon facing outwards, and were seldom seen in saloon cars. Now, the busses are full of woman scattered throughout, sitting or standing. They travel in taxis, mostly in the rear seats, but certainly not expelled to the trunk of a station wagon.
I have a picture rail up in the studio to hang paintings up where the paint can harden in safety. Ali has been very good about making sure they remain safe during his cleaning, but this will hopefully minimise any damage.
The morning, after an awful day trying to find a solution for the emergency rehabilitation of the Pol-e Charki prison, where man’s inhumanity is beyond comprehension, is slowly opening its eyes to make sure everything is where it should be. Sun rising in the right place, trees still rooted in the ground, sky above them, all ok, so must have survived. The swimming pool water parted easily under my strokes, the car arrived on time, there was enough milk for cereal, the paint hadn’t hardened on the palette making cleaning easier and the internet is working.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Thursday evening, the studio is open, jazz is playing, I have hung my paintings up on the new picture rail and the weekend has started. Babs asked me to go to the Dutch embassy for some do there, but I wanted a quiet evening after what seems to have been a lot of week.
I finished my miniature of Michael, cleaned up my painting stuff, hung up the rest of the paintings and then started to watch a movie, but even that seemed beyond me. Probably needed a good walk but that’s not an option with the security restrictions.
Justin, Erin and Chris made hamburgers at Gary’s house and we sat out on the patio looking across to the mountains etched against the star filled sky. Not the crisp clear winter sky we will have at the dam with its millions of stars, or the star filled sky I had here in March when you could literally step out and walk amongst them.
The fountain on the way to the office was shooting out its first spouts of water and there are new street lamp poles along the main road out to the dormitory. Tiny bits of progress in the repair of this city of dust and debris.
Dinner for twenty people or so, from the America Department of Agriculture, as well as one of our key Ministry partners. I went along because Peter the Pirate was up from Islamabad for a couple of days and it would be the only chance I got to see him. However, as inevitable happens, I spent most of the evening sorting things out and cooked the salmon that Erin had prepared out on the gas weber. It was very good indeed and I’m glad to say I haven’t forgotten how to do it. Erin also did a bean and crushed almond nut dish that went very well with the salmon. The flavours were subtle, probably much too bland for the palettes here that exist on hot spicy food, but I thought it was splendid. A good French chardonnay, lively discussion with a lady from Brisbane and it’s no wonder I slept through to the alarm.
The studio is lightly perfumed with the candle from Crabtree and Evelyn and of course the smell of linseed oil and paint.
Making things up I am, trying to write explanations for transformer costs, sewerage rehabilitations and other such junk that will satisfy people sitting in New York who have no concept of the realities of getting things done in Afghanistan against tight deadlines in an environment where the security situation deteriorates by the day. But what the hell, the sun is shining, the dust is within bounds and I am looking out to the mountains that call to my feet to come and explore. Pity about the landmines.
Evening is settling in to Kabul, the week chasing its way towards its end tomorrow. I was here by five thirty, finished laying out my next picture and enjoyed sitting out on the patio. It’s probably part of my boring, predictable self. I can hear the evening call to prayer, so different from the sound of the lions roaring across the water, or the Harley echoing from the mountains, but as comforting
Dairy of an Adventure to Kabul
1st July 2004
Saturday morning and the radio is full of chatter as people try and organise cars to get them to the office. Our Afghan staff don’t work on Saturdays and we have a reduced number of drivers making getting in and around the place a bit of an issue. The early schedule, of which there are more and more, start pouncing on the available cars at 05H30 and this goes on until about nine for those who don’t get themselves sorted.
The Weber had its first use. Amongst the meat and potatoes I cooked were pork chops, if you can believe such a thing in a Muslim country. Myra did a range of Italian dishes, of which I have forgotten all the names. The bowls and platters of food were passed around the table, accompanied by tons of chatter and gestures, with hardly a break in both to eat and take more from whatever it is that happens to be in front of you.
It was also the first time I have had people walking through the studio. From where we sat at a big, very rickety, rectangular table in the middle of the lawn, surrounded by roses you looked up into the light studio and its brightly coloured paintings. G&M have told people about this nut case that lives at the other side of the garden and it’s obviously a curiosity, as one by one the dinner guests asked if they could
go and look at my work. This they did at various times, returning with comments, parallels with paintings they had seen and questions. Myra loved her miniature of Michael, which she must have seen drying on its stand when she put roses into the house, but I don’t think she expected to be given it for her birthday.
Although we are still under security restrictions, I went for a walk around a couple of blocks, and stopped at the pool for a swim. You have to change clothes about a million times a day here. I have my painting shirt and shorts which I start the day out it. Then when I go up to swim, I have to put my tracksuit on and change into my bathers at the pool. After the swim, it’s another change back into my tracksuit for the walk home, and then its either shorts or painting gear. If I want to get nan form the shop, back on with my tracksuit for the walk along the road, and back into shorts when I get home. For my afternoon walk into town, I need jeans and my boots as you can’t be sure how dreadful the stuff is underfoot. Back at the house, the boots come off, and shorts reappear. If I go out to dinner, then it’s back on with jeans and boots. A circus it most certainly is!
A day of painting the ‘Burqua Woman’ and then dinner at Gary’s, which was light hearted and easy. Gary and Susan are away and their son, Chris did the cooking. The girls from the ACC (Afghanistan Conservation Core – tree planting bunch) prepared salads and bits and I think I was the oldest person there by at least 2 decades! But being ‘The Painter Man’ I seem to be an oddity that they don’t mind having around. I stood outside, wine in hand, looking at the moon in a clear still sky.
Another full day, but a successful one as it flowed smoothly, unlike so many recently that feel as though they have been a battle from one end to the other. I did loose the small screw holding the lens in my glasses, which fortunately didn’t break when it landed on the marble floor in Ahmed Hussain’s office. He found a broom and swept the area where I had been standing and with lots of luck I found it amongst the dust. Much easier than searching on the roadside for a contact lens at any rate! Now I know why they recommend you carry a spare pair with you, as finding a screw here could prove interesting.
Fighting with the water pump. The storage tank is empty, the pump is working, but nothing is coming out of the taps. Well nothing you would want to shower in, never mind drink.
A farrier operating next to the road, the horses not one bit interested in the massive trucks that rumble past, their vibrant colours muted under dust from the voyage over the Khyber Pass. Camels walk down the centre of the main road, a gentle reminder that the pace of life can be slower, more measured and more enjoyable. No amount of hooting from taxi’s or swearing from traffic officials makes them increase their gait, merely a wink from their long eyelashes as they move off unaffected. Fabulous.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Under the moon on the patio at Gary’s house with some 40 people for salmon and ostrich Bruce had brought back from Kenya, quite exceptional. Chatted to a variety of people, answered questions about my painting and went through tons of work issues with Gary, Adam and Bruce. By nine I was bushed, and left Babs on the patio at my house with a glass of wine.
Seems incredible that we have done a $1 million refurbishment for the Ministry of Finance, but I had to go down to the bazaar to purchase a $100.00 worth of diesel for their new generators as we didn’t give them 15 days notice that they would be needing fuel.
Can one have such a thing as a ‘Sunday School’ sunset? Mountains and sky turned a dozen colours of sepia by sunlight slanting though clouds of dust, the dirt and shabbiness of the city faded into the landscape.
I managed to get out for a swim and did the bit of shopping I wanted to do before I left. Amazing how much you can get done when you get up at four thirty! The studio tidy (not that I’m here much to get it into a mess and Ali cleans everyday as well), my latest painting of the dam is finished and I have started on the next of an old ‘Hazar’ woman. I’m fairly satisfied with the painting. Some of what I wanted to achieve didn’t work, and I couldn’t get the contrasts I was looking for, but it’s alive, colourful and a wonderful reminder of home. Made dinner for a bunch from the office. Succulent steak, juicy chicken, exotic stir fried veggies, eaten under a clear summer sky. Gary, Susan and Chris arrived, which made things a tad interesting, but it worked.
An interesting evening of contrasts. Adam’s house for a traditional Afghan meal, eaten from the floor, sitting on toshaks, a plastic cloth over the carpet, and plates of briani, kebab (hacked chunks of beef), rice and tomato salad. Lots of people floating in and out of the house, all very informal and very relaxed. They have a wolf cub, probably six weeks old, rescued from Logar. It really is an ugly little blighter but as one would expect an object of huge curiosity. They don’t know what will happen with it, but at the moment they are trying to keep it alive.
Around nine Bab’s and I went down to Barbara’s house (lady from USAID) who is sorting out the bed for me. Her house is a total contrast, set in a magnificent courtyard where the sunflowers tower above your head. Tons of care has been used in the décor of the house, which is beautifully colour coordinated, restful, and tranquil. Is this really Afghanistan? We interrupted her guests at dinner and were kindly given coffee and scrumptious cake, chatted about what we were doing on the schools program and listened fascinated to Bab’s stories of the life for Afghan woman behind compound walls. How, within the shadow of a tree, girls can have school classes as it is considered a boundary. I rushed Bab’s out of there before curfew and we arrived at the house to an Italian dinner in full swing, with large voices, big gestures, punctuated in their vibrant language.
The moon came to visit, sitting in the middle of the road, a massive ball of smiling yellow. They have painted the benches in the park ‘grape vine arbour’ orange. I wonder if that means they will be planting vines over them, or perhaps it’s the Afghan colour standardised for all fixtures in gardens? Still, it’s bright amongst the dust which swirls about on these increasingly hot summer days.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Standing at the airport waiting for the emigration people to decide whether they would allow me in as I have less than a month to go on my Visa, I watched a sandstorm blow up over the Hindu Kush. Clouds of red/yellow dust billowed up above the mountains, stripping the blue from the sky. An earth, air, water battle? Ali has kept the house clean and the paintings in the studio welcomed me back.
The guy doing his call to prayer at three fifteen in the morning wheeled out his biggest PA system as a special welcome back for me. They placed a thousand speakers around my bed and laughed like fun when I went through the ceiling. I will need a new bed. The mountains looked spectacular, clear against a blue sky with tiny puffy clouds dancing around the peaks. It’s almost too chilly to be sitting out on the patio and getting up to go swimming is going to be a test of my resolve and stupidity.
Driving down Jalalabad road sunflowers were waving in the wind, a wonderful reminder of the fields that we passsed in France. They looked a bit happier than those, but that was probably because the sun was out.
As a welcome back, Myra made an Italian fish dish, the fish grilled in coarse salt and then served with olive oil (just a touch) and lemon juice. After too much wine, we sat and looked through the pile of treasure they are accumulating to take back to Italy at the end of the month. Old carpets, exquisitely crafted, their age only apparent in the worn fringes and luster that comes from being touched by thousands of hands. A mound of jewelry in all sorts of semi-precious stones wrought with silver. Most of it far too garish for me, but stunning when viewed against the rainbow cascade of scarves and pashmina’s, which Myra used as a foil.
I was very brave and forced myself out of bed to the pool, to be greeted by another of those mind blowing Turner skies with its iridescent pink yellow colours. The pool colour, mild shade of green, was less inviting but the temperature wasn’t as bad as I expected. I gave the water no chance, and took the opportunity of a rested body without too much wine, to stomp all over it. Hopefully it will have a bit more respect for me from here on in. Some hope!
Things that go bump in the night. Rockets flying into the City, for the second time since I have been back. These ones, as were the last, weren’t anywhere near where I am staying, so don’t worry. I managed to pack Nameria off smartly to her house, fortunately after dinner, before they clamped down on the movement of the drivers.
A heap of the bicycles and motorcycles here are fitted with music boxes connected to their stop lights. Whenever they brake you get a tune played out, which with the way they drive, and the traffic is very often. One of the more popular tunes is “it’s a small world.” This place is a far cry from Disney World, but it does make me smile when I hear it ring out above the traffic noise.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
I painted the day away, the Old Hazar woman that I started before the holiday. The new paints are very different, not having dried out so much, and my hands went crazy.
Being in demand as an escort for Namira to go shopping in the late afternoon, I took the opportunity to find a kelim to go over the desk I had been using as a dumping ground. We walked slowly up Chicken Street and I was amazed at the changes since I was last there. It has been a restricted place for us for months, and in the interval, the shops have been dramatically transformed. They are cleaner, with carefully positioned display cases and a much wide range of jewellery and handcrafts. Prices have, predictably (?), gone through the roof and you need to be very firm about what you will and won’t pay. I stopped a number of Namira’s purchases as the prices were much too high. Not that it’s my place to interfere, but what’s the point of being there? I found the kelim I wanted. Had the carpet seller on his knees pleading that I was taking the food from his children and was forcing him to close his shop early and go and pray for a better class of client. Still would have paid half of what I did if I had waited and sent Farida, but it’s very nice and the blue cloth has been condemned.
Walked down to Gary’s house and managed to get there in time to see the end of the Tour de France stage. Very exciting. Erin and Justin’s trip to Tadjekistan and the Fan Mountains sounds amazing. It took them most of the holiday to travel there and back, with three days of walking in the mountains, but still amazing.
I didn’t need the presentation I prepared for Nigel, our Executive Director out from New York, as we sat around in a large circle and chatted about the projects. Very informal and much easier. Not that he needed any of this, as I have no doubt he is fully informed on what we are up to. Still he asked a few insightful questions and they are definitely planning to use the UNOPS team here as a foundation for new activities in Haiti, Somalia, Iraq and now they are talking about Saudi Arabia. Interesting days!
A long, interesting day. Interesting because essentially it’s the same team that got together three months ago for the first Regional Managers meeting and the development in the people, the portfolio’s and UNOPS in that time has been phenomenal. Much more professional, much more in knowledgeable and oozing confidence. This bunch are changing the world, a tiny bit of it anyway, for the better. This despite the security issues, the state of the Country, the lack of resources and the massive demands. It’s something I continue to be proud to be part of.
Walked around the shopping district with Bab’s. Interestingly we looked at different types of stores to the one I would look at. With Namira it was silver jewelry shops. Bab’s looked at ceramic and glass wear. Bowls from Herat in vibrant blues and interestingly enough, swirls of yellow and green. I have a new fruit bowl for the bananas I may get again when the chap with his barrow passes my door. Of course we visited the carpet stores, and I spent an indulgent hour watching someone else having to decide amongst the zillions of beautiful carpets.
The silver fingers, days last light, have faded, the last traces merging with the evening call to prayer. A siren, screams out above the background sounds of hooters and barking dogs, jarringly out of place in this ancient city. Even the sound of exploding rockets is more natural. Fortunately, least I forget where I am, the electricity has gone off and silence and darkness descend on the city. The only downside to this being that I can’t see the scorpions in the dark and have to remember to wear shoes when I walk around.
I sat in the traffic entranced by the cyclists and their passengers. No Lance Armstrong’s amongst this lot, but their mastery over their bicycles is phenomenal. They are the traditional Amsterdam bicycle, with a carrier at the back on which a passenger is seated sidesaddle. These can be men, children or woman complete with burqua. Sometimes all three! Deftly they maneuver through the traffic over roads that have me gripping the panic bar to stop my head from bashing against the window or the roof as the car bumps across a speed-hump or navigates a trench in the road. Somehow, cyclist and passengers, manage to glide serenely over these obstacles, seemingly without effort. Kabul ballet? Definitely no sign of the co-ordination problems I face!
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
I don’t get to see much of the city, confined to the few blocks around where I am staying, but it’s a city that is changing. Not that is a surprise given its post conflict status, but the speed at which it is happening is amazing.
Along my street, old mud brick structures are being torn down, anything of value piled for redistribution, and new houses of two, three and even four stories constructed. As before, the houses are being built to the extreme edge of the site, with little thought for privacy. Where walls were shared between buildings, the gutted interior of the neighbouring house gapes like the site of an extracted tooth. Sun dried bricks are making way for reinforced concrete and mirrored glass.
Structures are still square, reflecting their Adobe heritage, but they have elaborate arched entrances and a profusion of balconies that extend over the pavement. This destruction follows the removal of the beautifully carved wooden doors that graced entrances to homes and their replacement by gaudily decorated and painted metal ones.
A transition, understandable, but not necessarily for the better.
Went out around eight to have coffee with Barbara who had spent all day waiting in Dubai for the UN flight. The street was like one big carnival. Not sure if it was the moon, or if it’s just because it’s summer and the weather is wonderful. The security guards from the various houses were out in the street, dancing along to the music blaring out from cars AK47’s bouncing around on their backs.
I managed to spend most of the day indulgently messing about with paint, with a break for a swim, before heading off to Gary’s house. They had covered the patio in carpets, sensuous and wonderful. It doesn’t seem to matter how often I get to spend time on them, they are still special.
My painting ‘Walking Dead’ was interesting in that I used only two colours, Ultramarine blue and Naples yellow, adding dashes of Chrome Yellow as highlights. The composition is striking and the painting is dramatic, without being morbid. Georgio thinks it’s marvelous.
I have my very own stalker. Not sure when it started, as I always assumed it was a wrong number, but the calls have been increasing in frequency and start at around five in the morning. Wish I could tell you it was some blond after my body, but it’s some crazy who’s got hold of my number. It’s been reported to the Ministry of Communication to see if they can’t block it, as it’s a real nuisance.
The dinner at Wendy’s (ACC lady. ACC are our conservation group doing great things to re-establish forests and green the cities while employing widows and the handicapped) was interesting. A friend of Wendy’s was a chef in a previous life in Chicago (I think) and he spent the afternoon making a very elaborate Italian meal for the 30 or so people. I didn’t get to try all the dishes as dinner was served after nine and the car to get us back before curfew was at nine thirty, but I did have a very good porcini mushroom risotto and an incredibly rich eggplant, gorgonzola and sweet pepper roll. My stomach is still deciding on that one. They served dinner out on the terrace in true Italian style. Long rectangular table, groaning under the weight of food, candles, stars and loads of wines. The only bit I seriously battled with was the music. I’m getting old!
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad
7th August 2004
Trees laden with limes and grapefruit, dazzling bougainvillea, tuck-tuck’s and heat welcome me back to Jalalabad. I slept on the flight down, waking during the cork screw spiral down to the airfield. As the door released, the heat marched its way in, relishing every intake of breath. Grabbing bags from the concrete apron it was impossible to take in the surroundings while simultaneously fiddling for dark glasses to create some barrier against the blinding light. It was a mercifully short distance to the car, luxurious land cruiser, complete with air-conditioning. Such a wimp!
Driving out of the airport I felt my anxiety build. Some deep instinctive reaction knowing this was where the bus of election monitors had been blown up? My reaction was not helped by the convoy of nervous coalition troops, vehicles bristling with weapons, ahead of us on the only road into the city. Fortunately it was all for nothing and the gates of the new UNOPS office were soon closed behind me.
The compound was ringed by a screen of fabric panels in bright yellows and red. An open air auditorium for the presentations had been setup under a huge metal roof, with a stage on which the musicians reclined on toshaks, flanked by a podium for the speakers. A whitish wall acted as the screen for the slides and the audience of some eighty people sat in rows of chairs. I had missed the lunch, but they had delayed the start of the presentations until my arrival, so I got to experience one of the most unique presentations I will probably ever be part of.
The objective of the day was to celebrate, and give appreciation for, the work that was being done in the region. They have been working under an increasingly insecure security environment, using high levels of innovation and lateral thinking to solve problems and in doing so keep the schools and clinics project on track. It was also a chance or them to take ownership of their projects and share that with their colleagues.
For our sake, the presentations were translated, which involved a tag team of two speakers who, because that’s how things work out, were of sufficient difference in height to make the juggling of the microphone hilarious. If this and the musicians were not enough, the carnival atmosphere was made complete by the video teams that operated throughout the afternoon. The were everywhere, and it wasn’t long before you became accustomed to having a lens shoved into your face as they did their best to capture the light reflecting from rivers of sweat. Flashes popped from the dozens of cameras, the instant digital outputs being shared amongst a dozen people.
The group of traditional Pashtun musicians still has their original instruments, something special in an area where the Taliban had destroyed all forms of music and art. It was a group of three musicians. A guy with a music box thing called a ‘Bada’ who was also the vocalist. One chap with a ‘Rabab’ (small sitar), and then a ‘Tabla’ (drums) player.
Behind the drummer, who had the most amazing eyes, were a team of boys. These, apparently, are students who live with the drummer observing his techniques and getting a feel for the rhythms in the different songs. They are required to do this for a number of years before they are allowed to touch the instrument.
After the presentations and dancing, the day wound down and the musicians packed up their world onto the back of a pickup, loaded the drummer apprentices onto the pile of boxes and bags and literally disappeared into the sunset. Quite a life.
Our ride back from the office to the guest house was hilarious, all 200 meters of it. The duty driver had vanished and I wasn’t interested in waiting half and hour for him to arrive, because we aren’t supposed to walk in the streets. Down the road we walked, for the security guard to coming charging after us telling us that he would drive us. A white 4×4 came screaming out of the compound, barely avoiding the concrete security bollards, stopping in a cloud of dust. Bab’s asked him if he could drive to which he responded, “I have a license but don’t drive so good.” He was certainly correct on the second count, and in second gear we tore across the rutted roads, weaving from side to side, scattering chickens, children and tuck-tucks. Heaven only knows how he got back, because he couldn’t reverse and the last we saw of him he was barrelling down the road in the opposite direction to which he had come.
We didn’t spend long a t the office before going to the guest house, swimming and chatting next to the pool, with a bottle of wine of course, under the stars. By nine I was in bed asleep. Spoilt and privileged. A sleep that was stilted with the rattling machine in the wall doing it’s best to imitate an air conditioner, proving ineffective against the heat.
For now, this adventure is over.
Diary of an Adventure in Kabul
Arrived home to kites swirling in the light evening breeze. Something I have not seen for awhile. Those and bunches of balloons, but I passed one of those as well, which somehow made the day a whole lot brighter. A day that got better with the phone call from my folks, Terry and Lesa, who were all at the dam for my Mum’s birthday.
I have put the bed together, offered the old one to Cullen and have a new mattress. A slight problem has been encountered in that the base of the bed does not fit. Too small, so I have a new frame for a bed and a new mattress propped against the wall. Don’t even know if I have the correct size sheets yet. I will be sleeping on the floor for the next few days until they can bring a new base.
