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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Have now aquired the nick name the ninja bunny. Wasn't too long before the guys came up with a suitable name that represented both my fascination with tactical gear and my clear allegiance to small furry animals.Building up my Dari vocabularly I asked what the word for Rabbit was. Khar Gosh the guys told me, "The literal translation is donkey's ear". So now I am Ninja Khar Gosh - The Afghan Rabbit.

I had my first intimate moment with Kabul mud yesterday evening when exiting a villa in shar-e-naw. I had successfully negotiated the rather posh rain cover ramp thingy when the slick soles of my converse baseball boots caused me to slither. In the headlights of the taxi and in front of the driver and the chaukador, in silhouette I went arse over tit (in what I thought was a rather graceful manner) right into a large "mud" stacked puddle. Luckily, I was completely fine but now cunningly covered with a large stripe of swampy sogginess all up one side. My brand new, rather expensive,Canada Goose down jacket was finally christene! I giggled, jumped into the taxi and opted not to say anything to the taxi driver about the pool of mud I was bringing with me. We went the long way round back to home and when we got there I had to borrow four dollars from Rob as only had a $50 USD note. Getting home I copped a bollocking from the guys for taking a taxi in the first place. Then the Afghan staff also gave me hard time, they were worried that I might get kidnapped. I actually found it quite difficult to keep my temper as in general there's a tendency for them to treat women as if they are delicate creatures, stupid and incompetent. You can imagine how I bristled!

.....I hear Midge doing his miaowing thing and have to rush out of the ops room with a plate of cat food to go and feed our rather grubby and demanding compund pet. He was clearly at one time someones house cat but now he just does his own thing, big and loud, he makes his presence known.

Later I am in trouble with Abdul coz I've been using the fine china to feed the cat...

Work is progressing with the shipments of medical equipment from the UK to hospitals here in Afghanistan. This humanitarian aid project is part of doing something to directly address the lack of pretty much anything in the government run hospitals here. The network of people both here and in the UK and USA is building and the US military are being a great help. My key UK and US contacts are mobilising the assistance of The Knights Templar and The Knights of Malta. So fingers crossed we can get something going here.

Here in the clinic I get to hear many tales. E is an American who told me about the tragic case of two of his Afghan colleagues; The recent suicide attack on the 15th Dec outside the Heetal Hotel involved the explosion of a large black van parked just outside. Ehsamudin Salim and Rohullah Shams were driving into the hotel and their vehicle was caught in the blast. Rohullah died on impact - 'fragmented' was the term used to describe what happened to him. Ehsamudin sustained greater than 50% burns; taken initially to the Afghan Military Hospital he was then transferred to Esteqlal, the official burns hospitals here. In bad shape, over the next few days septicaemia set in. Facilities at Esteqlal are limited. Bagram Air Force Base might have offered a higher level of care but Afghan nationals are not eligible to go there, (neither are the majority of non military expats eligible to there). Ehsamudin was without many options and he died on 24th December, he was 27 years old and was married with one child. Ehsamudin had been a friend and colleague of E's for over two years and E was understandably upset by Ehsamudin's death. E felt that not enough had been done to ensure that this injured man received the best available treatment. The major objection raised by E was the double standard that is often applied; if it's an expat then spend the money, get them out, get them treated. If it's a local let them live or die with what is here locally. This is a very difficult ethical problem. The economical implications of having full insurance capability for all members of staff would be potentially prohibitively expensive for a company operating here. So they opt to have a tiered system in which other nationalities feature higher or lower on the scale of importance. At the top are the 1st world nations: the USA, UK, members of the European Union, then there are all the imported staff: the Philippines, India, Nepal. In some large companies here the eating and accommodation are segregated... not expat versus local nationals but 1st world versus the others. Different food, different standards, different expectations. There are some sick things going on here, differentiation based on nationality, the passport you hold; an indicator of your worth. Like everywhere in the world money talks and 1st world status confers all sorts of privileges upon a person. I think about Mahatma Gandhi's protest against 1st 2nd and 3rd class status based on ethnicity, sadly it exists here in tangible form.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

AFC - Afghan Fried Chicken - Kabul takes on the Colonel and his special recipe

We are sat in the living room, watching yet another hour of television, we are doing the weirdest thing, three of the household are sitting here on our laptops chatting away to each other on skype instant messenger. We are each arranged on our own burgundy faux leather sofa, each wrapped in a large furry Chinese blanket(100%nylon) keeping warm. No sound except for the TV, tapping keys, and the skype squawk every few seconds. We are not talking to each other, we are typing to each other like some kind of seriously fucked up menage a trois. I'm chatting with G about lesbianism and the pros and cons thereof, and with L i'm chatting about farmville; a curious internet game that he wants me to play and become his neighbour in farming cyberspace. L has already promised to give me a turtle for my farm if I join and apparently they are quite difficult to come by. So lured easily by the promise of a cyber creature I'm on the website which looks like it was designed to please a two year old. Hokey southern US music is blasting out and I have to frantically grapple with my numerous chat windows just to turn the thing down but now I can't hear the skype chirrup so decide to claim my turtle another day and close the farmville window.