Success in getting funding, some $2 million over the next few years, from USAID to maintain the dormitory once it has been handed over to the Ministry of Higher Education. It will be under a ‘Capacity Building’ program as all the positions in running the dorm have to be woman, and none are available. We are going to use female engineers from the US Core of Engineers to do the vocational training (plumbers, electricians, etc.).
Wendy, Erin and Justin came around, Wendy to see Bab’s and the other two to have a change to Gary’s house. Being Veggies, they brought along their own bits for dinner and proceeded to trash the kitchen, fumigated the house with garlic and somehow produced a really tasty pasta of tomatoes and ?????????? Lots of noise and the neighbours are probably very grateful that there is a curfew!
Kabul sea mist hangs low over the city its impact on the quality of air evident by the hands that grab scarves to cover faces. The high mountains in the distance seem to be stretching to get their peaks above the brown soup.
Sitting on the wall that runs alongside the park, protected from the sun by the canopy of green, a palmist bent over my hand and told me that the future was indeed bright, I was destined for great things, was very lucky and, not surprisingly, fabulous. The only downside being that he told Bab’s the same things. However, it was a fun and light hearted way to finish of a strange day. So different from the previous days horrors and monsters. They have added another 250 inmates to the disaster at Pol-e Charkhi, a situation compounded by an afternoon spent trying to find a solution to the horrendous male detention facility problems. Not my best, I’m afraid.
An ‘edgy’ few hours putting together my painting ‘View from a Bed’. It’s not bad, but it still felt strange to be painting with Ali watching every move. It’s also quite difficult to answer the phone with a hand full of paint! Having cleaned up my mess, I walked into town to find a cupboard to hold my painting bits. I have been using a terrible old wooden chipboard thing, which has decided to fall apart. Rather, fall more apart! I found a painted cupboard from Noristan in red’s and yellow. A ‘Frida’ type cupboard? The paintwork is quite old and it works well.
Bab’s arrived excited over a house that they have bought in Ottawa. We were going across to Barbara for dinner so I suggested a walk to Flower Street to get her a bunch of flowers. Most (as one expects in this weather) were looking limp and faded, but they had bunches of white phlox that weren’t as beat up, which I combined with delicate lavender stems. I think she was surprised. Dinner, served on her patio, under the stars, of tasty couscous, cooked with a bunch of spices. A few bottles of red wine, heaps of stories and a delicious lemon pie with coffee, meant that the swim wasn’t an option.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
The air above the city reverberates with the throb of low flying helicopters, while the streets are clogged with bug like vehicles scurrying about, aggressive and impatient. All part of the security for Donald Rumsfelt, here to provide support for the elections in October, but only managing to piss people off. Even the wind has decided to go and find somewhere else to play for the morning and the trees hang dejectedly in neglected misery.
I have been invited to a wedding. Our chokidor is getting married at a crazy marriage parlour place in the city. I can’t get there, as it’s not security cleared, and I have a string of meetings to get through. It would have been interesting, however, I think I am relieved that I don’t have to sit through piles of funny food surrounded by plastic flowers.
I have a bed! Yup, it’s all together, the mattress fits, and sheets are the right size. They also delivered the cupboard and I done a whole bunch of rearranging and sorting out. Hopefully the gardener will still come. Wonder if he will have a straw hat? The first time I saw them was at the Italian Embassy where the wizened old men wearing them looked as though they had been imported directly from Italy. Hanging on the branches of a bougainvillea in Jalalabad there was another one, something I should have taken a photo of.
The dinner at Namira’s was chaotic with a whole bunch of ‘kids’ from the American Protection Detail arriving and causing more than a little concern for the two cooks, (Namira and Sogol) as the volume of food they consume is staggering. However, they did wonders. We sat on carpets on the patio, looking onto the summer garden, cooled by the mist from the water being hand sprayed by the chokidor.
All over the city they are busy erecting street lights in preparation for Independence Day on the 18th. This is the third Independence Day that has been celebrated this year. The first was Independence from the Russians, the second from the Taliban and this one from the British 70 years ago. I guess when you have been at war for centuries it’s not hard to find dates to have holidays on. Still, it will be interesting to see how this one is celebrated. The stadium is bedecked in flags and, while hardly sparkling, is bright and cheery. Already the streets are quieter as people leave for the long weekend.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Thursday afternoon, a holiday here, and I have spent the morning slowly painting my new picture, with a break for a swim in the cool blue pool. The sun is hot, the dust manageable and I have appointments this afternoon before a Quiz evening. Not sure how I have ended up being involved in that as I am totally useless at these things.
My painting ‘Three Little Maids’ is finished, I have cleaned up my mess and have a quiet evening ahead of me.
The quiz show was fun. It was held at the ‘Dog Box’, the old dog training centre for mine action and they served snacks in dog bowls. Fortunately my team members (Adam, Kate and Goran) helped me not disgrace myself and we came sixth out of the ten teams. Not that anyone is actually counting! We did, however, manage to get the award for the most ridiculous answer (one of mine), which I felt was a bit harsh. But, I have a medal to remember the evening by, something most don’t have. Bruce, Justin and Brett dressed in traditional clothing, with Brett looking every inch a Taliban. Erin, the fourth member of their team, was dressed in a burqua, very strange indeed.
Walking around town after getting food for Michael, I found a new shop, (away from the main Chicken Street shops), that looked interesting from the street. Inside it’s an Aladdin’s cave of adventure. I didn’t have long as I was meeting the guy’s at the Intercon for lunch, but I did see a clock that looked interesting. Definitely a place I will have to revisit.
An interesting morning sorting out the logistics for the media centre for the Presidential Election on the 9th October. Someone has woken up that you need quite a bit of planning for the 1 500 media people expected to cover the event, and the end of August a bit late to start getting things in place. What would life be without a challenge or three!
My fingers are sticky with honey from Jalalabad brought up by one of the contractors. It’s supposed to be some of the best honey in the world, and is certainly tasty, but whether it’s better than the Tassie honey???? So spoilt am I!
Jalalabad road is a chicane of steel. Not sure which idiot decided to put the main UN compound down there, because it’s on the way to the main ISAF compound and carries a huge amount of military traffic. It’s always a bit iffy driving between the vehicles never knowing when a child will run out, a taxi will immerge or some nutcase will decide to ambush a convoy.
There is a lighter side, in that the trucks, so gaily painted, are survivors of the trip over the Hindu Kush, loaded with the goods they are transporting from Pakistan. Wooden props are jammed under the rear of the vehicles to give relief to the springs, so recently punished over the impossible road. In the shade cast by the vehicles, parked on the median between traffic lanes, drivers lie comatose on plastic straw mats. Seeming oblivious to the traffic which roars past, they rest undisturbed by the creaking of bicycles, clip-clopping of horse and donkey carts, cacophony of taxi and bus hooters, and clanking tank tracks. Rolling in your sleep is not to be recommended.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
2 September 2004
For my birthday, a coloured rosette to hang around my neck, in garish red, yellow and green. Completely kitsch, and fortunately, not an indicator of the rest of the day. Erin and Susan prepared a stunning meal of salmon, chicken and veg, which we guzzled after sitting around the pool in their garden, surrounded by the last of the roses. I was spoilt with heaps of gifts, a mailbox clogged with greetings and even a birthday cake. Hopefully the dinosaur pattern of the cake is not an indicator of my advancing years! It was all very special, made more so by Terry being here.
Lazy, lazy, lazy. That’s me these last few days since Terry arrived. I walked her around the shopping area of Chicken and Flower Street, returned her in a shell shocked state to the house and a glass of cold white wine to ease her frazzled nerves. Such is Kabul. The afternoon walk down to the Danish Afghan shop was less traumatic. The shop is filled with beautiful hand crafted goods made by Afghan refuge woman, and much easier to relate to.
Dust covers everything, windows at the back of the house are broken, and Terry’s reaction was to urge me to hurry and drink the champagne in the fridge in case we get evacuated!
Certainly it was the closest ‘bump’ I have experienced here and quite a week for Terry to be visiting. As we couldn’t go out to eat, we had to settle for smoked salmon and naan, with a bottle or two of red good wine.
All ok though and life, for UNOPS Afghanistan anyway, continues.
The roads have become a nightmare, even at six fifteen in the morning, as they have blocked of streets in response to the bombing. The tanks have been replaced by large concrete barrier blocks, 2m high, guarded by heavily armed American forces. I will have to find a new walking route into town, presuming they will lift the security restrictions before the elections and we are able to walk again.
Fortunately this does not affect the naan shop; I have cheese and can get wine from the PX, so Terry is not starving and the weather is beautiful for alfresco meals. She is finding the confinement a bit much, as do most people, but with her natural inclination to get out and see the city, walk through the bazaar and try food from the various barrows alongside the road, all curbed by the security and cultural aspects of Afghanistan, it’s been a long few days for her
The Shomali Plains are spoken of with reverence and awe by those who have visited. History books speak of acres of mulberry trees, massive oaks, and flowers. A green paradise sandwiched between the barren mountains that rise on either side. Driving out of Kabul, the air becomes clean and there is a definite lifting of spirits, but of the green paradise there is little to be found. The trees have been decimated; orchids are confined to those hidden behind massive estate walls and the ravages of war confront you at every turn.
Stopping at one of the ACC projects, we arrived in the middle of the weekly livestock market. We wondered between goats and horses, donkeys being tested for sturdiness and temperament. A heaving sea of dust, animals and men that pressed in at every opportunity, fascinated by Terry and the magnetic attraction of cameras. It was certainly a unique chance and one of the few that Terry would get to be part of the people of this amazing country.
Having completed the work portion of the day, we made our way up to Istalif, the centre of pottery in the region, high in the mountains above Shomali. The road is narrow and winds between villages, empty walls piercing the sky, silent reminders of the battles that raged across the area. In Iatalif a few shops have opened amongst the ruins, hoping to resurrect their industry. The wares are disappointing, glazes of poor quality and the plates, bowls and dishes, in the main, unappealing. The few items that we found were bought more out of recognition of their efforts rather that for the famed beauty of Isalif pottery.
For lunch we journeyed to a view pint, walked down an avenue of huge trees, filling our lungs with the clean mountain air and marvelled at the bright splashes of colour from cosmos, growing wild in the neglected garden. We ate a simple picnic lunch of naan and fruit sitting in the bombed out remains of the hotel that looks out over the valley, heavily armed guards wearily circling where we were sitting. They had their lunch delivered by donkey!
For dinner we ventured out to an Afghan restaurant to satisfy some of Terry’s curiosity, however, it was closed for a private function and we had to satisfy ourselves with the Thai and Indian dishes in the very pleasant atmosphere of Anaar restaurant.
Dust lies thickly across the ground, whipped by the wind into a living curtain of misery. Yet, within, glimpses of bright red, green, purple and yellow. Sun reflecting from whirling, sequined dresses, of small Kutchi children, dancing between the dust devils. This, the real Afghanistan.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
So much for coming I early to catch up, and sort out, some of the more pressing issues. No internet, which means I can’t download the urgent files for the meeting at ten, my memory stick is at the house, so I can’t transfer this stuff to another machine. All very exasperating. I will have to change my schedule completely, not something this boring, predictable chap likes to do.
We had a great braai, prawns and steak for ten, under a beautiful clear sky and no electricity, so candle light to soften any edges. Good wine, food and fun were rounded off by a wonderful, decadent chocolate cake from Barbara. The day was spent getting supplies from the Italian PX for the braai, including a fabulous starter dip of pesto and bread sticks that Terry remembered we had enjoyed at the Sheraton in Dubai. Wondering through the shops of Chicken Street, for Terry not quite so shocking this time, and down into Flower Street to get a bunch of roses, which the shop keeper presented with pride and flourish to Terry.
A quiet dinner on Saturday, packing completed, and Terry’s visit was suddenly a thing of the past. I don’t think the scorpion I stepped on, with bare feet, in the passage helped to make her want to return. Fortunately it was partially under the carpet, the sting portion bit.
Dropping her at the airport was a bit strange. The UN car was able to bypass the string of vehicle waiting for security checks, but I couldn’t enter the terminal building and watched as she made her way through a heaving mass of people, most of who had never travelled before. I was somewhat relieved to here she was home, even if she had to wait for four hours in Kabul while they looked for fuel for the aircraft!
My dust proof, water proof, drop proof cell phone has survived nine months of abuse in the harsh Kabul environment. Dropping from my lap under the wheels of the 4×4 proved to be a test too far, and while it is still working (after a fashion), I will have to find a replacement.
Much too chilly to go and swim and I will have to dust off my exercise program I used at Gary’s house and force myself out of bed to do them. A reminder that winter is on its way to this part of the world.
Another holiday. This time its the anniversary of Massoud’s death. He’s the guy that was in charge of the Northern Alliance, who stopped the Taliban by blowing up the Salang Tunnel. He was killed by a journalist with a bomb in his video camera.
I didn’t stand on the scorpion this morning in the kitchen. A big yellow thing this time.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Barbara had her birthday party at the ‘Elbow Room’, one of the more sophisticated Kabul hangouts, where the prices are ludicrous and they play salsa music. I certainly didn’t awe anyone on the dance floor, but did manage a few slices of black forest birthday cake washed down with red wine before rushing out to get home before curfew.
Something odd about listening to rockets exploding in the city, sitting on the patio monitoring the chatter on the radio, drinking wine, watching the chokidor water the garden. That’s the sort of, very peculiar, evening we had sitting at Namira’s house. The rockets were distant, the chatter amusing and the walk home through the deserted streets tranquil.
My painting of the ‘Weaver’ is done. I have managed some of the ‘glow’ I was hoping for and it’s one of the paintings I am happier with. My hands are full of small burns from the braai I did at Barbara’s. I battled to get the fire going with wet charcoal, finally had this roaring fire that took an hour to subside. Barbara had prepared a bunch of chicken and veg kebabs, always a challenge, hence all the burns. Also did a whole flock of chickens, which had a great Dijon, honey and balsamic vinegar marinade. Delicious.
No trip to Herat. Flight cancelled due to security concerns. Bag packed and no where to go. Very sad. I have packed Babs off to sort out her other flights which started in Herat and to see if we can get a flight to Mazar. I made my ticket into a paper airplane in the car on the way back from the airport, which the driver thought was priceless. It now sits proudly on his dashboard.
Babs has gone off with Brett to look for trouble. I am quiet content to sit watching as night falls. The garden from my patio has changed dramatically. It is clean, sorted and organised. Much, much better.
The most beautiful of sunrises, one of those that I will remember for painting days. Following the news, I’m very glad not to be in Herat!
Dinner at B’s with Sheena and Babs was a nightmare. The food was terrible, cold, greasy and tasteless. It was some kind of fish, which when I queried as to what kind of fish it was, I was told was ‘water fish!’ Bad move. Fortunately a bottle of good red wine at home made up for some of the disappointment. Barbara and Bab’s made sure I didn’t drink too much of it.
Bruce organised for a photo of the dormitory team. Hard to believe it will soon be ready. Most of those in the photo are cleaners, security people, translators, students, drivers and anyone who thought they should be in the photo!
Perhaps some of the work we did at Pul-i-Charki made a difference?
From the BBC.
‘Pakistani prisoners left the notorious Pul-i-Charki prison near Kabul heading for home after what for most of them has been a grim detention.
Many of them originally arrived in Afghanistan, lured from religious schools in Pakistan, by promises of glory, fighting holy war against the Northern Alliance and their American backers.
Instead of glory, most found abject misery when they were captured by the Northern Alliance.
Many did not survive the beatings, overcrowding and suffocation in containers.
As they left Kabul on Sunday the prisoners said conditions improved when they were transferred to Pul-i-Charki.
It was once the scene of the torture and murder of opponents to the Soviet-backed regimes in the 1970s and eighties.’
Talking with the guys who were evacuated from Herat is quite sobering. They lost everything as the kids pillaged their residences as soon as they were evacuated. The UNOPS office is the only UN/NGO building left undamaged, mostly by luck as it isn’t alongside the other UN offices. The rest are burnt and trashed. Most have only the clothes they were wearing and their flash discs.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
Outside my office window, someone is playing a mouth organ. A gentle, deeply haunting sound, overlaid by sparkling lilts, like the moon light catching the ripples on the water.
When two kids; filthy, barefoot, covered in scraps of clothing can race down the main road, their barrows piled high with bright red tomatoes, there must be something right with the world.
Driving down Jalalabad road, amongst the jingle trucks piled high with wood, heavy construction equipment, military convoys, taxi’s, Toyota 4×4’s and UN vehicles, a group of camels stand nonchalantly, eyes reflecting the inner amusement with passing chaos. Coloured tassels dance in the wind, backs piled high with the goods, waiting for the streams of goats, sheep and gaily dressed children to converge. The first Kuchi caravan moving to the warm lands of Jalalabad. As if, in recognition of the wisdom in their decision, the wind has cooled substantially, clouds have gathered over the high mountains, and the birds are stilled.
Very unsettled, perhaps influenced by the weather, which was moody and changeable? I was up early, a large painting waiting for my attention, and I wanted to get it done before we went to the gallery. I tried to capture the early morning feeling of the streets in the old part of the city, but lost my way a bit during the painting. Still, it is an interesting piece, very different from the others which I have done.
The National Gallery is housed in a recently refurbished, colonial style building. Nondescript grey in colour, in stands in the middle of a full of flowers. Entry to the gallery is through a bared door, and costs $4.00 per person. Two of the levels are open to the public and they have gathered 450 paintings for the gallery. Mostly they are of a very poor quality. Quiet a bit from Russia, some European oils (German mostly) and a variety of Afghan artists. There is only one section of any note and that is the room dedicated to the works of ‘Baher’ an artist and poet who was responsible for establishing the gallery. Trained in Germany in the 40’s (hence the German paintings?) his water colours are light and deft. There was one good paining of the Kyber Pass, but very poorly illuminated which is a pity. They have a section promoting local Afghan artists, a nice touch. All in all, it was better than I expected, but certainly no Met! I understand that there is a better collection in the Presidential palace.
One the way back I stopped in Flower Street to get veggies for a stir fry and visited a new DVD store. Dinner with Barbara was light hearted and fun, the meat tough and disappointing and I had far too much wine, which is seriously sorting my sinuses this morning.
The elections are starting to transform the city. Posters (small A4 ones) are tentatively being pasted on walls high above the reach of anyone passing by. It’s as if they are not actually sure how this should be done. Obviously budgets are tiny, the voting public ignorant and the politicians inexperienced. By far the most active promotional campaign is that from the street children who are selling photos of various politicians at street corners.
The high mountains have their first covering of snow. Doubt if it will last until I fly over it tomorrow, probably not past the morning sunshine, but it is beautiful to see.
Diary of an adventure to Kabul
On the floor, cup of tea (going to have to invest in a tea cosy as the temperatures plummet and the tea cools down quickly) and Crosby, Stills and Nash playing on the DVD. Electricity we have, but the water pump has gone on the blink. The timing, of course is excellent, with Ramadan having started, which means that everyone works (well kind of) for half a day. Our movement is still restricted, and getting the pump fixed is proving to be a bit of a mission. Dinner no surprise is naan and cheese.
Showered under a trickle of water, definitely not awake. Much too much wine last night, the fault of it getting dark at five thirty and the two hundred people Babs had over for a braai. With curfew at eight and the short days, we decided to start early, which has a direct influence on the amount of wine consumed.
I spent a chunk of the day messing about with paint. As there was no dust and the house was freezing, I moved it all out onto the patio, which was great fun. Painting outside I will have to watch the tonal quality of the painting as the light outdoors is definitely brighter, which means when you bring the painting back indoors it looks almost black. I didn’t get it finished, with a late start and lots of interruptions during the day, but it was good to be painting again and my fingers don’t seem to have forgotten what they are supposed to be doing. I have a couple of commissions to complete, but at the moment I am playing with the pictures of the Kutchi’s on the move, which Babs took on her drive up from Jalalabad. Fantastic they are.
Early start. Babs is packed and we are waiting for transport to get her off to the airport. A bit of a scare for her when they closed the airport because of damage to the runway caused by one of the Russian planes. However, all seems well.
The day is dawning in magnificent shades of orange. There was a bit of rain last night, the roofs have a slight dusting of frost, but I don’t see any new snow on the mountains. There was a bit when we flew over but nothing serious at this point.
I managed a short visit to the dormitory. The contractors have all left and it is standing waiting for the first people to move in. The gardens already have their contingent of woman gardeners looking after it, being trained by the ACC people. There are still a few outstanding issues, which will be finalised by the end of the month, but it is certainly a huge success.
A serious blaze is raging in the Weber to cook, I hope, a frozen chicken which has come from one of the few shops open at five thirty. The days Ramazan fasting ends at five twenty and everything grinds to a halt as people have five minutes to break their fast before an hour of prayer. Trucks pull over to the side of the road; taxi’s halt wherever they are and people rush for the nearest naan shop, produce store, or anything that has food. For walking its ideal as it is just before dark and the roads are blessedly quiet.
A feature of this Ramazan period is the chattering by the Imam. They go on for hours, putting rappers to shame. Heaven only knows if anyone actually listens and they must have lung capacities that would put them first class athlete category, although they probably wouldn’t pass the drugs test!
Diary of an Adventure to Mazar
20th October 2004
The city of the Blue Mosque, white pigeons and white burqas. The guide book is a bit thin on Mazar stating, in summary, that situated on the strategic Oxus river it became the city centre for Northern Afghanistan after Genghis Khan trashed the historical ‘Mother of Cities’, the city of Balkh in 1220. More recently it was the headquarters of the Northern Alliance that threw out the Russians and then the Taliban and is dominated by the Shrine of Hazarat Ali (son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed) – the “Tomb of the Exalted”, more commonly known as the ‘Blue Mosque’. It is relatively undamaged by the years of war and neglect and stands proud and serene amongst the shabby city sprawled around it.
The blue mosque shimmers out of a silver sea, light glimmering from the marble which surrounds it, across which the white burqua clad woman glide. A symbol so hated looks so right, as it resembles the camels that glide across the silver blue desert sands outside of Mazar. Watching the woman walk in the shopping centre of Dubai, I was struck by the graceful way the hems of their black robes swept across the floor, a gliding movement that reminded me of the way camels seem to glide effortlessly over the ground.
Blue and turquoise dominate the mosque, but amongst them are sections of tiles coloured in yellows, reds and greens, colours which are echoed in the brightly clad children of this desert region.
Mazar, itself is a miniature version of Kabul, with chaotic traffic, friendly people and streets in an appalling condition. The traditional blue burqua is replaced by a white one, but I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the thousands of white doves that surround the Mosque. A commonly held belief is that if a dove of another colour lands on the mosque, it too will turn white.
It was possible to walk in certain areas and we took advantage to walk along to the UNAMA security office for our briefing before settling in for the night at the UNICA guesthouse. The guesthouse is very good; an oasis behind high walls, the dust of the streets swapped for green lawns, where guinea fowl roam. The lawns border tennis courts and rose gardens an abundance of colour, fed by irrigation channels that flow from a fishpond. The food was remarkable. Breakfast of pancakes, eggs, fresh fruit and coffee, served on clean linen with linen serviettes. They missed out on the folded newspaper!
Donkeys replace tuck-tucks as the dominant early morning sound as caravans of wood load up and drift out into the desert that surrounds the city. There are hills away to the north, but for the rest, Mazar is surrounded by yellow scrubland desert. Towards the mountains, fields of cotton are interspersed with ragged grape vines, more untapped potential wine. So sad. The houses are adobe structures, but they have dome shaped roofs, an architectural characteristic of the area, possible because there are no earth quakes here.
On the road to the Uzbek border, the land changes completely, with the yellow scrubland giving way to silver grey sand dunes. Camel caravans, are isolated occurrences amongst the fleets of fuel tankers that ferry fuel from the border down into the heart of the country. Rusted armour litters the road side, a reminder of the battles that raged across this part of the world.
Diary of an Adventure in Herat
My first exposure to the world of Afghan politics, where what was agreed to last week, after much debate with various Ministers and other key people lies in tatters because a local Commander (of which there are a dozen or so in the area around the port) has a different idea and his warlord doesn’t listen to what is decided by Kabul; ‘Where’s that??’
I know this goes on all the time and Gary has repeatedly warned that a signed contract in Afghanistan is only the start of negotiations. ‘Never trust a snake, and trust a prostitute less than a snake, and an Afghan less than a prostitute’ is an old Afghan proverb. I’m afraid I did loose my sense of humour and bit the head off Phillip, the French consultant with UNCTAD, who isn’t making life any easier on this complex and politically sensitive project. Six steps back, but we did manage to take one forward.
Driving along the now familiar desert (done it three times now) road to Hyraton I still marvelled at the camels, being led by ancients sitting astride (or leading) tiny donkeys. They seem to belong in as much as the rusting hulks of tanks and armoured personnel carriers that litter the desert do. Solemn reminders of the battles that ragged between the Russians and the Mujahideen as they drove them back across the river Oxsus.
I can still feel the ripples of the tremour running through me. No different to that of the earthquakes that rock the mountains and valleys of this ancient land. Kidnap, until now an unknown spectre, relegated to emotionally detached TV and email bulletins, has come amongst us. On streets, which for months, I have walked in safety.
Landing back in Kabul after an amazing flight that took us from Mazar, where the wind was raging across the desert, low over the Hindu Kush, proudly showing off its fresh snow, to land amongst the mountains in Badakshan. A bit like being in Rhodes, but without the pretty village. After the short stop, the takeoff afforded the pilots the opportunity to fly low up the valley giving the plane full of people, both Internationals and nationals as excited as a Sunday School outing, the chance to take photographs before lifting back up over the mountains to Kabul.
The euphoria of the trip was soon dampened when we were met by our security people, who kept us together giving a brief outline of the previous two hours events, before bundling us into cars for the journey to the UN compound. For two days, I had been driven around in unmarked Toyota utility vans, no different from the thousands of taxis on the roads. Never for a minute feeling exposed, threatened or endangered. Now I was in my new luxurious white Land Cruiser, big blue letters on the bonnet and antenna’s adding additional height, to further dominate. I felt incredibly uncomfortable, and again questioned whether being so ‘in your face’ was still a sensible thing. I didn’t taste the cappuccino, as I anxiously listened to the radio checks cursing my staff whose whereabouts I didn’t know and who didn’t check in, while I waited to ensure that I didn’t know any of the kidnapped people. Fortunately not.
Eventually we were cleared to go back to our residences, and now wait for news of those kidnapped and to see how this will impact our operations here.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
A bomb has gone off somewhere around Chicken Street, so all movement is minimised. Could have slept in, instead of getting up and doing my morning exercises as the sun made its entrance into the day.
On the way home, the driver stopped and bought me two massive pumpkins for about four dollars. I have no idea how I think I will cook them, but tried the smaller of the two on the Weber. I now have mountains of cooked squash/pumpkin type stuff!
From my bedside: ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ by Milan Kundera. ‘A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali’ by Gil Courtemanche. ‘Tears of the Giraffe’ by Alexander McCall Smith, ‘Kim’, Rudyard Kipling, and then ‘William Morris’ by Fiona MacCarthy (still busy!). I have actually finished the ‘The Great Game’ by Peter Hopkirk, after three months, as well as the new John le Carre’ ‘Absolute Friends’ which I enjoyed. It’s certainly one of his better books, although I did get lost at the end, which is probably no surprise.
The rent money from Georgio for the three months to the end of the year has arrived from Italy. I can only surmise that this means they will be coming back at some stage. At least I can relax in the house until the New Year. However, I have found another house, in the same compound as Barbara’s house, which is available from the middle of December.
Not the best of days. After Kate telling me she is leaving I had a dry run with the schools and clinics team from Jalalabad and Herat in preparation for the USAID audit team from Washington. All went well, they did a great job, but USAID have decided to cancel. Disappointed I was, and embarrassed that so little respect was given to them for their efforts. We know these things happen, but it made me mad.
The mountains are bathed in soft pink light (stolen from my painting again!), the mountains revelling in their new snow. The roads were filled with mist and it’s cold. I am playing with a painting of the Kuchi’s walking though the pass. I wanted to try and capture the enormity of their yearly walk, but not sure the composition or colouring is correct. I will do one of just the Kuchi’s without the mountains and see if that’s better. It may be that the canvas is too small for what I was trying to achieve.
One of the things about Ramazan is that unless I get to the naan shop by five, there is nothing left. People flood the place between five and five fifteen buying everything in sight. A good time to be a bread maker, but tough on Michael and I. Last night he had a half opened packet of one minute noodles Jim left in the cupboard and I had some cheese and wine.
Diary of an Adventure to Herat
I’m sitting out under a star filled sky, besides an extremely ugly bronzed concrete ‘Aztec Temple’ styled water feature (dry because they couldn’t find any virgins to sacrifice?) which has gas lamps burning at the four corners. It’s cold, but not freezing, and the air is clean. I’m sure I can actually smell the resin from the pine trees which grow in abundance throughout the city and line the major roads. Or is it my imagination, remembering that I read in one of the guidebooks that they planted a zillion pine trees so the smell would linger in the nostrils of travellers as they left the city, and be a constant memory for retreating armies. Whatever, its wonderful to see them.
The flight in was interesting but long. We flew to Bamien, nestled in the mountains, where the massive recesses in the mountain can be clearly seen from the airfield. One can only imagine the size of the giant Buddha’s that they held before the Taliban blasted them into smithereens. The contrast between the desert which ends in the cave pitted mountain on the one side of the valley, and the soaring, snow clad mountains opposite, is dramatic.
From there we hopped across to Chacharan, the most desolate spot I have been to in the country. The red desert stretches away on either side, swallowed up by the mountains on the horizon. Even the adobe structures seem to squat lower in submission to the sands.
Herat was different to the rest of Afghanistan, I had on good authority. Certainly the drive into town was a welcome change. The road (in good condition) is flanked by huge pine trees, planted in a double row. Many have been cut down, but 4 000 new ones have been planted to replace them. The traffic was orderly, street lights work, and there are traffic lights at which the cars stop. Most striking of all is the profusion of horse drawn buggies. At the bridge, which marks the entrance to the city, a green glass monstrosity towers above a formal garden full of late season roses.
The house where we are staying used to be the old courthouse. It’s amazing with curves rooms, arches and vaulted ceilings, a style they seem to have used extensively in many of the old buildings. It’s a bit like a ‘frat’ house and not one I feel comfortable in. Tooooooooooooo disorganised for ‘this pain in the bum!’
I’ve cleared a space at the dining table, full of last nights left over dinner (packet soup and naan, as well as some kind of meat and onion, tomato salad that I didn’t try) have my cup of coffee and had eggs and naan for breakfast.
Herat the city of culture and art, the jewel of Persia, centre of glassware and miniature art. So it’s defined in the guide books, some of which were written long before the civil war and the Taliban which wrought so much devastation. Not to mention the riots and burnings a month ago, which fortunately they confined to non-culturally sensitive UN facilities. Hence the need for a new UN compound ahead of the planned parliamentary elections in the spring. We looked at the site, an area that wouldn’t be out of place in Italy (with a stretch of the imagination). Edged with conifers and segmented into parcels of land by rows of fruit trees proudly displaying their autumn foliage.
Driving to the various project sites, we crossed through the main bazaar, an area that has been closed to us in most cities. Having read about the Herat carpets, (a great many of which are made in Iran and sold to stupid tourists like me) I was very glad to pass through the carpet bazaar and had to stop and see what they were like. They are gentler, much more tribal in style, not as tightly knotted, and very few use vibrant synthetic colours. An old carpet made from camel hair, was too beautiful to resist (as was another small one in unusual orange colours), and offers the promise of being able to fly. Furthermore, it would have been impolite to refuse to take it after bargaining so successfully on Andrea’s behalf for her carpets.
Our driver, Baktash, then took us down to the Friday Mosque past through the spice market past the Citadel. The smell of spices, herbs and nuts wafted across the road to awaken senses to the mysteries contained in the sacks piled with vibrant colours. At the Mosque he arranged for us to walk around on the inside, all a bit nervy given the sensitivity of where we are, that he couldn’t accompany us because we couldn’t leave the car unattended, Andrea is a woman, and our total ignorance of what is acceptable or not. Despite all of this, curiosity got the better of us and leaving our shoes on a ledge at the door, we wondered down the one side of the central square marvelling at the beautiful mosaic work which decorates the inside of the building. There were a few glares from those at prayer, but no more than the ones a western woman normally attracts. Hopefully there will not be too much camera shake in the pictures!
To the west of the city lies the Musalla complex, where the five remaining minarets are spectacular. With only a faint trace of their former glory on show; it’s only ones imagination (or Disney World) that can reconstruct the landscape of pillars that existed 700 years ago. Their timelessness, reinforced by a man at prayer made unreal by the sepia tones of the afternoon autumn sun setting through the dust.
After a morning walking around schools and buildings that we have done in and around Heart, I took time out to visit the shrine of Ansari perched on a hill to the east of the city. It is striking in that the courtyard is filled with tombs amongst which beggars huddle in the shafts of sun. The decorative tiling is not as elaborate as that of the renovated Friday Mosque, but there are the remains of striking frescoes.
We looked for Hamid’s famous glass shop, but couldn’t find it amongst the shops that line the street alongside the Mosque. They were all closed when we got there and all we could see were brilliant blue piles of rejects in the window. Of the miniature paintings, for which the region was renowned, there was no sign. Perhaps one of those treasures waiting to be discovered when time and the security situation allows?
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
The kidnapping still dominates our activities with security tightened. I’m being as careful as I can be, but still do stupid things like walking down to the naan shop. The only really positive news is that our relationship with the Afghans with whom we interact is critical. Babs has maintained that our staff would give their lives to protect us. Something that was born out in talking with Carla from UNODC who went to Chicken Street five minutes before the bomb went off, and was warned by one of the shop keepers she knew to leave the area as it was unsafe.
While I sit locked away inside my throwing paint at the canvas, Afghan children (boys and men, that is) were out enjoying the beautiful autumn day. The sun was warm and the sky filled with multicoloured kites floating on the gentlest of breezes. It has given me the subject of my next painting and I spent most of the day pushing paint around. Didn’t get it finished but it’s looking good. I did finish the one of the camels in the pass, but it hasn’t worked very well at all.
Barbara asked me across, which was what I needed, and I spent a fun evening talking too much and generally causing chaos. She did a very good spinach soup and a great big apple tart. I walked back to the house, escorted by the security guards under a full moon.
Chaos, total chaos as Gary has moved forward everyone’s start time as an additional security measure, to get people off the road during peak hours. Hence, I was collected at twenty to six this morning and I’m watching my staff drag themselves in. There has been lots of humour associated with it and I’m waiting for the first person to come to the office in their PJs!
Being Ramazan there is no eating after 04H30. It is therefore, very strange to see queues of people standing in the cold outside the French bakery every morning. I wondered if this was some form of flagellation as I couldn’t believe so many people would flaunt the Ramazan custom so publicly. What they are doing is stocking up on treats for Eid, the celebration that marks the end of Ramazan in the middle of November. This bakery is renowned for its superb Eid pastries and queuing for them well worth the effort.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
11 Nov 04
A new ‘popping’ sound in the house, flames from the Bukara heater, which I hope will keep me warm. A box of matches and an hour of twiddling knobs finally has the beast working. Please don’t tell anyone I’m an engineer! I haven’t tried to regulate it yet, content enough that it’s working
Not my normal selfish Friday, in that I went to have birthday breakfast with Sogol and Namira. I made French omelette with salmon and parsley and relaxed out in the sun with the two girls talking about all sorts of nonsense. Did manage to smear some paint around
I sit here on a cold autumn evening surrounded by paper, which tries to capture the essence of fulfilling my mandate here in Afghanistan, while protecting my staff from the uncontrollable environment that has turned so hostile.
There is still very little news on the hostage situation. It seems more and more that it is related to the political situation and the negotiations are about a seat in the cabinet. That being the case, we expect a peaceful solution. Politics in Afghanistan? We are still under tight security controls, with two vehicle convoys, a seven pm curfew and no social activities. (official ones anyway!)
The moon is the item on my drivers mind as we hurtle through the dark streets wondering just when the new moon which marks the end of Ramazan will appear. They are predicting it will be on Friday? Of more interest to me, are the two bright stars alongside the moon. I have no idea what they are, but they are certainly remarkable in the early morning sky.
It’s late and the house is freezing, so I am sitting in bed waiting for the hot water bottle to warm me up before I undress. My head is also not very happy with me. Getting old!
Passed a shop on fire earlier in the day, something that is quite unusual, especially when one considers the fuel that stands around for all the generators, that the majority of cooking is done on either gas or open flames, and the standard of wiring used to get power from the generators to wherever it’s needed. What was even more surprising is that there was a fire engine in attendance that worked.
It looked as though it was a relic from the battle of Stalingrad, patched up and given a coat of red paint from a nail varnish bottle. The pump coughed and spluttered, but it did deliver water through the hose to where the flames were. It was a huge event and very popular with the crowd that clung to every possible vantage point. The firemen were very proud in their shiny brass helmets.
There is a chance that the hostage crises will be resolved peacefully tonight.
Diary of an Adventure to Islamabad
I’m sitting comfortably at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad, slowly getting my pulse down to some sort of normality after a five hour walk through the Margalla hills. Actually, the walk up into the hills was only an hour and a half on a very steep 5,5Km loop; the rest was getting there and getting back to the hotel. Yup, got lost, lost, lost, as the police stationed at every intersection on this Eid holiday couldn’t tell me how to get out of the blocked off streets in the Diplomatic Enclave I found myself in. Probably because they couldn’t understand my English. There are also very few taxi’s around and the one I did see after walking up through a housing estate, was also lost. Still, I stumbled on one of the trails and managed to do what I hoped to do here, and that is walk. I have the blisters to prove it!
Islamabad will be remembered for the two crazy Australians (Brett and Bruce) who, having arrived two days before us, were already sorted with their own taxi, a very small Suzuki. They arrived at the hotel to take us down to the shopping district where the Eid shopping was in full swing. Fortunately the taxi driver called a friend and the five of us (Sogol, Namira included) went hurtling across town, stopping at a very trendy material shop, before going onto the bright lights of the bazaar.
It was great to be out, even if I couldn’t relate to what we were passing, my cold making me very woozy. I did buy a packet of fresh corn from a street vendor, which he heated the corn bits in sand that stands on the fire. No burnt bits at all.
With almost everything closed over the holiday, days were a mixture of lazing about, reading and talking. Namira saved my life by bring a couple of bottles of wine with her as there is none for sale in Islamabad. The swimming pool was inviting, but my swimming shorts are at home. There was a coffee shop which served poor cappuccino but great raspberry sorbet on a patio bounded by beautiful peach coloured roses. Bruce, Sogol and I joined Peter the Pirate for dinner at a small Italian restaurant. The food was good, the company fun and it was good to see him enjoying life outside of Afghanistan.
The food in the hotel was nothing remarkable, which was quite disappointing, as the hotel itself is clean and comfortable. The gardens are immaculate, the swimming pool luxurious and the service impeccable. A taxi took me across to the famed ‘Roses and Jasmine’ garden in the city. On reading about it, I had thought the season would be too far into autumn for it to be worth the trip. However, the rose and jasmine garden at the hotel was still glorious, so I was optimistic. Sadly, the garden is not worth much at all. Turning off the tree lined boulevard with its plantings of bright yellow marigolds stretching into the distance, the city disintegrates into neglected kitch. Broken concrete pathways circle a central water feature, filled with rubbish, edged with beds of neglected spindly roses. Isolated flowers in a variety of colours an indication that little of the original planting plan remains. Various types of jasmine cascade over metal structures, struggling against the accumulated litter carelessly discarded by picnickers.
A short distance from the garden is a fenced area, where the roses are in full bloom and appear to be planted along formal lines. Whether the planting is that of a Mogul design or those of a European garden was difficult to determine.
We visited a lookout point from which a panorama of the city can be seen, packed with families out in their new brightly coloured Eid finery. Candyfloss, sweets and nut vendors vied with begging children for the generous ‘baksheesh’ paid out as part of the religious celebrations. From here onward, a long cold winter lies ahead for most of them.
The small bits of Islamabad I have seen remind me of Voortrekkerhoogte during the terrorist years. Lots of government buildings with police and army all over the place. Most of the buildings are in enclaves with guard houses, similar to what we have in Kabul, outside each doorway. The public gardens are extensive and well kept, with wide streets and even wider pedestrian malls shaded by thousands of trees. The leaf canopy, a mixture of yellow, maroon and red autumn shades.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
18 Nov 04
A storm has swept down from the mountains; bringing dust and cloud so thick that I can barely make out the trees across the road. I can only imagine that up high it is snowing again.
My painting of the horse cart is finished. I took the picture in Herat and after struggling with the Kutchi paintings I thought I should try and get a whole lot closer in my subject matter, hence this one, on a large canvas.
It has been an interesting day in that two of our colleagues are getting married in Sydney at the end of the month and Kate and Adam are going across for it. They have been struggling to find a wedding present for them, which would remind them of them time in Afghanistan (they are off to a new posting in Gaza), but wasn’t the traditional carpet. Kate, Adam and another of their housemates from UNDP came to look at the paintings and bought a bunch. The one of the Blue Mosque they have chosen to take across as their wedding gift.
Sheena came for dinner and brought Indian food with her which I wasn’t sure how to keep hot. Fortunately, being a genius, I thought of the heater and stood the food in the frying pan on the top. It worked incredibly well.
The day has dawned clear and cold, the streets are deserted, shops closed, and the first crackers are going off as everyone prepares for the Eid festivities over the next week.
Framed in the gateway, the twinkling lights of the guesthouse were a welcome sight after the dark drive through the narrow twisting streets of Mazar. I settled into, the now familiar room, before joining Bruce on the patio to enjoy the last of the day’s heat, review the day that had passed and plan the next.
My cold is pulling my eyes closed.
Diary of an Adventure to Termez – Uzbekistan
A historic trip across the bridge that spans the river Oxus (the invasion route of the Russians into Afghanistan) to Uzbekistan, and onward to the sleepy port town of Termez. Historic, in that the bridge is closed as an entry point to Uzbekistan for all traffic other than UN, an agreement which is due to lapse on the 14th December. At this point there is no guarantee that it will be renewed.
We stood, a few meters from the gates of Afghanistan trying to communicate with the Uzbek border guard who was not interested in our fresh new Uzbek visas or UN ID cards. Of course, our inability to understand either Russian or Uzbek didn’t help matters. Fortunately after half an hour another UN chap arrived who was able to tell us that, in addition to our Visas, we needed a permit to cross the bridge. The permit was easily available from the UNDP office in Termez. The only problem being how we would get across the border to organise one? A phone call, three hours of waiting in the soft drizzle and we were waved on our way by the now friendly green camouflage clad Uzbek border guards. Didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment on the blue fur hats they were wearing!
The 400 meters of river is more than a separation of distance. It’s a divide between two worlds, two different ages. Termez is described in the only guide as: ‘playing the role of political and cultural centre, switching roles, religions, allegiances and even locations with the consummate ease of a circus performer. Enjoy as Buddhist monks discuss philosophy with Mongol invaders, Greek garrison guards ogle Soviet tanks and Bactrian Silk Road traders talk shop with modern Afghan entrepreneurs. Bridges become borders, which become bridges again, heartlands fade to backwaters and cosmopolitan Silk Road junctions shrivel into a forgotten corner of a neglected republic. For the last 80 years Termez has been one of the furthest and most sensitively sealed outpost of the Soviet empire, enforcing an unnatural religious cut-off point between Islam and atheism. The modern traveller who comes will taste the excitement that comes from such proximity to the Oxus and Afghan border, resting assured that he is one of the first.’
Termez, hardly prosperous, was relaxing and restful. Tree lined streets were full of people walking about. Fair skinned woman in short skirts mingled with kids sporting the latest, in predominantly black, designer gear. The black a foil for older people dressed in multiple layers of flamboyant clothing, as if they were wearing their entire wardrobes. A group of men leaving a Mosque, some dressed as though they were extra’s in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, greeted us in our silver Land Cruiser that dwarfed the myriad of small taxis that wondered aimlessly around the place.
Bruce did his best not to get lost as we wound around the town navigating by the silhouette of a large Ferris wheel, which loomed above the canopy of trees covering the central park. We didn’t stop to venture into the shopping centres or markets conscious of needing to leave enough time to renegotiate the border and still make the curfew of five thirty in distant Mazar.
The border was much simpler and we soon found ourselves re crossing the bridge, a time warp, to Afghanistan where the burqua rules.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
It’s cold, overcast and miserable. I am surrounded by paper trying to come up with a budget for a new facility in Sudan that they want done urgently. Of course, there is no information worth anything from which to work. What’s new!
The donkeys are exhibiting their best ‘E-awe’ expressions as they plod through the mud, water dripping from their eyelids, totally ignoring their impatient handlers. Very much a case of, ‘leave me alone, I’m having a bad hair day’.
Driving back to Mazar in the late afternoon dark, we witnessed the after effects of the new missiles of death that are becoming more and common in Afghanistan. The carnage amongst the twisted wreckage of a taxi – bus collision that obliterated most of the occupants. The condition of the roads makes high speed driving almost impossible, yet the potholes are merely another challenge to drivers in the unreal high speed game of driving on any side of the road, dodging trucks, cars without lights, pedestrians and livestock.
Not very much sleep with a rapidly changing landscape. Bab’s is back and has gone straight off to Nuristan. Jim goes on his home leave, Bruce is finishing his contract and departing for Australia and we are now staffing new operations in Sudan, Liberia and Haiti. Brett will leave for Sudan (now changed to Liberia), I need to find another engineer for Khartoum. I have a new chap coming in on Wednesday who will go up to Hyrataan. Fortunately, Babs is not going to Liberia just yet. She may go for a visit in January, but I need someone for Haiti. At this stage, there is no indication that I will be going anywhere.
Notices have appeared in our building, put up by the National Staff, welcoming the release of the hostages and thanking the International UN people for continuing their work.
Massive relief and very emotional!
Preparations are in full swing for Kabul Thanksgiving ‘meeting’ (Parties are still prohibited under the security restrictions) in the compound where my new house is. My contribution to the activity that was being repeated in zillions of homes across America was to cut a ton of carrots and wash dishes. I may even get to enjoy some of the food later.
The sky in front of the car is brightening with the new dawn. Behind, the mountains are shrouded in heavy cloud. The air vibrates with energy.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
I think the entire community of aid workers in Kabul is having a slow day after the indulgence of Thanksgiving. Barbara prepared a feast and fortunately made sure that the desserts were in a separate house, which few bothered to go and discover. Not that there was any shortage of turkey, beans, carrots and potatoes for those of us who arrived late. It was cold outside, but after a plate or two of food and a few glasses of wine it didn’t matter so much. The very ‘American’ party was enhanced by the sound of a guitar playing a host of well known songs, most of which dated the guitarist by generations! Justin didn’t know half the songs, but that could be because he is from Tasmania?
Having indulged myself, I left with Justin to join the UNOPS bunch at Wendy’s house for her Thanksgiving dinner. Also one of the last times my team will be together. I refrained from having any more to eat, content with a glass of wine and not having to do, or say very much. Weary after a crazy week, I excused myself and made my way home.
I messed around with paint for most of the day. Made a few changes to the horse cart painting and then played with a painting of the adobe structures from the air. It certainly isn’t one of my favourite paintings, very different, and quite weird.
Passed a very unusual taxi this evening. A tricycle arrangement powered by a petrol lawnmower engine, mounted above the single front wheel, the driver perched behind the engine, and a seat of passengers behind him. How he managed to steer the thing, or stop it, is beyond me, as there was indication of breaks. It would have been considerably quicker to walk!
The pink streaks of the early morning sky have given way to cloud and mist which all but blocks my vision to the buildings opposite. School kids ghost in and out, hands thrust into pockets, shoulders hunched and heads pulled into the necks of jackets. I feel as though I am part of a Cold War spy movie, where everything is muted, and eerily strange.
I did succumb to the warmth of the duvet for those precious few minutes before braving the cold, my bowl of cereal and then the terrifying drive through the dark streets dodging shadows that may be people, trucks or potholes.
The meeting with the head of the prison service was unusual in that it’s the first meeting I have ever held where the key decision maker sat watching TV while we presented the plans for the rehabilitation of the detention facility. Granted he had another two Generals with him, one of whom is the engineer in charge of facilities.
The General sat nodding at the presentation being given by my engineers, made notes in his book, which could have been about whatever he was watching on the TV and agreed to let us start work on his facility. A flourish of signatures, photo’s and we have an approved project. Didn’t follow much of the proceedings as they were all held in Dari, but my name was frequently mentioned. Wonder if that means I will also be made a General?
Driving down Jalalabad road after my truly awful day, I was confronted by a kaleidoscope of images that have made this place so very special. A Rastafarian camel strolling serenely down the road, a life time of wisdom conveyed in the glance of his violet eyes. A boy impossibly balanced on the bar of a bicycle holding a pole of brightly coloured balloons, miraculously threading his way through the traffic. As a backdrop, the mountains, towering into the sky, the new snow sparkling in the sunset.
Passing one of the kids selling chewing gum, the story of the beggar girl killed in Chicken Street very fresh in my mind, I gladly parted with the dollar I carry in my pocket for these kids.
The death of a little street-seller
Pajhwok Afghan News
By Borhan Younus
KABUL – A month after the suicide attack which killed an American woman and a 13-year-old Afghan girl, the crowds are only slowly returning to Chicken Street , a normally busy shopping area in the centre of Kabul .
As well-off Afghans and foreign shoppers trickle back to its carpet and gift stores, the children who aggressively sell books, maps, newspapers, and magazines have followed.
But life has changed forever for the family of Feriba , the young girl who died. The third-grader, who attended the Rahman Mina girl’s school in the morning and hawked mainly English-language publications on the street in the afternoon, was the main means of support for her four younger siblings, her mother, aunt and ailing grandfather.
Her death on October 23 was the first fatality for a family that had managed to survive over two decades of war.
“She was not like [the typical] female member of the family,” moaned
Feriba’s mother, Laila , as she pointed to a picture of her daughter selling newspapers. “She was providing food sufficient for all eight members of the family.”
There had been official warnings about the potential danger of shopping on Chicken Street .
Laila recounted how Feriba had left her home a little early that October day, expecting to make enough money to buy food for a special Ramadan evening dinner at which her grandmother would be a guest.
“She told me ‘Mother, don’t bother yourself today. I will bring you bread and other things for this evening’s dinner’,” Laila recalled. “Before the explosion, she had already received 10 US dollars from a foreigner for a book she sold.”
The suicide bomber had strapped hand grenades to his waist, and detonated them after approaching a four-wheel-drive vehicle marked with ISAF insignia, according to Sami Ullah , a carpet shop owner.
“A bearded man dressed like a beggar approached a group of uniformed peacekeepers and blew himself up with grenades, near my shop,” he said. “The bookseller girl [Feriba ] had earlier come here to try to sell books to the foreigners.”
Mohammad Yousuf Wahib , who represents shop owners on Chicken Street , said
Feriba’s main customers were foreigners, especially soldiers with the International Security and Assistance Force, ISAF. And the soldiers loved her, he said.
Some of the ISAF soldiers later visited the family to express their sorrow at her death.
Afghan intelligence officials revealed this month that the suicide attacker was Matiullah , a former member of the militant faction led by Maulavi Younus
Khalis , who later joined the Taliban movement.
He had travelled from the Shamshatu refugee camp in Peshawar , Pakistan , to carry out the attack, which also killed an American woman translator and injured three ISAF soldiers from Iceland .
Feriba’s father, Talibshah Khaksar , 40, who had been working in Iran for three years, said he returned home four days after the death of his daughter. He had been sending money home, but what little he earned was not enough to meet household expenses.
He now has a small roadside kiosk near their home in a dusty south-eastern suburb.
He said the government gave his family 2,200 dollars following
Feriba’s death, but claimed this was not even enough for the mourning period.
Talibshah vowed he’d never let his other children be vendors like Feriba .
She was not the first Afghan child to fall victim of an attack aimed at foreigners.
At least two children were casualties of a car bomb explosion in the centre of the capital in late August. The bombing had targeted DynCorp Inc., the American security firm providing guards for President Karzai .
But despite the dangers, child vendors continue to ply their trade, to help their families survive. It’s a competitive business. They swarm the foreigners they find strolling Kabul ‘s main shopping streets or entering and leaving hotels and guesthouses.
Many destitute families in Kabul send their children to the streets as vendors. Most of don’t go to school because alleviating the family’s poverty is top priority. Feriba was fortunate to be able to do both.
Rohullah , 10, who sells maps and stationery on Chicken Street , said he was not scared of working there. His father was killed in 1995 during the civil war, and he said the money he earned from foreigners was too important.
Sima Gul , 12, who sells sunglasses, said: “I fear nothing. I need to provide food for my family; otherwise we will die of hunger.”
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
9th December 2004
Went to the opening of an art exhibition of Abdul Hafiz Ashna, promoted by the French Cultural Centre of Kabul. He is a water colourist, who paints precise pictures of life in Afghanistan. For the first time, I was conscious of the work being painted in a studio, seemingly divorced from the reality of his subjects. Where was the street smell, the dust, the harshness, or the energy? Yet he was born, raised and educated here in Kabul. The impact of the years living in Pakistan? However, it was good to be invited and I enjoyed myself.
It’s overcast, drizzling and I’m cold, even after being inside for the day with the heaters going. A perfect day for a demonstration, to borrow from Oom Skalk Lourance. Painted the portrait of a young boy I had photographed in Herat, rushing to finish before the light became too bad. The weather people say its -4 degrees so it’s not too silly to be feeling a tad chilly. I did have city power which meant that I had water and could heat it. The shower was wonderful, even though I still had to dance around to get wet.
I was collected by the driver’s staff bus on their way to work. A new level of comfort for them? Acceptance? Reminded me of the days at Koeberg. Others are impatiently waiting for their vehicles, while I get preferential rides.
Presidential Inauguration and we are house bound as the city is closed for security reasons. Despite having to do some work sorting out with Bab’s, ‘Rasta Man’ has evolved from the blank canvas. I have wanted to paint a Rastafarians camel for awhile and he certainly has attitude!
It feels crazy to be getting out of a warm bed into a cold house, searching for my glasses so I can locate the torch to light the candle and find my way to the bathroom. The shaving oil (from the gospel according to Men’s Health) is making a massive difference to my ability to shave in the flickering light, hunched over so as to see in the mirror, trying not to shake too much.
Callet washed the paving from the house to the gate yesterday afternoon, turning it into an ice rink. Only found out when we walked across to Barbara’s house and nearly fell on my bum.
Standing at the Massoud square monument, coloured bunting fluttering from the street poles, there is a huge banner strung across the road proclaiming their first Afghan President. Momentous times for this country. ‘It generated a certain strangeness and beauty, a bit like going to Persia from Canada’ William Morris 1884.
Diary of an Adventure to Mazar/Kabul
The dark mountains, shades of purple, rose up from the desert floor bleached of any colour. The desert of Kandahar, visited briefly on the flight to Mazar that also took us to Chacharan. The flight itself was bumpy and uninteresting as cloud stretched away beneath us, with scattered breaks over the high mountains, hardly visible through the ice covered windows. In contrast, the desert around Mazar is tinged with green, moisture turning the silver sands gunmetal grey.
We have found two options for an office/accommodation building that will enable the team to stay in Hyrataan, rather than face the daily commute to Mazar, which is both wasteful and dangerous. Especially as winter deepens and the days become shorter. The isolation of staying there can hopefully be alleviated by excursions to Termez and Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
The flight back was adrenalin pumping as the cloud base was very low. We flew above the clouds, after being delayed for an hour in Mazar, knowing that landing in Kabul might prove to be impossible. A gap in the clouds allowed the pilot to spiral the plane down towards the rectangular pattern of the houses on the ground, using the contours of the mountain as a navigation point to bring us out over the landing strip approach. Aly would have loved every second. They didn’t fly again that day.
I have moved into my new house and despite the rather ominous amount of stuff I have accumulated over the past year, it has been moved around into the various corners of the two rooms I am now resident in. It’s mostly a summer place, with big doors opening from the kitchen/studio as well as the bedroom area onto a patio and the courtyard garden, with its central grassed area. To the left of the house, a vine covered arbour leads down the one side of the courtyard, the other two sides having the patio’s of three other garden ‘apartments’.
The apartment is far more luxurious than the previous house, with a well appointed galley kitchen in blond wood and white marble slab tops. There is a gas stove with an oven and a good sized fridge. Curtains hang at the glass doors and the lampshade is a simple white linen globe. I have placed a table in the centre of the room and carpets on the tiled floor. This will also be my studio, with its good light, large space and an easily cleanable floor. A second large sized room is the bedroom and I have placed the TV and exercise bicycle in here.
The bathroom has a bath, incredible for Afghanistan, and I’m sure I can make a fortune renting its use out. The bathroom is neatly tiled and there is no mouldy drain smell, which is terrific. A walk-in cupboard area provides the majority of the storage and at the moment seems ample for the bits I have unpacked.
The compound has four other residences, one in which Barbara and Bab’s stay, and is well managed by Fritz who has the main house for his family, including three kids and their rabbits. Above Barbara’s apartment is a green house and the garden offers a multitude of opportunities. Fortunately, there are no Aztec temples, or water features surrounded by plastic palm trees to deal with.
Wishing all a wonderful holiday season, a blessed Christmas and remarkable, adventure filled, 2005
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
21st January 2005
I’m sitting on the floor, heaters going and the hot water bottle under the duvet. Fortunately it’s not a freezing night (-4), but the house is still very cold, ask my cold fingers! I have rummaged through my box of bits and taken out the toiletry bag from Air Jordan so I have a toothbrush and shaving bits that will do me until my stray suitcase, somewhere in Dubai, arrives. The radio is chattering away and I have spent a few minutes looking at my paintings.
I didn’t get to speak to Gary much as he was bouncing off the walls. The Legal Training Centre has been put on hold as politics enter the fray. The Customs project has expanded way beyond its initial brief without any idea of where the money is going to come from. The police stations project hasn’t progressed, Jim is getting his projects moving again, USAID are still demanding and of course I am loosing staff faster than they can be recruited. Babs has gone to Sri Lanka.
I walked with Sheena across to the Croatian restaurant. It was cold, dark and probably rather silly. The restaurant wasn’t where I expected it to be, which was just around the corner from her house and hence walking would have been a synch. It was a good fifteen minutes along the broken pavements when you are not altogether confident about the location of sewerage channels and ice. Fortunately the restaurant was warm and the food good.
The monotone city, looking like a ragged homeless person, its beard the wisps of snow that cling to isolated corners, is brightened by the multitude of cars decorated with garish plastic flowers. These are not wedding cars, but those that will collect the Hajj Pilgrims from the big Mosque where they all gather on their return from Mecca. Not sure where, in this impoverished country, they find the 2000 dollars it costs to get there?
The high mountains are glowing in their fresh covering of snow. A gentle peach colour in the early morning light. So beautiful, but cold!
We have a different sounding mullah singing out his evening prayers, straining to be heard above the zillions of generators that burble around the city. The sky is crystal clear, an acoustic dream enclosing the huge amphitheatre created by the mountains, the stage for this timeless opera.
Still no sign of my suitcase which is a bit of a bother. So far I am managing because I can get my dirty laundry washed everyday. I did try drying the towel on the gas heater which is not something to be recommended. It has black stripes all over it. Thank goodness I didn’t do it on one of the two shirts I have!
Suitcase arrived, and so has the snow!
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul/Jalalabad
We walked to Susan’s house in the snow fresh snowfall. Given that it was a holiday, there was minimal traffic about and I could slide across the snow in my best imitation of an unbalanced elephant. The kids, of course, were managing just fine, zooming along in a straight line. Lots more fun than ‘wheelie shoes’!
Felt a bit like a starving Van Goch in his studio with the snow lying thickly on the ground, a small heater doing its best to keep out the winter chill, being brought soup by a neighbour. Barbara’s soup was spicy and delicious. The two days of Eid holiday enabled me to finish my Buskashi painting, as well as that of the little boy.
For Christmas, Andrea gave me a DVD of a sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy, from Scotland who works with nature. Absolutely amazing, particularly as his work has a limited duration in that his medium consists of flowers, ice and rocks, which are consumed by time and the very elements, he creates them from.
Walking around the UNOCA compound, I entertained a whole bunch of people by slipping on the ice and landing on my bum a couple of times. A few tender fingers and hip, but no damage done thank goodness. I did manage to stay on my feet on the walk up to Anaar for dinner with Barbara and, unlike my meal with Namira where I kicked the table tossing my food into my lap, I even kept the soup from messing all over me. These short tables where you sit on the floor pose a serious challenge to my legendary coordination! ! The Tai food may have made my eyes and nose stream, but it’s certainly the best food in this weather. I did learn that those green things are not beans!
Arrived home to see my sheets, frozen leaves on the wash line. I had pulled everything off to get cleaned, which they duly did despite the continued snow fall.
Driving down to Jalalabad, winter held the mountain pass firmly in its grip, sound muted by the covering of snow. Even the river was silent; discoloured rocks the only indication of its normal level. The road was slick, coated in ice, a dangerous platform for the cars, trucks and busses to perform on. We did a few twirls and pirouettes, but scored poorly and exited the stage with some dignity. Discards of the auditions littered the side of the road, creating chicanes of crumpled steel.
Descending into the lowlands, the river began to tumble alongside the roadway. Milky green in colour, carrying a hint of the vibrancy and energy of the snow, teasing the warmer regions, that have to consol themselves with a distant view of the snow covered peaks. Timeless, the fisherman’s hand casts, the ripples from the net breaking the smooth surface of the lake.
I’ll be Officer in Charge in Jalalabad for the next little while as the Regional Manager has been sent to Acha to assist with the Tsunami relief and we haven’t a person available at the moment. I have allocated the buildings portfolio to the various project managers where I have them, and I’ll keep the remainder and the overall coordination where it’s required.
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad/Kabul
It’s pouring with rain, well snow actually, the roads have turned into rivers, and for the first time in ten years (so I am told) it has snowed in Jalalabad. No wonder it feels cold, it is! I was amazed to see a guy riding along on his bicycle, though the rivers of water, holding a golf umbrella open above his head to protect him from the rain as casual as can be. I almost broke my neck walking to the car, never mind trying to cycle and hold an umbrella! Not sure what the logic is of keeping the rain from soaking you with an umbrella when the lower part of you is soaked from the wet road? Doubt if I will have to worry about the drought program for awhile! Something bazaar about palm trees covered in snow.
In Kabul, safe and comfortable in the house, clean sheets on the bed, to hand, a glass of wine and biltong. The moon is already up playing shadow games with the snow.
The drive from Jalalabad was hairy. We had been told that the pass was blocked and wouldn’t be able to get through, but two UN convoys were also leaving and I decide it was worth the risk. At least we would have some backup if things went pair shaped. As it was, the blocked pass meant that the road for the first two thirds was quiet and we could do our ‘quickstep’ with pot holes and boulders, strewn across the road way from the rockslides caused by the rain and snow. The cold at night freezes the rock face sheering it away in huge layers.
At the bottom of the pass we came to a halt and joined the queue of vehicles, most of which had been there for more than a day. They were allowing some vehicles down the pass, but had halted all traffic to Kabul. The atmosphere, while frustrated, was jovial with amazing scenes of comradely. Drivers of vehicles that had come down the pass gave their snow chains to friends, family, or someone who asked, so they had a chance to make the assent in relative safety. At the top, the generosity was astoundingly repeated.
One of the UN convoys caught us we were able to slip in between two of the cars, and made the three hour torturous assent. It wasn’t dangerous as speeds were slow and I had made sure we had snow chains (which were for the wrong vehicle). Lorries were strewn like a bazaar pile of pickup sticks along the 20km, only there was no easy way to move them. Gul, Bab’s driver, was a star never relaxing his concentration and knowing where to look up the switchbacks to anticipate a vehicle coming towards us, out of control, on the single lane open to traffic. At one point he jumped out of our car to give directions to one of the UN vehicles that has got wedged between the embankment and a jingle truck, itself stuck in the middle of the road.
The clear skies in Kabul meant that the returning Hajji were landing and there were convoys of brightly decorated cars making the journey back to Jalalabad, hence the closed road from Jalalabad to Kabul. Above the pass, the white world sparkled in the fresh snow, joined with relieved spirits after the seven hour journey.
On the drive through to the new office in Kabul, the temperature in the car was -15! Outside one of the roadside tea shops they had built a massive snow t-pot. Fabulous. While marvelling at the beauty of the white snow filled world, I came across some of the harsher realities of life in these conditions. An old man, back hunched with the load of dried desert scrub, heating for those who can’t afford wood. A human dray, exposed hands wrapped around the wooden shaft of his cart, hardly moving as his feet struggled to find purchase on the icy street.
Back in Jalalabad its cold as the sun disappears for the day. Driving in from the airport it was difficult to believe that there was snow here last week. Between two walls, there was a view across the valley up to the distant white covered mountains and the blue sky beyond. The valley was dotted with extraordinary shaped trees standing amongst incredible yellow flowers.
One of the great things about Jalalabad are the gardens. Here at the office, the garden is already in bloom after the rain and snow. A bed of delphiniums showing off their brilliant colours, standing tall above the mired shaped leaves of nasturtiums and marigolds.
Kama and Rodat
The road to Asmar crosses the Serobi River on the outskirts of Jalalabad thronged with donkey and horse carts. Green fields stretch out to the mountains, tilled by a bevy of children no less excited than if they were at a Sunday school picnic. The girls are easy to recognise in their vibrant coloured scarves, the boys hard to notice as they squat close to the earth.
Driving along tracks to the village of Kama, hugging the mountainside, made me think of Thomas Baines and I’ll have to look at his art and see how he captured the energy and tension, of what was then the frontier. I have no such expectations of emulating his engineering feats, but perhaps with my art???? High hope indeed! He probably didn’t have an armoured land cruiser with Ghurkha body guard either!
Between Kama and Rodat, the terrain is incredibly varied. Groves of oranges and olives, interspersed with wheat fields suddenly give way to a desolate, stony landscape. Stretching to the horizon the remains of houses shattered by war, now the winter home to Kutchis, whose tents stand as a timeless reminder amongst decaying ruins.
Turning away from the Pakistan border, my staff humoured me by taking me to a ferry crossing across the river. The ferry consists of two fishing boats lashed together running on a steel cable. Taking one vehicle at a time, the ferry made an effortless crossing. Certainly something I didn’t expect in Afghanistan.
Diary of an Adventure to Peshawar
4th February 2005
Outside the window a zillion Minor birds are greeting the dawn, so familiar to waking at the town house. And yes, it’s raining as well! Can’t believe we are both in hotels, apart on opposite sides of the world.
The Khyber Pass region stretches fifty kilometres from the border at Torkham. The ‘Frontier’, an inhospitable land where guns are common place, and tempers flair easily, know as the Tribal lands. It certainly isn’t the place I would have chosen to spend two hours, locked in a car, protected by security policemen while a riot took place, but most of those we spoke to were far more interested in cricket than concentrating on the riot. The passion for cricket is evident with games being played on almost very level area. A concrete strip in the middle of dry river bed, the field demarcated in white stones that extend up the sides of the river bank.
The mountains are unfriendly. Dark and brooding, in places deep maroon the colour of saturated, old blood. Atop ridges and peaks fortresses stand, their winding approaches, serpent trails up the steep cliff faces. The railway line (built by the British to enable them to rapidly fortify the pass in case of an invasion by the Russians towards the riches of British India) that is in view for much of the drive is amazing as its direct path cris-crosses the roadway, spans gorges and tunnels through mountains. Sadly, like so much here, it’s only a shadow, a reminder of what was. Rusted rails sag across chasms where bridges once stood. Fortresses, controlling the approaches, are empty neglected hovels. The road, thankfully, is in good repair.
Arriving in the frontier city of Peshawar, one could easily be forgiven for thinking you were still in Afghanistan. Crossing the border into Uzbekistan was crossing into a different world. Suddenly you were in Russia, but here it’s as if you hadn’t crossed a frontier at all. The only reason you know you are in Pakistan is that you drive on the left hand side of the road. Fortunately as you get to the centre of the city, the streets improve and the traffic becomes regulated. The University, unexpectedly magnificent, stands proud alongside squalid motor part dealers. The hotel is comfortable, with the most awesome concierge at the entrance, dressed in full Pashtoon regalia.
A quick shower and we were off to the ‘Khyber (pronounced ‘Gyber’) Bazaar’ a twenty minute walk, along dark streets with three lanes of traffic hurtling past. The smog levels are astronomical! Being with Justin and Erin is like having two errant school children along. They stop and look at everything, wonder off down side alleys, and talk to the world. Erin, being a woman has a crowd following her, and Justin being six foot seven has a crowd of kids, cricket bats tucked under their arms, swarming around, staggered by this giant in their midst.
A string of fragrant rose buds placed around my neck, paper squares piled with sticky sweets. Products of proud stall owners, given to us in friendship, as we ambled past in the deepening gloom. The products familiar as most are available in Kabul, but being able to walk without concern was wonderful. For the trip back to the hotel we took two of the tuck-tucks that splutter there way around the city, as they do in Jalalabad. It was a very tight squeeze, but no less fun than being on a circus ride. Magnificent lamb shanks and spicy vegetables for dinner, another shower with water and it was dream time.
This morning I’m trying to sort the permits that allow us back across the tribal land to the border. Can’t find the phone number of the chap who I’m supposed to contact and the driver who should have been here an hour ago hasn’t arrived. I have shopping to do for people in Jalalabad (toiletries and such), ice cream for lunch and then we will be heading back.
From my breakfast table I’m watching a sky filled with wheeling hawks gliding gracefully through the steam clouds, rising from the heated swimming pool. The artificial turf does tend to distract somewhat!
Most of the morning was spent walking about in the rain, finding the shops where I needed to sort out the shopping lists I had been given, before wondering out to the other large bazaar. It was much busier than last night, but by no means crowded. Amongst the jumble of shops a gate would open to show an interior courtyard surrounded by magnificent colonial buildings. The quick peak into another world made me think of the book on Iran where they look down from their house into the other world beyond their closed doors. I now have a beautiful cream ‘patoo’ (blanket thing) that will keep me warm. At least that’s what Erin tells me.
Some excitement when we were out looking for power supplies for the computers was the shots fired as we walked into the shop. Behind us, someone was shooting at another person running away. Fortunately, he didn’t return fire! Thought Afghanistan was dangerous!
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad
10th February 2005
Outside someone is having one hell of a party. The drums are bashing, pipes screeching and there is a wailing that, I imagine, together make some kind of music. Certainly not jazz, it isn’t! I almost expect fierce turban headed warriors, eyes blackened with kohl, lips stained with the berry juice, to come boiling over the wall and slay the heathens within.
The streets leading to UNICA are clogged with cars as parties are being held for the returning Hajji pilgrims. It’s like one huge festival from morning to late night. Food sellers stagger through the mud, arms drooping under the load massive bowls filled with rice and meat. Children hover at the entrance gates to the compounds, trying to see past the corridors of brightly coloured canvas that keep prying eyes away from the festivities beyond.
Alongside the road to the Pakistan border, thousands of bee hives are lined up beneath the orange and eucalyptus trees. Relocated with the Kuchi’s for the winter from Kabul.
There was a spectacular sunrise and it isn’t freezing. Probably because I have a long sleeve shirt and a jumper on. Amazing how I don’t get as cold when I dress even remotely appropriately for the weather conditions.
My week is being dominated by the Kam Air crash as one of my project managers was on board the flight. He was due back on our UN flight, which was cancelled due to the weather. I spoke with him before I left for Pakistan and he spoke about taking the next flight back. He has been operating in the country for more than two years, working with the Italian embassy, and was comfortable travelling on all sorts of transport not sanctioned by the UN. This was one he shouldn’t have taken. Our news is that there are no survivors from the crash site, but they will continue to search, weather permitting.
Fortunately Adam is dealing with the family and the legal people in New York, and I’m trying to get the programs running again amongst high emotions, particularly from the Italians’ with whom his projects were based. Not my best week.
There was something comforting about lying under the covers waiting for the day to dawn and listening to the early morning prayers. Adam called last night to tell me that he had found a job for me in New York, but unfortunately I would have to spend six months on the South Coast of France as well. I should be so lucky! Lots of banter about whether he or I will find a job in New York first!
My painting is a bit erratic, guess my mind is a bit distracted but I am very glad I have been able to go back to it in the evenings. I find that if I don’t escape then ‘work talk’ tends to become a twenty four hour issue. Fortunately there are now more other people at the guest house than UNOPS, and that helps. Sorted a huge light for my room and now all I need to sort is my washing that is disappearing and not coming back.
It’s a beautiful and fresh after the rain of the past few days. The clouds are still heavy, but nothing like as menacing. The rain has brought a fresh set of challenges, with landslides and flooding rivers cutting of communities and causing misery to those whose lives are already hard. There doesn’t seem as though there is a whole heap we can do with so much in remote area’s, but the expectations are that these UN wizards can do anything.
Justin is down with the dreaded lurgy and I’m feeling decidedly wobbly. Toast and tea will hopefully allow it to settle before we hit the bouncy road to Kabul.
Diary of an Adventure
Safe and sound back in Kabul, where it has started to snow gently. Rain the whole trip, which meant the journey was an adventure in mud, like one of those things people pay a fortune to take their off road vehicles on. There were blessedly few accidents, and the spot where the mud slide swept a car from the road yesterday had been cleared by the time we got there. There was some consternation about us leaving as the word from our security was that the road to Kabul was blocked. However, I decided that the information is normally so poor that it was worth taking the chance, and it was. One blockage for a truck, but the rest was easy.
So much has changed in the two weeks since my last drive. The river a brown snake between green fields, trees with pink branches and tufts of golden grass, dramatic against the mountain rocks, turned black by the rain. Impossible to photograph through the mud smeared windows. That’s if the bouncing even let you focus the camera! With the continued wet winter, the Kuchi’s have changed their tents for houses built from round river stones, and roofed with a thatch of reed. Some seem to have dug down into the ground, with only a parapet of wall to anchor the roof.
The roads, never Kabul’s finest aspect, have deteriorated to the point that there are now more potholes than tarmac. Driving around town is hilarious and makes the road to Jalalabad a doddle.
Apparently half of the city spent the night outdoors, huddled in the cold, as there was a warning of a severe earthquake. Fortunately nothing happened, and I never heard anything from security. But then, I do sleep so lightly!
Two tiny birds, sitting in the tree covered in fresh snow, chirped a morning greeting. The sheet of white extends unbroken across the garden to the house on the far side, itself dwarfed by the snow filled pine trees. It has been clear for most of the morning with odd patches of sun, but it’s clouded over and feels like more snow. Think the clouds are enjoying this rediscovered pleasure!
I made a blue cheese omelette for lunch, dusted and wiped down the kitchen, luxuriated under a hot shower and finished my painting of Andrea. Nora Jones is playing in the bedroom and I have very chilled bottle of Villa Antinori open. Not sure why I decided to do the painting. I started it in Jalalabad and brought it up to finish here. It’s 36cm x 48cm and hopefully mixes his energy with that of Afghanistan.
Dinner with Namira at Gandamak was serene, with lots of laughs. They have changed the menu into a British ‘pub style’, which doesn’t quite work with the sophisticated décor, complimented by white table linen, monogrammed plates and good quality, matching, cutlery. On the menu there was a reference to Harry Flashman, a British soldier that had incredible adventures across the world, one of his earliest being in Afghanistan.
Barbara and I walked across to Flower Street, stopped at a couple of the craft shops, peered through the windows at some of the artist’s shops which I didn’t know were even there and generally enjoyed being out. I found a carpet for Edith, in one of those murky treasure trove shops that also had some wonderful old tiles. I’ve seen them used to great effect as focal points in a bathroom (kitchen) wall and floor. Very expensive they were. At one of the Nuristan shops, Barbara found a beautiful cupboard and the shop owner took us upstairs to his attic filled with all sorts of bits. We were looking for old wooden bowls to hold fruit (me) and salad (Barbara). There was a veranda piled with them in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Extraordinary. My naartjies are safely ensconced in an amazing piece of craftsmanship.
Sunday is a holiday, the start of ‘Murbaran’ or some such time. It’s when the Mohammed’s son was killed and there is a huge out pouring of grief amongst the Shite Muslims. They walk around beating themselves and the Sunni Muslims use the period to kill as many of them as they can. Kind of an open ‘duck’ hunting season. These people are nuts!
An Adventure to Texila Islamabad
18th February 2005
Sadiq collected me from the guest house in Islamabad for the hours drive out to Texila, quite a long way when your head is bent at an odd angle to fit into his small Suzuki. Sediq is the driver (found by Bruce and Brett) that took us around during our last visit to Islamabad and by chance picked me up outside the Serena where I had been for an ice cream.
Texila, a World Heritage site, was a Buddhist city, a seat of learning from the 6th century BC, part of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. I was there to look at the earthquake proof structures designed two thousand years ago to try and get a better understanding of the concepts used in the Nuristan structures.
The Museum is wonderfully laid out with knowledgeable guides who give a canned, chronological, history across 10 000 years in seventeen minutes. A bit much for me, but fortunately, at the julian Monastery, there was a wonderful guide that took me slowly around this amazingly preserved site. Many of the Buddhist Stupas (graves) and monasteries were established by Alexander the Great in 326BC and hence the Buddha’s and statues reflect their Greek heritage. They are beautifully executed and remarkably well preserved.
Sirkap, generally known as the Greek city, is the second oldest of the Taxila sites. The cut stones (Taxila means ‘City of cut stones’) can be clearly seen along the half a kilometre main street, and while not as impressive as the later Monasteries, the sheep grazing across the mounds, the colour from patches of yellow flowers, and the red scarves of school girls wondering between the walls made it special.
After the quiet and serenity of Taxila, the bustle of Rawalpindi (called ‘pindi) was quite a shock. Sediq comes from ‘pindi and acted as tour guide through the old city. We walked though the various bazaars, book and CD shops, and stopped to drink very sweet tea in a sidewalk eating house, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat there.
The trip back was chaotic. I struggled to confirm the time of my flight from Islamabad, eventually getting through to Kabul to be told it was leaving within the hour. Kind of a frantic check out at the Guest House, frustrated by the (by now usual) ‘additions’ to the bill that had to be negotiated over. No taxi’s as it’s a holiday, however the guest house found one that shuddered across to the nearest garage for me to put petrol in the tank. The sewing machine engine screamed its way down the highway, to be pulled over by a traffic policeman that demanded a 50 rupee spot fine for a documentation infringement. I paid, demanded a receipt, and managed to get into the terminal building at ten thirty. They were very accommodating and used my UN passport to rush me through the ‘diplomatic’ channel, bustled through the multitude of security checks, screaming children, mounds of luggage and into the lounge. Such service and all for the grand price of 500 rupees (ten dollars)! A dry sandwich and cold coke kept me going.
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad and Kabul
Back from a walk through Kabul in glorious sunshine. Even managed to get my back warmed a bit! I have finished my Buskashi painting, had cheese and wine for lunch and will settle down for a slow afternoon.
Oil on Canvas 60cm x 60cm
I wanted to get my next painting started, hence my walk into town to the park. It’s the first time I have actually walked into Sharinow Park, which is another one of those milestones. Certainly no Central Park, but still amazing with its trees, kids playing, and people enjoying the good weather. I didn’t try and take my painting stuff along, only my camera.
The painting ‘Winter in Sharinow Park’ is colourful, although some of the colours are ‘dirtier’ than I would have liked I don’t think it detracts from the painting. It isn’t a big painting 31cm x 41cm.
My meeting with USAID was held at the Spinghar hotel in Jalalabad. The meeting wasn’t worth much other than I have a trip to a place called Alingar and on to Kabul with them for a feedback meeting on Saturday, back here on Sunday.
The Spinghar Hotel (named after the Spinghar Mountains to the North of Jalalabad) is one of those creations from the age of the ‘Grand Hotels’ of the 1930’s or perhaps earlier. The gardens are extensive with an avenue of towering date palms lining the looping entrance road, flanked by orange groves, and under planted with a wild flower mix through which kids were running. Unlike most of the hotels I have been to in the region, you could drive under the large portico (most make you park from the entrance in case there are bombs on board), alight from your car and sweep into the entrance created by oversized doors. In every respect it should be like entering the Saxon, but this is Afghanistan and the illusion has a slight tarnish to it.
The gardens, still majestic, are shabby. The plastic, garish, chandelier in the lobby has one or two bulbs that flicker with the intermittent electricity supply, struggling to relieve the interior gloom caused by the smoke of a thousand cigarettes. The fading afternoon light made a valiant effort to force its way past the filthy windows, partially covered with grimy curtains. I followed Eng Hakim along a wide, very dark corridor, up the rear marble staircase to see the accommodation I had forced my staff to stay in. The two rooms are large, clean by Afghan standards, with a bathroom where the water pressure is infinitely better than what I have. Reminded very much of a cross between Miss Haversham’s castle and a Doornfontein hotel.
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad
3rd March 2005
Kabul for a few days, full of cold and definitely not the happiest person in the world. Barbara made ‘blue corn pancakes’ for breakfast, which were magnificent. They are a speciality from New Mexico (place of the funny cactus plants, tequila, and sensational sunsets) have a grainy texture and are great with maple syrup, coffee and oodles of conversation. The remainder of the day spent smearing paint around on canvas, a task made easier in the warmer weather. My fingers freeze in winter applying the cold paint!
‘Thousand Yard Stare’
Oil on canvas 60 x 60cm
I’m sitting out on the roof top terrace of the guest house in Jalalabad, short sleeves, a beautiful spring afternoon looking up at the ‘White Mountain’, so called because it has a covering of snow even during the summer heat. Unusually the air is clear, the sky blue. The call to afternoon prayer is trying unsuccessfully to compete with the buzzing of tuck-tucks, and bicycle bells. A glass of Arniston Bay Shiraz in close attendance, wondering about the cold and snow forecast to hit Kabul by weeks end.
Spent the morning sitting in the monthly Head’s of Agency meeting, where the operations of the various UN agencies operating in Jalalabad are coordinated. I have no doubt that these meetings, like most, can become monotonous, but for me it was my first opportunity to get an idea of how diverse the UN’s work is and get an appreciation for the background to some of the missions. Conflicts between tribes that have been raging for nine years over water rights (thought they should read Rianne Malan’s ‘My Traitors Heart’ about the eons of tribal conflict in Zululand). The definition of who qualifies as a refugee and for how long? What assistance can be given to victims of the anticipated flooding following the high snow falls, which is not an emergency as it is a seasonable phenomenon where loss of life and devastation can be mitigated against, but is used as a political ploy to gain additional aid. The long drawn out battles being wages against TB and malaria. To say nothing of what constitutes a sustainable program to ease the plight of widows.
I passed the Kawkab gardens, one of the landmarks in Jalalabad that contains the ruins of the Seraj-ul Emorat building, built in 1910. They are spoken of, in the now outdated guidebook, with some reverence. I will try and get to see them with Erin when she comes on Saturday. A potential project evaluation???
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad/Kabul
10th March 2005
The sky is again dark, the air heavy, charged by the thick clouds squeezing it closer to the ground. Green palm fronds sway gently despite the absence of wind, stark against the brooding sky. Away to the side, the White Mountain is tinged with the sunlight, subdued as if acknowledging the power in the approaching storm.
There was a big enough storm during the night to strew the rubbish from the roadside sewer across the streets. Besides the litter, it makes dodging goats interesting that are engrossed in the delicacies contained in this smorgasbord of junk.
After work I went with Erin to see the Seraj-ul Emorat gardens. It was wonderful to walk around under the huge trees, the wide pathways indicative of the grandeur which once existed on the site. For now, the only activity is from the bee keeper whose hives line the walkways. There is quite a lot of seedling and nursery activity underway which pleased Erin, but we couldn’t find out if this was an effort to re-establish the garden or someone using it for commercial reasons. I did enjoy myself.
Last week before my break and it’s certainly been an eventful start to the year.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
1 April 2005
It’s been very busy getting things together again in Kabul after an amazing holiday in Villar Switzerland . The snow was spectacular and the weather at its best with blue skies for most of the ten days we were there. We had to be on our way down by two in the afternoon as the snow became hot and sticky making it dangerous, or at least not very enjoyable. Still it gave us four and half hours most days which was about as much as my legs could manage. The glacier was exciting and very scary with viciously steep and tight runs down the 1200m vertical drop.
I arrived back to be told I would be needed in Indonesia , arrangements that were then changed after the panic. I will go back down to Jalalabad next week, heading back to Kabul towards the end of the month. Before that I will go up to Mazar , probably on Saturday, for a few days.
It’s still cold in the mornings with snow on the high mountains. During the day it is pleasantly warm and blossoms are starting to make their appearance.
I managed to get the card finished for Barbara’s daughter’s wedding and dusted off the Weber to do dinner. The wood was still wet, and the charcoal messy, however it wasn’t long before the fire was raging. The idea was to do a chicken for Barbara, Greg and Paula (back from Zabul for a few days). The chicken, unfortunately, had vanished!
In the morning I had taken it out of the freezer to thaw and I can only imagine that the cleaning lady thought I was throwing it away. I called Barbara to see if she could get one on the way and in her usual fashion, she arrived with complete dinner for a hundred starving savages. I warmed the kebabs and noodle mix on the fire and served them with the broccoli and blue cheese I had made earlier. The broccoli was frozen when I put it on and it turned very soggy, even if it was tasty. They were all very good about it, although I can expect my six star Michelin rating to get trashed! That they had filled up on cheese and breadsticks, and there was only candle light helped enormously.
Best of all were the spring flowers Barbara brought. Bright yellow daffodils, vibrant red poppies, sprinkled with a small white flower, sharply etched against the canvas of the sunset painting I am doing. Fabulous!
Finally back at the house after a bit of a day. With Brett and the new people from Jalalabad still in Kabul due to the car explosion down there, coupled with my being back and Bruce in town, a bunch of us somehow ended up in the bunker bar. The bunker bar (which doesn’t exist) is the domain of the Logistics Crew, dominated by Kiwi’s and Aussies. Subtlety is not tolerated and thin skinned people are slaughtered. It was a riot. One of those times when everyone relaxes and bucket loads of petty issues get sorted. Gary and Adam joined in the nonsense, far too much beer was consumed, and I was grateful when Jim offered a lift back with his driver.
Beer, chips and funny meatball things, are probably not the most balanced meal. However, I have had an apple (from the hotel in Dubai ) and have smarties open in front of me. Balance???
I am sitting out looking towards where the mountains should be, however, a bank of cloud has come across. The cloud shape, and where the sun is setting, is uncannily similar to what I painted. Nature showing off, as to what my painting should actually look like!
The bazaar shopping didn’t happen as there was a security warning out. Did get to go along to the river and see it actually running. The plant sellers, despite the high water level and anticipated flooding, have still taken up residence on a portion of the river bank. Trees, roses, hibiscus and geraniums are the main plants on sale. Unfortunately one has no idea what they are actually selling, so yellow roses could be any colour. Lemon trees are actually citrus of some kind, and the trees? Well there are deciduous and evergreen.
I brought back another ten roses to go into the summer garden that is being developed in the quadrant between the houses. I will get them to increase the size of the beds, plant the roses and the basil and parsley seeds which Barbara will bring back together with the nasturtiums I have, to form the border. If they keep the place watered and take out the weeds in the grass it should look good for the summer. Certainly the pots of flowering annuals have made for a colourful spring.
There is leftover kebab, which I will stir fry with the remaining broccoli for dinner; otherwise I am in for a quiet evening.
Kite Sun Set
Oil on Canvas 600 x 600
Diary of an Adventure to Mazar/Kabul
7th April 2005
Hayrataan, where I have not been for some three months. Winter has given way to spring and the sunshine which warmed me as I sat at my computer then, holds the promise of the superheat of the months ahead. The plains leading up to the mountains are green, sprinkled with yellow flowers, but here the desert holds sway. Scrub bushes, their branches, white skeletons after the winter, ride the sand waves of the continuously shifting dunes that mock the efforts to try and control their inevitable advance. The bushes are a deep green against the grey yellow dunes, new shoots pushed out in the frantic race to propagate seed before the harsh sun sucks the moisture from the soil.
My good intentions of getting up early to visit the gym did not materialise as I listened to the birds in the dawn before getting into the car at six for the drive out here. Found that I had not packed any socks, so I have my gym socks on and the
Kings Summer Palace Samangan
others were washed in the shower this morning. Water, hot, I had but forgot to bring any shampoo. Not sure what the result of using normal soap on your hair is, but it feels kind of yucky.
On the Hayrataan project, the guard rooms are almost complete and the building is shuddering under the contractors, who mobalised today to begin the renovations. It means that by the time the delegation arrives next week from the World Bank, we should have a fully fledged construction site to show them.
Walked down the street between where the new UNOPS office is to be located and the Customs Building. It’s about a kilometre, all flat, and passes through the market, such as it is in this frontier town. Camels and donkeys wait patiently amongst the battered vehicles. The sounds and smells are alive, so different from the filtered unreality of the cars interior.
The new office location is a couple of apartments which need to be sorted, along the main road to Mazar. Each apartment has four rooms, of which two are a reasonable size and two are very small. The idea is to have one as an office and one as accommodation. Initially we had three apartments which would have been ideal as we could then have guest accommodation as well. Now we will still need to use UNICA in Mazar, which is probably not a bad thing.
There is a huge dust storm raging outside. When we walked back from the town earlier, the sky towards Mazar was dark and I thought we may be in for rain. No water, but still a storm. Everything is covered in a fine layer of dust and there is that terrific feeling of grit in between your teeth. Wonderful!
The dust had settled sufficiently to see the road and the unnatural hazards on it, which allowed us a safe drive back to Mazar. I slept through the first part of the trip, a world gone white in the flying sand. I imagine it’s a bit like being at sea with towering waves as the desert, and the horizon, is now vertical.
Rod stopped alongside the road, where thankfully the wind had dropped, for me to see the most wonderful camel. His owner has become use to people wanting to photograph him. No Rastafarian camel, this one, rather serene and regal, reminding me very much of an elephant. I managed not to run a thousand miles and let him come up to sniff the camera. Fortunately, he prefers naan bread!
Been to the gym, driven there by the bunch of people sitting in the spot next to the pond where I would normally try and get a few moments of peace.
It’s a beautiful spring afternoon, the afternoon showers have passed and I’m watching the sunset showing off again through the remaining clouds. The Mullah is trying to compete with barking dogs and the shouts of kids playing in the streets.
In the midst of the sandstorm, we turned of the Hayrataan Road to visit the hot sulphur springs. At one stage, the water was piped to a series of showers and baths which were used for medicinal purposes. Now the water gushes from the ground and runs away into the desert. It certainly smells terrible and can only imagine that you would have to be seriously ill to take your chances with such foul smelling water. I believe today it smelt particularly noxious, which made me wonder if it was an indication of volcanic activity and if an earthquake was on the way. They don’t have earthquakes here, or volcanoes, other than their tempers!
On the road out to Samangan, where we are rehabilitating police stations, one of the Kings Summer palaces stands. The weather wasn’t very good and the mountains that should have created the amphitheatre, with the palace the focal point, were a mere haze in the background. The palace is strategic placed on a rise, and standing on the roof, I could look across the reflecting pool, down the avenue of trees and the green fertile valley to the desert beyond. I wondered whether the blue domes of the Mazar mosque could be seen, or only imagined, on the horizon.
The palace is in good condition, for Afghanistan, but I’m not sure whether anyone will bother to restore it. From what I could see, there are few memorable architectural details, the vaulted ceilings and domed roof the best of them. Certainly the colonnade and pool are splendid, which is probably why they are rumoured to have been where the King selected his wives, from the bevy of woman that frolicked in te water.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul/Jalalabad
14th April 2005
Waiting for the car in the mornings, I have been able to watch the hordes of kids swarming down the road to school. There is a definite change in their dress with the traditional shalwar kameez being totally replaced by trousers, shirts and bomber jackets. Cultural tsunami?
Walking past the park, we noticed a group of people in front of photographs, an exhibition of a French photographer who takes photo’s from the air. Some are amazing, but best of all was being able to walk under the trees with their spring leaves. Although the wind was unpleasantly cold, it was marvellous to do something so normal in Afghanistan.
I decided to wear my painting jeans to the office as I want to leave early and get the painting finished. Just as well, because I brought the ‘Rasta Man’ painting for Erin who is packing her stuff to take home. It should have been dry, but some of the spots are still soft as I found out after my radio had rubbed against it and then me. I have yellow and red streaks on my radio and my trousers. At least I won’t have to worry about spotting my radio again!
I was asked to convert a collage (Jamie) that had been done for one of the guys here when he left into a painting. I reassembled the original collage, made from enlarged photocopies, and then did a bunch of paintings around it. Different and fun.
Woke early, gathered my camera and walked out to Sharenow Park. The idea being to try and get a few photo’s before the dust of the day cast everything into gloom. It was still chilly, the streets quiet. To my amazement, as you would find in any park, joggers were circling on the perimeter road, occasionally taking note of the photos of the ‘World from Above’ exhibition that lines two thirds of the track. A game of soccer was being played on the basketball court and there was the odd beggar shouting at those passing by. I walked around taking my time over the exhibits, chatting to various people that stopped. When I am in Kabul, waiting for the pool to open, I will add my white shoes to those enjoying the normality of jogging in the park. Unfortunately, no woman to add inspiration!
Dinner with Niki, well she didn’t actually get any and had to make toasted cheese, at the IRC house. Not my fault. They were under a curfew because of a reported kidnapping of an American. It was interesting meeting a group of people from outside the UN cluster which we get locked into. One of her housemates, Melissa, is awesome. She is preparing to climb K2, and while I was fascinated, I could only imagine how green Garvey would be.
It was good to be around and about the city, noticing all the changes. New buildings being completed, with blue reflective glass panels, blue neon strip lights and oodles of chrome. The traffic was chaotic, the sun brilliant and the kids begging friendly. I have another bunch of chewing gum I don’t eat, but it’s all good fun. The streets are clogged with convoys of Russian tanks, belching thick black smoke into the air. The tanks are part of the hordes of military hardware converging on the Olympic Stadium for the celebrations on the 21st marking the fall of the Muhjadeen. A bit like being in the midst of a military classic car show!
A bunch of us ended up at Andrea’s for dinner and to catch up with Bruce before he heads back to Sudan. He should only be out for a couple of weeks, but these things seem to get a bit carried away. Susan was there fresh from her holiday in Dubai where they went to see Pavarotti, who I understand was completely hopeless. Lots of laughs, too much wine, and I made my way back to the house with a tiny moon guiding the way.
An early start, awake soon after four, sorting the house, packing and getting to the airport to catch the helicopter to Jalalabad. It’s an old Russian MI8 that rattles and shakes, but I’m sure the buzzing in my head will abate. Driving into the city, I didn’t see and Jacaranda blossoms, but here at the office the gardens are filled with brilliant colour. I was concerned that I had missed the orange blossoms, but walking to the guest house the air is filled with their heady scent.
The Governors Palace in Jalalabad is an imposing structure built sometime by King Zaher Shah, from what I can gather. The entrance is a huge domed building with an impressive drive between 2m high hedges that run perpendicular to the road creating avenue rooms, each containing different coloured roses and annuals. Unlike any of the gardens I have seen here this one is in good condition. Unfortunately there wasn’t a chance to walk around, armed guards at every point, and if that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, the rotating turret of a hidden tank was!
The audience chamber was accessed from a side entrance, passed panels of beautiful ceramic tiles. No front entrance for this lowlife! I made sure I sat where I could appreciate the massive carpet and its exquisite swirl’s of cream and red. Was there a meeting going on?
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
20th April 2005,
Jalalabad, my window looking out onto a zillion bright spring blooms. It’s warm, muggy and hazy, with a promise of rain somewhere.
Spring has arrived on the road from Jalalabad. The mountain slopes are a kaleidoscope of red, yellow and green, below which the river bounced and gurgled on its way. Plumes of spray made rainbow patterns with the sunlight, like children blowing soap bubbles. A gaiety, overlooked with gentle benevolence by the towering white tipped mountains. Mountain ranges folded into each other, each one a different colour, like the different layered skirts of the Kutchi woman.
The Kutchi’s have left their winter holes in the ground, thickly thatched in reed and hides, and swapped them for the traditional Bedouin tent. I did notice more UNHCR tents amongst them. More cultural corruption, like vegemite? We were fortunate enough to see a group on the road towards Kabul, camel and donkeys loaded with tents and blankets, and these amazing people chewing up the miles. They do between 3km and 10km per day depending on the number of children, the weather and the grazing along the way. This year, the desert is green and I imagine the journey to Kabul will take months rather than weeks. An amazing phenomenon, captured poorly in my paintings and video.
I had an interesting companion on the trip. Vio, an exceptionally pretty girl from Rumania that has joined UNOPS Elections and was coming to Kabul to get her contract signed. Being new to the country, everything was new and special. She has come to Afghanistan to be with her boyfriend who is working with USAID in Jalalabad
Elton John is adding his genius to that of the setting sun. ‘Don’t let the sun go down on me…’ The Weber is steaming away like a blacksmiths forge and the chicken (this one hasn’t disappeared) is ready to be placed on the embers, when the fire dies sufficiently. This wood and charcoal thing is nearly as difficult to get right as the funny charcoal we used to get in England. Barbara has brought across a Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce, a Southwestern Mesquite Sauce for the chicken that looks as though it belongs in one of Joanne Harris’s books. Sitting in its bottle stewing away waiting to radically alter the lives of those who come into contact with the chicken it alters as it cooks from plain chook to a delicacy. Arniston Bay Shiraz will ensure that this is a South African braai!
She has also placed a Gecko (brought back from Arizona) on the wall above the Weber to watch over me and ensure I don’t trash the food. When I arrived this morning, there was a framed invitation from her daughters wedding on the table. So special.
I’m going to have to go and start putting clothes and shoes on as the temperature drops. It may be spring, but the temperatures are still a tad chilly for sleeves and bare feet.
Took Niki’s card across to her before she goes on leave and charged back here for a ‘house’ meeting. First one I have had to be at, and as one would expect Fritz was incredibly organised. They are going to do some modifications to the garden I requested and paint the outside of the houses. I did try for a salmon colour, the colour the rising sun paints the high mountains in the morning as they stand tall and proud against the cloudless blue sky. The majority went for eggshell white. Boring, but safe, was how it was described. No wonder it didn’t appeal!
Found out a few interesting things as I wheezed my way around the park. You can actually smell the air deteriorate as the city comes alive, the nauseating smell of diesel fumes growing with every circuit. The park is actually tilted, with a hill on the one side that becomes steeper with each visit. A bit like a see-saw that tilts upwards as you pass. I did keep pace and stay ahead of the group that were jogging with me, although towards the end a guy with a prosthesis steamed past me. Did feel a bit odd jogging around with my radio in my hand and a pair of running shoes that are valued at the annual GDP of Afghanistan!
The kids are going crazy around the garden, the sun is setting and another day has zoomed to a close. Or perhaps it’s just staring??? Somewhere I have dropped/left my glasses. A real nuisance. For now, my old ones have come out and at least allow me to function, even if there are annoying. I will try and get to Peshawar in the next weeks and get them fixed.
The dawn was pink in a cloudy sky as my legs took me around the park, enjoyed the last slice of Barbara’s Irish bread for breakfast, full of walnuts and cranberries making it both delicious and wonderful to look at. The traffic through the city was terrible and Jalalabad Road continues to erode, a bit like the cultural bastions. I noticed crates of Heineken Beer for sale in the street shops.
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad/Kabul
Sogol and Namira have left after a fun evening outside on the Kuchi rug. Wine and cheese sufficed for dinner, which meant my culinary skills were not stretched. It’s been awhile since they have been here and I’m glad to sat some things have not changed. Sogol’s phone rang a zillion times, Namira was bubbly and the whole evening undemanding.
After lunch I passed out for three hours, surfacing only to sort out the kids that were screaming outside and needed an egg for Roya. Guess my body was letting me know that I wasn’t taking enough care of it!
For my Kuchi painting, I have used a completely new technique (for me) to try and represent the flowers on the mountainside. I did think about trying to isolate the various shapes as Kandinsky did, but still can’t quite get there.
I took advantage of the quiet streets to walk the 4km back from the American Embassy to the house. Had various companions on the walk, from gum selling kids to old men interested in what this Westerner was doing here in Afghanistan. Made me realise, again, how detached we actually are from the life of an Afghan.
Its early, the sky is filled with clouds and there is drizzel falling. A somber atmosphere, compounded by the tension of the UN being on White City. The security status was changed during the evening, throwing everything into chaos, people scattered all over the place. I didn’t have my radio on high enough, which meant we didn’t know about the clamp down until we tried to leave the restaurant. I called security and they gave permission for a car to come and collect us. The next three hours were filled with Mac getting increasingly exasperated as they tried to track down the remnance of staff not where they were supposed to be.
Sogol took us to a Lebanese Restaurant, where we could sit in the garden, facinated by the groups (of men) sucking on their hubbly bubbly pipes. The food was simple and tasty even if I did make holes in the pillow during the night because of the garlic!
I have packed up the house for the next few days and have a pile of issues to sort that will keep me out of mischief.
I sat outside for a few quiet moments, before the hoards descended wanting their litre of blood, starved vampires! Not that you can blame them, isolation being one of the most difficult aspects of being in Jalalabad. With them came a swarm of mosquitoes which are a serious nuisance. I will have to dig in my bag and see if I have the citronella soap with me.
Difficult decisions. We need to visit with the Governor of Kunar to discuss an issue with them of not allowing contractors to bring wood in from outside of the province for construction. He is at Asadabad, which is three hours drive to the North-East of Jalalabad along the Pakistan border. The road is frequently targeted by militants with IED’s and is closed to UN missions. I can send the non UN project managers I have out there knowing its dangerous. Would hate to loose more people!
Took advantage of a break in the weather to get a few laps in the pool. Cold! Now I will have other stiff muscles! My day has been trashed a bit by trying to sort arrangements to have the guy who was injured in the mine blast last week transferred to a rehab centre in Islamabad.
Diplomacy skills, of mine, need some dusting off.
Standing high on the embankment that is being eroded by the high water, above which a village is built are the elders of the village, the source of the frantic requests for assistance. The waters in the Kunar River are high, but hardly at spate level, never mind flood. There is, granted, always the chance of a flash flood screaming across the desert, but as noted in ‘Caravan’ the bridges built since the early eighteen century haven’t been able to withstand these floods. The frantic rush to do something about the damage to the bridge is nothing other than band aid over a wound that has been festering for decades and is now a great, ghastly mess.
They want graders and diggers’ being used on the road to come and dig a channel to take the water away from the village. In itself, not an unreasonable request, except the ground is saturated and the machinery can’t get there. If they could, what they can achieve will not protect the village from a flash flood, and they aren’t in any danger from the current high water. It’s also something they can do with muscle power and shovels, but for this they want to be paid. Lost it with them I did! Perhaps they have been taking lessons from the African’s?? Why do anything, when you can hold you hand out??!
I did see my first rainbow in Afghanistan! At least I can’t recall having seen one before. More rain on the way.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul/Jalalabad
Taken my laptop in to IT and it doesn’t look good. Hard disc crash! Means I have lost all the data since the last backup I did a month ago, which is a bit of a nightmare. A morning spent running around, patiently accumulating the signatures and papers to have another one issued. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
On the drive to Kabul, I watched a herd of water buffalo swimming across the river, the herd boys, sure footed, standing on their slippery backs. A scene from ‘Kim’?
A tea pot of Mma Ramotswe’s bush tea and Josh Groban accompanying the setting sun, a fitting wind down to a gentle, if frustrating, day. I didn’t get back in time to do anything about my painting and will do what I can in the morning before leaving for Jalalabad. The grass is green and the first blooms are out on the ‘yellow roses’ I planted. Very red they are! Guess it doesn’t make much difference. Rain overnight, which I wasn’t aware of, and I’m mad I didn’t get the seeds planted in the new beds.
I had the ladies wash the linen on the bed when I was in J’bad last week. Clean linen I have, but somehow (don’t think it was from the garlic I had, although that is a possibility as the windows in the car shimmered when I breathed on them) they have made holes in the duvet cover. The pillow covers them when the bed is made, but it seems a real waste. I will ask Manocher, the house manager, to see if he can fix them. He is a tailor and did a terrific job of repairing the lining on my jacket which I caught on a door handle and ripped to shreds.
Dinner with Sogol and Nameria. Sogol made a very tasty dried tomato and fungus pasta, which we washed down with a Sauvignon Blanc from Chilly, which oozed that fresh grass smell that elephant saliva has.
Ten hours to get to J’bad, five of them spent covering 40km. They have closed the main road through the mountains for much needed repairs and diverted us along a route with the code name of ‘crimson’. It was a nightmare. The road is narrow, slippery, with sharp turns making it impossible for the overloaded trucks to negotiate safely. A jingle truck had overturned blocking the road and two others rolled down the embankment trying to get passed. ISAF were out with their tanks clearing the way.
It did give me the opportunity to take photo’s as we stood waiting in the resultant traffic jam along the pass and then through each village, where the vehicles were jammed solidly between the walls of houses. I managed a great one of an old man that has my fingers reaching for a canvas and paint. Children, Kuchi’s and the mountains that spent the day changing as the storm built and the sun went down. Quite amazing. Sogol made sandwiches for the car, which were a lifesaver.
Spent most of the day discussing the structures in Nuristan with the two engineers who have been in the field. It’s fascinating to learn about a land that is so remote from anything I have experienced, even if it’s only a few kilometers from where I am sitting. They are doing a fantastic job in horrendous conditions. Couldn’t understand why they had brought back so few photos after being in the field for two weeks. Found out that the memory sticks in the digital cameras they have can only take ten pictures!
Banks of dark clouds provide the dramatic background for the purple Jacaranda blossoms. It’s muggy, overcast and sultry with rain threatening. After sitting with Sogol and Roberta doing the post-mortem on their day, I excused myself at half nine and went out for a swim. It was drizzling, the water fantastic.
Across the grass at the guesthouse rows of beautiful terracotta pots stand waiting to be mutilated. For some reason they are painting them with bright red enamel paint, turning a living container into a sterile housing. It does make them shiny and gaudy, which is perhaps the objective? Horrible.
A new world comes alive as the sun sets in J’bad. The flat rooftops of houses become the new ground level as people come out to take advantage of the cool evening breeze, perfumed by hundreds of flowering roses. At one point rose oil, made from the prolific flowering Damascena Rose (Damask rose in English), was a major industry in Pashtunistan. A region which includes J’bad and the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The roses in Afghanistan have a major advantage in that they are not grafted onto root stock; cuttings are simply grown as slips.
Pulse 56, Blood pressure 148 over 76
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad/Peshawar
12th May 2005
I have found a spot in the garden, shade thrown by a fig tree that is entirely covered in a magenta bougainvillea. The decimated pots lie spread across the grass, red paint like rivulets of blood on the terracotta.
I sat finishing the chilled Shiraz watching the lightning chase the clouds across the sky. The waters of the swimming pool, a mirror for the pyrotechnic display.
Its weekend in J’bad, which means going to the office, is an option. The normal guesthouse breakfast of eggs (oily omelets, scrambled, fried or poached dead) and cereal (Corn Flakes or WheatBix) is supplanted by the larders that individuals have in their rooms. Bacon ($4.00 per pack), beans and Vienna sausages are cooked in a pan specially kept for such heathen practice. Brett was this morning’s chef. Caitlin is no longer here, which means her deft touch is missing and quantity is the overriding criteria.
The running machine and gym equipment put into use, a frustrating practice as there isn’t enough power to operate them properly. With a large contingent of rugby playing countries represent in the house, the days schedule revolves around the televised times of the games. A fact that drives those not in the least interested in rugby demented.
I was awake early, sat outside with a candle floating across the pool, lightning flickering cross the sky, the mountains an ominous silhouette, against which the thunder crashed. A few drops of rain giving the air a fresh, scrubbed feel. The news of Dad’s sudden death still raw.
Brett and the team here in J’bad were very supportive, far too much Australian red wine probably the reason for the early morning.
Under a sky full of heavy cloud we drove through the lush green country side. Fields of golden corn making geometric patterns, between the irrigation channels filled with chocolate brown waters. Villages dot the landscape massive tower constructions, in various states of disrepair, at each corner of the protective grey mud adobe walls. The large pomegranate trees, decorated in bright orange flowers, a visual calendar to the age of the buildings.
Took the opportunity to walk along the 2km of new road and causeway we are building, accompanied by the Village elder, who is enormously proud of the works that have survived the first floods. There is feverish work to stabilize the new embankments against the anticipated rising river with the heavy rainfall of the past few days. One of the better projects we have done in this part of the world.
My staff in J’bad have been in to my office to pray for the soul of my departed father. Distance and religion know no boundaries.
A better night with six hours of uninterrupted sleep. A decent bed in the luxury of the PC in Peshawar, unashamedly selfish.
The trip from J’bad was uneventful through the soaking wet countryside. Rain for most of the way, cloud shrouding the mountains. Jagged rocky slopes softened by the yellow and green grasses that have erupted following the rain. Water is flooding through the villages, anxious groups of elders gesticulating wildly as unknown rivers rage along pathways and through
roadside shopping stalls. Children, in stark contrast, play in this new wonderland. I did wonder how many would be caught, unable to swim, in the rapidly rising waters.
Looking at the run down state of Pesh it’s difficult to see why this was known as the ‘City of Flowers’, however, a walk around the Garrison Park with Nicci, as the sun was setting on a late spring day did give some insight into what could be. Gardenia lined pathways, orchids of fruit trees, their flood irrigation ditches lined with vegetables. Of course, the tall blond alongside me drew a huge amount of attention, all of it friendly. A wonderful hamburger, alongside the pool filled with screaming kids, for lunch with Brydon at the ‘American Club’, an International Club in the ‘University Town’ district of Pesh. The University of Peshawar is one of the remaining beautiful buildings in the city, its red brickwork in harmony with the rich green leaves and brightly flowering bougainvillea, of the surrounding fence.
Diary of an Adventure to Jalalabad/Peshawar
19th May 2005
The Weber is fired up enabling me to sit out even with the cool wind driven by the approaching storm from the snow covered high mountains. Dinner was scrumptious. Barbara’s marinade (Olive Oil, Soya and lemon juice) gave the chicken a marvelous taste, assisted by it being cooked to perfection. A green salad and pasta with pesto, brought alive with bright red tomatoes, ensured that even Andrew (Veggie neighbour across the lawn) ate his fill. Barbara’s new house mate, Jo, did not come to dinner so the small table in my house sufficed.
The tributes to my Dad from all over the place have been amazing. What has been so good about them is that I think he knew how highly people thought of him. He certainly would have been chuffed that there were more people at the church for his funeral than had been there for the Christmas service!
Here things are a little crazy with demonstrations across the country, supposedly about the Koran in the toilet issue. I believe it’s more to do with posturing for the elections, and as such, we can expect to see more of it.
The garden was at its best for Barbara’s brunch. The periodic, but plentiful rain, as meant that the grass is green and the plants washed of the dust that settles over everything. Exclamations of colour from the few roses in bloom, infinitely brighter than the rich mosaic of carpets and pillows scattered in the shade. My paintings were admired, and dismissed, depending on who was looking at them. A few interested buyers, but a reluctant seller didn’t move things along. Too many American’s and I escaped to smear paint on the canvas! Sheena popped round with a bunch of roses from her garden. It’s been ages since I last saw her making me wonder where the time had vanished to.
It’s stunning, sunlight casting long shadows across the green lawn. It’s quiet, too early for the builders next door to begin their noise which means the sounds are those of the doves in the pine trees and roosters doing their Imam impersonation.
J’Bad Man Oil on Canvas 1100 x 700
I have finished my J’Bad Man. The twinkle in his eye is there, the colours work (for me) and he is difficult to ignore! Lots of fun and probably good therapy after the last week.
Sirens are screaming outside in response to a rocket that landed near the MOI. At today’s security briefing they are expecting a volatile 48 hours, hence the restricted movement. There was a huge amount of criticism directed at the UN today for moving people from J’Bad to and equally dangerous Kabul to meet the administrative requirement of not ‘evacuating’ people. Peshawar would have meant an evacuation that has all sorts of administrative implications. The situation is calm, with the Kabul sea mist index in the high to unhealthy zone
Good news that my Mum is out of hospital after the operation to sort her knee which she smashed falling in the car park. Not the greatest news coming so soon after Dads death.
At Susan’s I found the tea pot, which in my absence had been confined to the recesses of a cupboard, made mint tea and we sat chatting at the counter while Susan made dinner of glazed ham, rice and veggies. Numerous people wondered in and out of the kitchen helping themselves to whatever was available, the conversation varied and light hearted. Humour, as always, taking the strain out of the increasingly difficult situation. Despite the radio chatter following the kidnapping of Clementine, I crashed and doubt whether rockets or anything would have kept me awake.
From my chair on the patio, the courtyard garden is staggering. Roses in a zillion shades of red and pink, shadows thrown by the morning light intensifying the variety.
Jo has light a candle in her house, which will stay that way until Clementine comes home.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
23rd May 2005
Alongside Jalalabad Road, rows of pale blue boxes stand under the canopy of the small pine forest. The bee hives have made the journey from their winter retreat in J’Bad. I haven’t seen any of the tents or encampments, but occasionally, between the grey dust covered monotony, glimpses of the brightly coloured Kuchi children can be seen.
The high mountains are reluctantly giving up their covering of snow. Wonder if this means there is a treasure hunt going on up where the Kam Air plane crashed with the rumoured half a million dollars?
My painting of the park in spring is complete and my painting bits cleaned and packed away as it will be almost a month before I get back here to paint. I have the next couple of paintings lined up and can already feel the urge to transmit the energy and vibrancy of Afghanistan onto the white canvas.
A night filled with the unusual sound of rain, even if it doesn’t come with that incredible smell from the veld at home. I made chicken and corn soup, as much for my delicate constitution as the weather. Bravely, Barbara came around bringing with her the remainder of her delicious banana and Kiwi fruit cake.
The air is clear, the sky sparkling and the high mountains dazzling in their fresh covering of snow. As if each is trying to out do the other, showing off their unexpected finery. J’bad road is a 4×4 paradise with holes and obstacles hidden by mud and water.
I spoke with my Mum and she is frustrated, but doing well. Her arms are battling to support her weight and she is a mass of weary muscles. But she is able to dress herself, move around the house, make tea and potter in the garden. Even if it’s for short periods of time.
Slowly, slowly getting back on top of things before I leave. Generators sorted and transport organised to take them up to Mazar and out to J’Bad. Heating strategy for Hyrataan sorted and people organised to come across from Uzbekistan to do an assessment. Accommodation organised and contracts signed for the election compound in Herat. Marble cladding selected and the architects lined up to ensure correct application for the trial work on the Hyrataan guard houses. Customs HQ building design sorted, structural consultants tender issued and the various police stations reports updated. New staff recruited and handover reports written.
Pakistan and then home.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
23 June 2005
Certainly a mind blowing cultural change walking into the departure lounge in Dubai and facing a Mullah, complete with body odour and tea towel on his head, pulling people from their chairs to participate in Morning Prayer.
The drive from Pesh was insane as we bounced and weaved, unsighted in the clouds of dust, between lines of fuel Lorries, donkeys, cows, and children pushing barrows loaded with corn cobs. All at a million miles an hour, very occasionally on the road! The escort of security guards piled into two pickup trucks didn’t make the journey any less tense as they waved traffic out of the way.
I had forgotten the frenetic activity at the border and watched fascinated as street urchins latched onto the underside of trucks, clutching whatever contraband they had managed to get hold of, and crossed the border. I felt as though I was in the middle of some ancient drama, made more real by the fortresses that cast their shadows from the surrounding heights.
The sun is already high in the sky as its getting light before five now. Across the garden, with its still green grass, the pomegranate tree is covered in bright orange blossoms. There is a mossie flitting about, but no sunbirds. The roses are still brilliant and there are marigolds starting to flower.
Still feel a bit disjointed this morning, probably a bit dehydrated. Not drinking enough wine??
I have new neighbours between my house and Barbara’s, a French couple with a bunch of kids. Not sure how many there are, but certainly a baby who is training for the opera, and a few others. The garden hosted a party, complete with blow up pool, and the remnants are scattered between the roses.
The house again smells of paint. My painting, ‘Sassy’, is finished, the scarf on the Kutchi Girl’s head definitely showing more frenetic strokes, than her face which I did yesterday. The result of a long day at the office?
Decided not to go across to the Barbaque at Sogol’s house, or for dinner at Erin’s, happy to be here with the evening sounds of the city. Barking dogs, traffic, hooters, wind chimes, voices and crying children. I haven’t seen any kites as yet.
Something went bump in the night, but it hardly interrupted my sleep. The Mullah has serious competition as there are crows nesting in the pine trees and they greet the sunrise with hideous squawking. It did mean I was awake to put in some time on the bicycle before coming through to the office.
Driving to the office, I noticed that there are clearing away all the stalls that line the roads around the city. In a few places new ‘supermarkets’ have been established, similar to those in Pakistan, but not sure there are enough for all the stalls that have been demolished. A supermarket is a cluster of buildings separated into a number of small shops, set back from the main road. The clusters are segmented into products as in the bazaar.
I know I’m back in Afghanistan as my finger nails are filthy!
I cleared a whole bunch of stuff out my mail box, completed the reports for USAID and handed a bunch of stuff over to Gordon to take care off. Already in the two days he has been here changes are occurring in the design office with more structured requests for information and forward planning as to how we can service the needs of Ache, Sudan and Liberia from the specialist group he wants to establish.
Its evening time here and I have the fire going for a piece of steak later.
The roads around the city were blocked and we took a different route through the back of the city where they are building a series of monstrously large houses. They flow up the side of the hill and should give amazing views across the high mountains. Roads have been blocked off, or disappeared completely in the tide of building. At the bottom of the hill a huge lake of sewerage lies, where the septic tanks higher on the hill are discharging their junk. No wonder their is a cholera outbreak. Amongst all this building, a pile of wrecked armoured personnel carriers lie abandoned, the muzzles of the guns pointing skywards. Perhaps it will become a memorial to the stupidity of the past twenty years?
Home after a long, bur easy day. The handover from Bruce was simple and we sat on the patio drinking wine and chatting away as a bunch of people migrated to the long table. Reminded me of being down at the water on a summer evening. We have signed the agreement with the Minister of Justice for the Female and Juvenile Detention Facility, met the new Italian Ambassador, who wants me to call her tomorrow about other work
A feature of my first week here has been the continual stream of Afghan people into my office to offer their condolences on Dad’s death. Whether they be contractors, staff or colleagues.
‘We all must go on this path, is the Muslin way, and it is his right as the head of the house to prepare the path for us to follow’.
Last night, fresh from Safari riding elephants in the wilds of Africa, I killed a monster spider that was lurking in the kitchen sink. It was one of those perfect shots with the heel of my hiking boot. This morning, I discovered one very mangled whisk!
Through the dust that hangs above J’bad road, a family of Kutchi’s materialised. They were only there for an instant as we hurtled past, but magical.
Back from my trip to Maidan Wardak and with temperatures in the 40’s was glad to have spent the majority of the day in the car.
We drove out through the old part of the city where I have not been for some months. It’s as chaotic as ever, with traffic a nightmare, but vibrant and colourful. The glimpse of twisting alleys that hold the promise of mystery and adventure. New buildings with their green and blue silvered glass hang like a breaking wave over the old adobe buildings still showing the ravages of war. Barrows piled high with bright purple plums, pink watermelons and yellow mangoes.
Maiden Wardak is a small hamlet, about an hours drive to the South East of Kabul, strategically placed, both militarily and economically, across the main route from Kandahar to Kabul. Despite the high temperatures, the desert is green and the hillside all along the route is dotted with Kuchi tents. Their herds can be seen roaming across the plains, between all the construction. We visited the cluster of police, traffic and fire brigade buildings we are doing in the area. Met with the Commander, one of the three most powerful generals in the Country and discussed the quality of the building we are doing for him. Fortunately he seems happy!
Lunch with the contractors, where I learned to eat mangoes Afghan style. The mangos is cut horizontally around the centre and then broken in half, leaving you two sections that can be easily eaten with a spoon as the shell forms a natural bowl. The other method is to pulp the flesh in the skin, bite a whole in the end and then suck the juice and flesh out, as you would an orange.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
30 June 2005
The violence that is sweeping across the country as a prelude to the elections in September has claimed one of our schools in Nuristan. One of three attacked in this inaccessible mountain terrain, it was burnt, either as part of a nine year feud between two villages over water rights, or as part of the wider attack against the teaching of girls.
A day of indulgence painting, reading and a nap as well. I decided to paint an African picture to give some moral support to the wooden giraffe I brought from home for my office. I have seen hundreds of people with the ungainly wooden carved giraffe’s on aircraft, and this was my turn. They came from the new craft village on the other side of the mountains at home, and made the journey by air to Dubai, through Pakistan, and then across the Khyber pass to Kabul. A few minor repairs were needed, from where they fell off the trolley in Peshawar, before being installed in my Kabul office. Already they have been threatened with kidnapping! My painting looks more like a painting of a labyrinth, than zebra’s!
Terry has sold one of my paintings in South Africa for $1,000.00 and another one has been bought here for $1,500.00!
Chicken under the umbrella on the lawn with Sogol and Peter who have got engaged! She has a delicate, antique styled ring. Suits her.
From J’bad the news is that in preparing one of the garden beds at the office, outside where my office was, they have uncovered a cache of anti-tank mines. So far 90 have been removed and they are still going! ‘Booming flowers’???
I passed a stunning old school on my way to a meeting at the Afghan Bank. Ancient wooden doorway, leading to a semi decrepit building, with an even more ancient old man sitting at the entrance.
What a mess. They are painting the outside of the house and have sanded the walls down, but haven’t cleaned the paint scrapped from the walls away and it has blown inside and covered everything! It also means I have to keep the doors closed, so I’m sitting in a sauna.
Standing outside the Italian Justice Mission, I was fascinated to see how a water cooler outside the guard’s house was used by people walking, cycling, and driving past. A continuous stream, climbed off their bicycles, filled the tin cup from the cooler, drank and then continued on their way. A child pushing an emancipated man in a wheel chair, could not reach the cup and the guard quietly reached up and gave it to him, so he could give his charge a drink. There was no fuss, no shouting, just never ending care.
Carpets, a richly jewelled tapestry on the lawn, itself a green carpet edged in vibrant nasturtiums, brightly coloured roses, and cannas. Under the arbour, the grapevine a green curtain, tables stand resplendent, in their orange cloths. The breeze carrying the aroma of unknown delights. This, the setting for Andrew and Sarah’s engagement party.
The party swirled around the garden, new faces amongst those who have become familiar. Conversation sprinkled with the mystery of destinations still to be visited, amongst the reality of work days. The food, Indian, was tasty although I think I put new holes in my sheets from the garlic that was so strong it was deforming the copper serving dishes. With the sounds of a keyboard in the background, my twenty hour day caught up with me and I passed out.
Sat under the trees in the garden in the early morning, drinking coffee and eating croissants, with Barbara while we surveyed the wreckage from the party. The coloured glasses from Herat stunning in the morning light
It was a journey of contrasts down J’Bad road to the office. A dog cowering against the gate of the house, its cries as the guard tried to move it, gutting my soul. A cloud of brightly coloured balloons floating above the traffic, cheerful and light-hearted. The prehistoric silhouette of armoured vehicles moving in their cloud of dust, at a pace dictated by gaily clad Kuchi children, skipping along the road, faces creased in laughter, a herd of sheep ahead of them. Brilliant flashes of sunlight reflected from the golden lining of a space blanket held over the body lying on a stretcher, the might of the attendant armoured vehicle protection against the hurtling traffic. Such is this amazing place.
Pashtunistan Square Kabul
Diary of an Adventure in the Hindu Kush
4th July 2005
Salang and the Hindu Kush
Cutting across Afghanistan, the gateway between Central Asia and the riches of India, the towering mountains of the Hindu Kush are as intriguing today as they were in the years of the Great Game played out in the early 1900’s.
Leaving Mazar-i-Sharif in the early hours, the heat from the wind blowing across the desert already at the point where an air conditioned car was the most sensible place to be. The road, bordered with white and yellow summer flowers, wound up from the plains, criss-crossed with the walls of compounds being staked out in the desert, through the towering gorge and out into the rolling wheat fields, broken by the sun bleached canvas tents, home to the farmers who hand harvest their crops with sickles.
Samangan is an hour and a half from Mazar on the road to Kabul. Our visit was not focused at the historical stupa’s outside of the town, but at the police station which we are refurbishing. Probably the most well ordered town I have seen in Afghanistan, the streets are clean, the sidewalk shops in good repair and the feeling of joviality palatable. It’s still Afghanistan and the years of neglect are as evident as the armoured personnel carrier hulks that litter the town. A sight softened by the horse carts (Tongas) decked in multicoloured tassels.
The mountains, red/black against the blue sky, which have been a constant companion, begin to assert their authority, rising on either side, squeezing the fertile river valley, funnelling us towards the distance passes. Golden ochre wheat fields give way to the Koh Daman Valley, one of the richest and most beautiful valleys in the country. Decimated in the fighting, it once again has brilliant green rice paddies and orchards of apricot, mulberry and walnut, through which the rich brown river surges. Between clumps of purple tamarisk, sunlight reflects from the wet bodies of children.
The road veers to the right leaving the river and beginning to climb, the valley giving way to rugged slopes. The Khinjan River, a new guide pulls us up the mountain, full of the energy of the melting snow, the blue white water surges across rocks. Spikes of bright yellow Alpine flowers cover the mountain drawing the eye ever upward to the Salang.
The Salang tunnel, at an altitude of 3,363 metres, opened in 1964, has played host to some of the bitterest fighting. Built by the Russians it has recently been repaired with the 2.3 km of tunnel and 5.4 km of galleries relatively free of potholes and debris. The only hazards are breathing the diesel fumes which choke the unventilated tunnels and trucks without lights which inch their way along in the dark.
Necks are twisted to view the unfolding serpent tail of tunnels as we headed down through the brilliant green gorge, villages clutching the side of yellow brown mountain, to the lush Shomali plain. Guarding the passes through mountain ranges fanning out from the towering Hindu Kush, across the centre of the country, the Shomali plains are slowly recovering. The road has been repaired, and while the villages, totally destroyed by the Taliban, are still wrecks. The vineyards which once produced the highest quality raisins in the world are a sea of green stretching to the distant mountains of Istalif.
Somehow, I managed to navigate us through the outskirts of Kabul, thankfully clear of it’s notorious ‘sea mist’ to the centre of the city without getting lost once, or even taking an incorrect turn. Must be time to move on!
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
7th July 2005
An easy and light hearted evening with Jim, Andrea and Erin. Trevor (one of my project managers in Herat) is down on his way out on R&R adding a different dimension to the conversation. Being new to UNOPS he was full of questions/views/perceptions, that made for delightful and outrageous conversation.
There is a small woodworkers shop down the street from the house. It is one of the intriguing places where if you go inside I’m sure you will disappear into another time or place. I have never been inside, and don’t know anyone who has, but it was one of the things on my list to paint. And how does one capture the essence of mystery and adventure in a painting? Perhaps because in the very process, painting is mysterious and an adventure?
Here is my painting of Geppetto’s Shop.
I have had a nap and a shower, the sun is streaming into the house and I will make my way to Gary’s.
22 UNOPS people at the Elbow Room for dinner. As with many of these evenings, the food was less than average, the wine good and the company fantastic. So many cultures, experiences, age groups and backgrounds. By far the tastiest part of the evening were the Burrito’s with mango, brie and green chilli’s that Barbara made and we ate under the trees before I went out.
Sat fascinated as the team time trial of the Tour de France unfolded on my computer screen.
Didn’t even bother with dinner, but crawled into bed and slept through till six. My headache is gone and my stomach seems to be behaving itself after it’s shenanigans. So many people off with a bug that’s doing the rounds.
The balloon guys seem to have been replaced with guys walking around with poles filled with zillions of multicoloured blow up plastic animals from every planet in the known galaxy. Star War’s in Kabul???
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
14th July 2005
Party time at Barbara’s. The Weber has gone on strike after doing eight chickens and fifty veggie kebabs. I didn’t have to prepare anything, Barbara doing all the hard work. I was required to make the fire and make sure it was ready in time, leaving me time to paint, a simple scene based on a village on the Shomali plains.
Sheena made dinner, great lamb with chilly and mango. Very tasty and a bunch of work. On her table was a bowl of blue vibrant Herat glass, in which rose blooms were floating. It was stunning. We chatted about all sorts of things. Her racing at Cowes, the various people we know and their movements, my paintings, and life in Scotland which I know so little about. The sectarian issues between Protestant and Catholic, the one in blue and orange and the other in green. So much I know nothing about.
I decided to walk to her place, near Gary’s, as there are security guards every few meters, and it was fabulous to be out on such a beautiful evening. A multicoloured waterfall of fruit at the corner street vendor, glowing in the dim light. Brides, looking more like cake decoration dolls than people, hunched against the door as far as is humanly possible from the groom dressed in a tacky starched suit, their cars festooned with bunting and plastic flowers waiting patiently while the bank of video camera’s capture the moment. Kids playing football amongst the piles of trash that lie against the wall of semi demolished house, making way for another grandiose palace. People (males) making the most of the summer evening, bringing their TV’s as far as cables will permit and sitting out in the street to catch any hint of a cooling breeze. Kabul, outside the compound walls, the real world?
The house is clean and there is a vase with roses and honey suckle on the table, from Barbara, the fragrance doing its best to overcome the paint smell from my ‘studio’.
The air has cleared of the thick dust that blocked my nose with gunk. No way would I have been out jogging across the city. Going to suffer when I get home and start that again! A ‘Dreamworks’ moon hangs in the sky, spectacular and special. Dinner was the last of my cheese from Switzerland, which means my fridge no longer smells as if it’s playing host to a bunch of old socks! It also means I won’t have the reminder of cheese fondues in the snow when I open it.
Mr Brett has left here for J’Bad and onwards. All very teary this leaving stuff.
Another day of drama on the Tour de France, my annual dose of awe. Of course I’m fascinated to see how the ‘Tour de Lance’ will stand up to the host of new, improved bionic machines, but I have been intrigued in trying to work out the strategies between the teams.
Feel as though I am coated in dust this morning, probably from the trip down J’Bad road.
During winter I didn’t see any balloons and wondered if it was weather, or season dependent? Knowing so little about the culture and festivities, I did wonder if there were certain ones that took place only in the summer months. Today, however, I managed to get some insight. Plumes of colour rising through the dust along J’Bad road, outside the tents of the Kuchi’s, who are camped between a group of derelict buildings. If the balloon sellers are Kuchi’s, then they would only be here to sell them in summer!
The Brits established a road block on J’Bad Road where they were pulling off cars to search for goodness knows what. Drugs, guns, people. All the above? They were using a beautiful Border Collie in the searching. Such a happy dog, scooting around the vehicles, jumping over seats and generally showing off!
Office at UNOCA in Kabul
Diary of an Adventure to the Panjshair
23 July 2005
The story goes …………….
There were five brothers from a valley in the heart of Hindu Kush, where the river flowed swift and clear, the fields lay golden under the sun and the trees heavy with fruit. The people were like the river, bubbling full of life, healthy, strong and the woman beautiful.
The King needed a dam built in Ghazni as the soil was poor and the people suffering from the lack of water. The decree went out to all the people from Afghanistan to come and build the dam, a project the Kings advisors had told him would take a year to achieve. The five brothers answered the Kings call and travelled to Ghazni, marvelling how barren the desert that confronted them was, already longing for the cool deep shade under the cherry trees alongside the river.
The advisors took the workers to the site of the dam wall which stretched away into the distance as the valley was wide with hardly a ridge on which to anchor the dam. The five brothers went to the king and told him that they were in a hurry to get back to their beautiful valley and would work much harder than anyone else to build the dam, if the king would agree to let them return home as soon as the dam was built.
This he did, and in the morning, was awakened by his advisors to come and see an amazing site. The five brothers were standing, with a crowd of workers surrounding them, with their backs to the competed dam wall. The King called the people together and declared that as the five brothers had performed such an extraordinary service to the King, they were to be respected by all the people of Afghanistan.
They would be know as ’shaeh’ for the excellence of their work and the valley, named after the five (‘Panj’) brothers of excellence, the Panjshaeh.
Half an hour from the outskirts of Kabul, the road into the Parwan turns off from the main Mazar Kabul road at Charikar, winds up across the mountains and drops into the green Parwan valley, fed by the Shatul River. Our guide for our trip into the Panjshair, Habib, joined us, his commentary translated by Barbara’s driver Wahid, we tried to absorb the places and histories of the passing countryside.
The Panjshair River comes boiling out of the gorge at Gulbahrar – ‘The Rose of Spring’, driven by the deep snow melt, full of aggression and pride. As we made our way along the narrow road through the pass, at times level with the water, wild warriors on their steeds could be seen in the plumbs of spray, thrown up by the churning rapids. We stopped to pay our respects to the old man at the neck of the pass who has an honouree position bestowed on him by Massoud, the ‘Lion of the Panjshair’.
Massoud’s tomb stands on a ridge, and is visible from almost anywhere along the Panjshair valley. Chosen to give a commanding and spectacular view down the valley where first the Russians and later the Taliban failed to gain a foothold, the tomb has become a pilgrimage site and is being redeveloped from its current simple circular white building with its green dome into a shimmering shrine in mirrored glass.
Our guest house was at the top end of the valley. The house of the wife of Akbari, another friend of Barbara’s, is magnificently situated with the river flowing below the patio. For me, it was the only time in the twenty odd months I have been here that I would eat, sleep and walk with Afghan’s without a security imposed segregated society. After a quick brunch of cheese, bread and melon, we were taken up one of the valley’s fingers to the home of Habib. Stopping briefly to meet his daughters, rest our feet in the freezing waters of the river flowing past his property, and have the first of many baskets of ‘Toot’ (Gul Toot is the official name of the Paper Mulberry) .
The valley climbed up into the mountains, passed villages perched on terraces wherever water could be brought by gravity fed irrigation channels (jui). Stone terraces, bedecked in wildflowers, cascaded down the mountain filled with a profusion of walnut, apricots, cherry, mulberry and apples. Alongside the water, carpets are spread in the shade, jewelled picnic spots where family, and their honoured guests are swamped in Toot, (collected by holding large square cloths between bamboo poles and shaking the trees) tea and a watered down yoghurt drink spiced with mint.
Deprived senses luxuriated in the freedom of walking down into the valley, our ever present guides, attentive and proud in pointing out the caves where they had hidden from Russian helicopters. Barbara did her best to bring samples of every sort of rock, but we didn’t find any of the emeralds and rubies the valley is famous for.
We spread our blankets out on the patio, away from where the Afghans who had been there before us had found lurking scorpions, and watched the stars fill the sky against the dramatic Hindu Kush mountains, the sound of the river carrying us into a sleep that not even the brilliant moon could disturb.
The drive back to Kabul, took us through Kapisa, horse carts lining the road, mocking our sophisticated 4×4 that was thrown around by the potholed road. Fittingly, we sat in a tea house on the edge of the river eating fried shir mahi (milk fish).
Images of rushing, heaving waters entwined in the unreality of walking through the valley of the Hindu Kush and sleeping out under the star filled sky of the Panjshir valley.
Diary of an Adventure to Skardu
31st July 2005
In the home of the Gods, so the story goes, there was concern about how limited mankind was in his allotted lifespan. They had noticed that it wasn’t possible to learn the arts, savour the classics, understand engineering, immerse oneself in cultures and languages, and a zillion other pursuits that the Gods found kept themselves busy. They decided to create a special place, where time would have no meaning, a place they called Shangri-La.
The God’s are jealous, and devious, and decided that Shangri-La wouldn’t be for anyone, so they surrounded it with ragged and sharp mountains that soared through the clouds, protected by continuously shifting weather patterns and bounded by inhospitable deserts. They decided further, that the type of person who should enter Shangri-La should be tenacious and innovative, so they made it randomly shift time with the outside world.
Such is the land of Shangri-La with its mountains, lakes, and impossibly high waterfalls – curtains of crystals into valleys of a thousand greens, gentle people and timelessness.
For Erin and I, our journey to this fabled land started with three different aircraft, a whole day, and me not moving out of Kabul. To mix things up even more, Erin was put on a different flight which did leave, and we eventually met 24 hours later in Rawalpindi. A quick dash to the office to confirm our onward flight, which Erin hadn’t managed to do as she needed my ticket, proved futile as the booking was full, but we could try the next morning. Bright and early at the ticket office, we were told to go to the airport as we may get on as waitlisted passengers. Where, with open tickets, they wouldn’t let us into the terminal, needing to go to the ticket office to have them endorsed, which eventually resulted in as being checked in as ‘chance passengers’ and found us, bewildered, some two hours later at Skardu airport.
The small town of Skardu sits on the left bank of the wide brown River Indus, overshadowed by the barren mountains that rise from the high altitude desert. Skardu is the capital of Balistan and the gateway to the Karakoram mountains, the South Eastern extension of the Hindu Kush mountain range, home to some of the highest peaks on earth.
Given our experience with getting tickets, we had decided to book my return flight, for the next day, as soon as we arrived. Friendly border police instructed us to find the office in town, asked where we were staying, sorted transport and ensconced us without any check in procedures at the Concordia Hotel. Equally friendly people at the PIA office were pleased to inform me that there were no flights available for a week and they only took bookings a week in advance. They seemed terribly surprised that this was any sort of a problem, after all hadn’t I just arrived? The God’s smiled.
Under trees from the garden overlooking the river, we poured over guide books and watched enraptured as a stream of battered jeeps drifted in and out of the car park, disgorging trekkers and mountaineers of all shapes and sizes, exuding the wonder that is so noticeable in ski resorts. While Erin plotted her route from Skardu up to Concordia, the base camp of K2, I was preoccupied with looking for a route back to Islamabad. It was possible, just, to drive the 710km, a journey of some 20 to 30 hours, if I could find a taxi as there were no busses that would get me to the airport in time for the flight to Kabul.
So I journeyed from the land of Shangri-La, alongside the raging river Indus, brown and terrible as it swept from the high mountains. The God’s do let go easily and rockslides, spindly suspension bridges and narrow tracks over dizzying precipices slowed our journey to a crawl, while breathtaking scenery emphasised what I was leaving behind.
Nightfall brought us to the hamlet of Chuhdry, a distance of 130km in six hours, the start of the Bad Lands. The police had blocked the road as there were bandits roaming the roads and they didn’t have a mobile patrol to escort us. A dinner of rice and a ‘bed’, consisting of a wooden board running the length of the veranda, shared with a dozen or more men sleeping on toshaks. I was bitten by a million different things. Conversation and kitchen noises died as night strengthened its hold, the river whispering the magic of Shangri-La.
Morning found us again alongside the river, on our tortuous decent, following the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which connects Pakistan to China. Valleys of green, punctuated by bright spots of orange, rocks transformed with drying apricots, resembling the art of Andy Goldsworthy. Blue white rivers of molten snow surging into the brown Indus.
Hamlets became villages which grew into towns along the old silk route. Chilas with its rock carvings, purported home of the bandits that besiege the KKH, Besham for a meal of chilli’s and naan. My driver exuded the nature of those from Shangri-La, stopping to pick up a variety of woman and children waiting patiently on the side of the road, their bright colours turning the back seat of the car into a revolving textile show. He drove slowly and carefully, with little concern that the journey could be achieved in 25 hours rather than the 30 hours it took; the God’s providing cooling forests riven with streams, ever weakening glimpses of Shangri-La, that vanished as the cities blurred into a continual stream of noise and smog.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul/Herat
12th August 2005
Kabul, the story goes was a centre of commerce lying between the riches of India and the markets of Central Asia. A wide river flowed through the centre of the town, which could only be crossed by the laying of straw hurdles. It is from these straw hurdles that Kabul gets its name, ‘Kar’ being straw and ‘Pul’ meaning to cross.
While standing around waiting at the airport, a young Japanese guy came up to us looking for the autoteller. We explained that there was no such thing at the airport and he could try the one near the World Bank enclave in town, which may work and may take his card. About an hour later he returned with a sheet of Japanese text looking for the bus station as he wanted to take a bus to Bamian. We explained that the bus station was the other side of Kabul, but he wouldn’t be able to get a bus until the early hours of the morning as the trip takes ten hours or more.
He kept pointing to his paper saying that he could get transport from the airport. We did our best to explain the problems for a tourist to get around in the country and our very limited knowledge as we were spoilt rotten UN workers with cars, drivers and a whole logistical support system. Eventually one of the security guards hustled him out to where the taxi’s have been relocated to on the other side of the parking lot.
Did wonder where he would end up!
On the drive through to the office there were bunches of sunflower’s, their cheery faces dispelling the Kabul sea mist, bright yellow shrugging off the layers of dust. The yellow, dominant in the shamiana’s (Mogul tent) erected in the garden at Steve’s house, where they created an opulent dining area for his farewell.
I have finished my painting, ‘In His Shadow’, fascinated with how the girl’s hands seemed to develop a life, almost without needing any effort or direction from me. Guess that’s painting!
I have sold another three pictures and all the stuff from my house, which means I will be camping for the last month of my stay here. Barbara has fortunately, agreed to lend me what I need, so shouldn’t be much of a chore.
Dinner worked well and it was good to see Namira again. The evenings are chilly at the moment, but still wonderful out on the rug. I did stir fry veggies and cooked the prawns (shelled) lightly over the coals before putting them into a butter sauce to finish cooking. They weren’t at all oily and had a wonderful flavour. Did wonder if that came from the grape vine wood I used for the fire?? I have had a million cats in and around the house after the smell from the plates.
The sun is throwing orange rays out above the pines, which are singing in the warm morning wind, the sky hazy with fine particles of sand. The new compound in Herat slowly waking, but for now I have the doves for company.
My ‘hooch’ bedroom was much better than any of the previous accommodation I have had in Herat, even if I did break the bed and have to sleep on the floor! Think it was badly put together. The first offices are complete and we were served lunch in the new restaurant, who also provided the BBQ last night. A long row of tables under the stars where we chatted, drank too much wine and weren’t too rowdy.
The session with my Project Managers went well, if only to highlight the things I need to clarify in my handover. Trevor had organised for us to go to a carpet dealer, who took time to go through various types of carpets he sold in his shop, ranging in price from tens, to thousands of dollars. It is still captivating as the pile of sumptuous beauty forms a shimmering pile. He sold a bunch, but not to me!
The shear walls of the Citadel rise high above the city, a lone blue tile reflecting the sun. The Citadel has been closed to visitors as it was the headquarters of the military under Ismail Khan, warlord and ‘Emir’ of Herat. Built in the 7th-13th centuries on the foundations of an older fort built by Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C, it was restored during the Timurid dynasties in the 9th-15th centuries. Evidence of its former splendour can still be found, a hazardous task as the Citadel has rooms full of explosives and mines. Fragments of fresco on the vaulted roof of a bath house strategically placed in a top tower, to catch cooling winds and give uninterrupted views out over the city and the minarets, etched against the mountains. A band of coloured tiles, lining the exterior wall of a buttress, somehow miraculously surviving two thousand years of conflict.
We climbed up narrow staircases, through cavernous halls, past huge doors and across crumbling ledges, marvelling at the intricate brickwork, fascinated by the grandeur of the huge arched walls.
The Citadel wove its magic, absorbing us into its timelessness.
My Giraffe was kidnapped from my office. Intelligence extracted from an informer with promises of me never to sing in the shower again, uncovered a sinister plot, and the emergence of an Australian Customs syndicate inflamed by the rhetoric of one Bruce ‘gummybear’ McKerrow.
Intensive investigation led to the recovery of a giraffe from Harties, healthy, but psychologically traumatised by the mishandling of the ring leader, one Rod ‘very single’ Single.
Diary if an Adventure to Kabul
2nd September 2005
It‘s 3am, pleasantly cool with clouds around the high mountains. I have a pot of tea and Mum’s short bread, so certainly no deprivations. Fortunately we have electricity, so the only sounds are the roaming dog packs that scavenge the rubbish tips and the horse’s hooves striking the tar as they do the early morning rounds empting the night buckets.
The Kabul Male Detention facility is complete and handed over to the Ministry of Justice in a ceremony full of flashing golden braid on brilliant red shoulder boards. It was the first time I had seen the Afghan military on parade (modelled on the Russian army) with precise, high stepping action. Frightening, disturbing, in its ability to stir something so deep in my psyche. Everyone stood that bit taller, captivated.
The facility is tremendous, something Carla should be incredibly proud of. As should my team who have performed wonders in horrendous circumstances. I can’t agree with the Russian who said that Nations should not be judged by their poets, or their artists, but by their prison system, but it is certainly one of the accomplishments of my time here that I will remember.
Gerry, the giraffe has been kidnapped again! Latest reports are that he has been kidnapped from the original giraffenappers. A bit of a concern.
The city is undergoing a facelift with almost every surface being covered in bright election posters. Intersections are festooned in the bunting of candidate’s faces. With our restricted movement it’s impossible to know if the ‘carnival’ atmosphere is being felt by the people.
Jubilant kids, their kites filling the sky, multifaceted mirrors for the late afternoon sun where it sneaks through the bank of cloud.
Blue corn pancakes, with peaches and eggs for breakfast with Barbara. Very American, and quite delicious.
We walked around the garden picking bowls of tomatoes, basil, peppers, the odd egg plant and grapes. Lots of dust and I needed to duck under the shower. The summer garden is still a riot of colour. A hundred shades of red. Roses and geraniums entwined with purple and pink day lilies. Nasturtiums and marigolds adding brilliant splotches of yellow. The branches of the pomegranate tree straining under the globes of fruit, which enlarge by the day, still a soft orange hue.
Monsters in the night, wine ones most probably rather than a carry over from the movie evening, but being on the menu of the mosquitoes who are hunting in packs hasn’t made sleep any easier. I have done my blood donor bit!
Erin wasn’t going to allow me a quiet evening at the house and sent a car to collect me for a ‘scary movie evening at Gary’s. They had gone to a huge amount of trouble, setting up a screen in the garden with Aliens the theme. We had to have our photo taken with the Alien, an Alien rice crispy and marshmallow cake and flashing lights. Lots and lots of fun.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
11th September 2005
Sun streamed across the rooftops, shimmering through the yellowing autumn leaves, the perfect start to Ahmad Shah Mussoud Day. The celebrations for Mussoud, known as the ‘Lion of the Panshir’ for his resistance to the Taliban occupation, was no more than a vague thought as we made ready for the UNOPS Kabul Xtreme games.
Eight Teams of four (one member a female) lined up to tackle the challenges thought out by a team of judges, high on too much reality TV and Afghanistan’s favourite export crop. Team name, song and fancy dress were compulsory entry requirements, as was ‘food on a stick’. Jim, chief instigator for our team, in a fit of inspiration came up with lyrics, team composition, name and theme. The Giraffe Liberation Army (GLA) was duly entered in the roster of crazies. Farida (one of my staff), under Andrea’s guidance had outfits whipped up overnight after visiting the bazaar for ‘giraffe’ material and a Bosnian (Dalibor) and American (Andrea) listened to the iTunes download of ‘My old man’s a dustman’ as preparation to attempt Jim’s GLA Lament, the practice of which was aided by copious quantities of red wine.
Given our fourteen our workday’s it wasn’t surprising that something was forgotten and our ‘food on a stick’ was reduced to pickles on toothpicks. However, in collecting the toothpicks from the house I stumbled on a large bright orange pumpkin, much more Xtreme!
Only in Kabul could an event such as ‘Food Fear Factor’ be more harrowing than a rope suspended three meters above a pool of water, or ‘Dwarf Tossing’ when the dwarf was the tallest team member, in our case the six foot three Dalibor!
We narrowly lost the best outfit to the all woman (against the rules I’m sure) Team Tiara, dressed in the eye dazzling wedding dresses that line the major streets in Kabul. Turned in a masterful performance in the song category, to narrowly take the honours from the ‘Scrubbers Team’ from the Emergency Hospital (how did they get into this??) who flirted mercilessly with chief judge, Tony. Somehow got disqualified from the condom water filling race, which is seriously difficult to get right, and didn’t complete the multi-team five legged race as the ‘Scrubbers’, much the worse for wear, disintegrated into a pile of green arms, bodies and legs.
The brief glance I had at the multiple events, when I wasn’t half drowned from trying to get full beer cans out of a barrel filled with freezing iced water without hands or feet, showed no less dedication and focus by the participants to completing the assorted Xtreme events than one would find at a preschool egg and spoon race. Probably with similar results!
Predictably, we lost because none of us were prepared to face the Ultimate Food Fear Factor challenge. I did get the giraffe back from his kidnappers!
Arriving back at the house, slightly the worse for the wear from the unaccustomed exercise compounded by drinking shots of disgusting green/blue liquor on top of the antibiotics I’m taking from the bite on my neck which had gone nasty in the hygienic Kabul environment, brown paper packets glowed along the walkway leading to Barbara’s birthday party.
The garden was a patchwork of carpets and people relaxing under the star filled sky and after a dinner of salad and lasagne, accompanied by a scrumptious red wine, I slept caressed by the evening breeze carrying faint guitar music from the last of the party revellers.
Diary of an Adventure to Kabul
20th September 2005
The mozzies are out hunting and I’m tired of them buzzing in my ears. My repellent is almost finished and I will have to get Manochair to get me a can of spray or I will go nuts. More nuts perhaps! At the office early as the planning session at Gary’s house was cancelled. I left my box of cereal in the car, which meant I was forced into eating the last of Barbara’s chocolate cake for breakfast.
Finished my painting of a small boy looking into a tiny Mosque that sits alongside the Ministry of Justice building, ‘Mystery Within’. There are a bunch of colourful election posters on the walls, which is particular to this time in Afghanistan.
A small boy kicking a tiny puppy. Wonder where such viciousness comes from in one so young? There is no way the puppy could be a threat to anything or anyone. So sad.
The ramp up to Election Day, with convoys of cars appearing in the city, covered in giant posters of the election candidate. On top of the car roof, they mount huge PA speakers, surrounded by posters which rattle the windows with their noise. Depending on the profile of the candidate, the convoys are preceded by utility vehicles filled with body guards bristling with guns and Afghan flags that close down streets.
This apart from the normal street closures for the aggressive convoys for Generals and the President. The resultant traffic chaos makes planning on getting anywhere on time meaningless, and it isn’t unusual to spend two hours on any particular route. The rebuilding of the airport road is adding to the mess. All the instruction boards of alternative traffic routes and timings have been covered in election posters!
The elections require people to return to their home towns where they are registered. Already the taxi ranks and bus stations are a seething mass of humanity. With thousands of candidates it’s not so much an election as a lottery!
Passed a goat herder on the way through town. Her goats were demolishing on of the refuse piles, strewing the rubbish across the street as they munched though the delicacies, which included long hanging campaign posters. Sitting on the kerb, her skirt cascaded onto the road, a faded rainbow of scraps. Such a pity you can’t take photo’s!
Walked back from Jim’s house the air vibrating with the sound of helicopters circling low above the city, the moon over my shoulder. Erin came to collect me and we sat on the patio chatting with too much wine. Even missed radio check!
Sitting on the step of the house looking up to the castle glowing in the clear autumn light. It’s still chilly enough to raise goose bumps, pomegranates glowing like Christmas baubles in the sunlight slanting across the garden. The first kites of the day, brilliant against the washed out blue sky. Don’t feel like doing very much, this election morning. The rocket attack at the UN compound trashing any ideas of getting out during the day.
It’s dark by six thirty now and the city next to the park glows with the multi coloured neon’s that adorn the new buildings. Somehow the city seems friendlier and intriguing as dusk hides the wrinkles and ulcers so evident in day light.
Last week of this adventure
Diary of an Adventure to Andkhoy
23 September 2005
Dusty streets of Andkhoy
Balls of wool lie under out feet, muted colours trampled into the thick dust of the roadway which circles inside the courtyard of the Andkhoy carpet bazaar. Shops and their covered verandas are raised above the roadway to simplify the loading and unloading of carpets.
Andkhoy is one of the last remaining ‘outdoor’ carpet bazaars in the world, straddling the Afghan Turkmenistan border, it’s the centre of Turkmen rugs. The Turkmen people have soft round faces and their very fine rugs are famous for the deep red’s which comes from the madder root. A three hour drive West of Mazar along a recently constructed road, Andkhoy is a bustling, but drab town.
The drive is interesting as it passes through the City of Balkh, “Mother of Cities”, trashed by Genghis Khan in the 13th Century. The shrine of Hajji Piyada (a local nutcase that walked to Mecca and back seven times) is the oldest Islamic monument in Afghanistan dating from the early 9th Century. The remaining columns, decorated with mud carvings, are magnificent.
Wherever there is water, the golden yellow desert is patch worked with green fields of cotton, maize and hashish. The plants (some of the best hash in the world) stand over two meters tall, the air cloyingly rich, sweet. Mule and camel caravans are constant companions alongside the road, carrying the harvest to the drying areas, which covers acres of desert. The original ‘Rasta’ camels??
Being a Friday, the bazaar was closed which meant that only the lingering energy of the bazaar could be felt. The friendly shop owner that invited us into his shop explained that most of the carpets in the bazaar were ‘uncut’ carpets, which are sold to dealers who take them to Pakistan to be washed and cut.
Eng Samad (Rod’s Deputy Project Manager in Hyrataan and our tour guide) arranged for us to go to the home of one of the carpet weavers. The loom lies across the floor, filling the room, and is the place where six women (girls) spend six months making a 13 square meter carpet, for which the household will get $1,000.00. They had left the house before we arrived, but the carpet, even in its raw state, was magnificent. It is always possible to find someone who will sell you rugs, and this was no exception and I was able to fill the shopping list I had been given for people in Kabul loving every minute of looking through the magnificent rugs.
We stayed over at “Limak On The Lake”, the finest hotel south of Sherbaghan. It is the construction camp for the new road being built from Sherbaghan. Bert, the UNOPS security manager, arranged comfortable accommodation, bent our ears and poured copious amounts of beer into us, all welcome after the long dusty day.