Tragedy strikes as my laptop battery suddenly runs out of juice and I have to leave the comfort of the sofa and run out into the corridor to find a three point plug socket. Out in the entrance hall next to the bukhari is the warmest place in the house so now I am pretty toasty like a cat. I have a strange compulsion to carry on our odd skype driven conversation; somehow we are linked in an intimate trance.... of typing. When I got up to plug in the spell was broken and I found myself saying, "Now I'm actually going to have to speak to you guys in person", the sound of my voice outside of my head was strange and actually unwelcome, I had grown used to hearing my sentences inside my head and reading theirs back in silence, rapid fire conversations about nonsense cycling back and forth between the three of us.

Looking back on the week
It's been a long old week, seems to have taken a really long time to happen. Once again, I'm not sure what day it is just now but we're somewhere between Christmas and the new year and at least I know what year it is...

The Thai massage parlour was an interesting experience. I had booked a few days back but as the lady who had taken the booking didn't speak english I wasn't entirely sure whether it was a gooer or not. I turned up, having been made slightly anxious by the guys; due to security threats they insisted on my being taken in the car and not getting a taxi, paranoia, it seems is contagious. Like many things here you are greeted by a guard at the entrance, admitted through external gates, then into the house itself. From the outside you could not tell it was there, then suddenly, on the inside, all that makes for a typical Thai massage parlour. As I stepped through the door a man rushed past me and the lights went out. More curious than scared, I shouted hello in my best British voice and quietly waited for several minutes in the pitch black for them to come back on again (which they did). Power cuts here are common occurence and I was just glad that I wasn't half undressed or in the middle of chopping chicken.

Plastic potted plants, oriental decorations, numerous brightly coloured pictures of well made up, glamorous Thai ladies adorned the walls. With the reassuring background purr of the hair dryers in the hair salon, the place was a curious combination of ramshackle Afghan interior design and the essence of a beauty store; in one room the de rigeur large four piece suite of velveteen sofas and armchairs, far too big for the room and the ever present telly, in the other: pink towels, hair wash basins and a fantastic array of different coloured nail polishes. A small thai lady came out to greet me and took me downstairs into the basement. Not having been here before I did not know quite what to expect. One of the strange things here is the absolute lack of benchmarks by which to measure things, there are so many different people here from different places that a posh place to one would be a shabby hell hole to another. That there are far more men here also confuses the issue as it's virually impossible to get a thorough run down on what somewhere is really like. Talking about a restaurant or bar a woman will tell you details; the size of a room, the decor, the lighting, the facilities, what the food is like, the service and the range of drinks available. A woman will also tell you about the ambience, the crowd and whether she feels safe there. Blokes will tell you somewhere is good but there's no differentiation made between places so in the end it's better not to believe and go see for yourself. This seems to be true for shopping, bars, guesthouses and most other things where a detailed analysis would be quite helpful. So... thai massage: I had no idea whether I was steeping in to a brothel, or an above board beauty therapy centre.

As it turned out there was noone else in the place and it was kitted out much as the places I had been to in Thailand were arranged. Multiple rooms, some separated by cloth curtains, contained a massage table, a heater and towels. The lady who was looking after me didn't speak any english at all so I decided to just go with the flow and show her only where my ankle was injured and my spider bites which i didn't really want to have pummeled. I was surprised by the choice of "relaxing tunes" as we started out with Hotel California, moved on through a variety of popular rock to Steve Winward through The Back Street Boys and finally to Duran Duran. Strangely enough I kind of enjoyed her choice more than the usual plinky plonky rainforest, tribal nonsense that they usually play at you in spas. The small thai lady worked me over, gave me painful massage to my ankle and then, squatting on the massge table, lifted me physically off the bed in a variety ways, stretching me and cracking my back, all the while I'm wondering how this bird like creature the size of a 12 year old child has the strength to drag me about. But it was good and it was kosher.There was nothing seedy about the service there. Such a shame then that the authorities had stopped them from treating men and that indeed there were going to be moving site to somewhere else, closing down in the meantime. There was pressure from the authorities to stop providing an immoral and un-islamic service. I said to the owner "But we need you, the ladies of kabul need you to keep our small semblance of glamour in this gow forsaken dustbowl". Through the gap in the door I could see a pair of expat sandals and expat feet having a pedicure and I thought of all those ladies who would miss the soothing ritual of the hair and nail salon once this place was closed down.

A few days later and it was Christmas. A Friday, a day off for the local nationals and also for us, ,so home alone we were cooking for ourselves. Our cook Abdul had had to be soothed, the boys had hidden our purchases for Christmas lunch in the meeting room lest he see them and become offended. I had been warned by the others that Abdul did not take kindly to us cooking for oursleves, even less then did he like it if we dared to use his cooking pans and god help you if he caught you with a takeaway. Bosh and tosh i said, this is nonsense. No, they told me, he had been known, having found takeaway evidence in the form of wrappers from Afghan Fried chicken, to sulk for days, to only serve left overs and sandwiches. So the boys were taking no chances and Abdul had to be appeased.

I had added in some pup-eroni special dog trreats to the shopping and took great delight in opening them at the kitchen table and sharing them with G and L. Them being from south africa I asked them if they'd like to try, saying, "You guys know Biltong , they're just like that". I could hardly believe it when first G then L took a chewy doggie stick and munched down, g took as second bite and then offered the rest to L. I was gobsmacked as both of them had seen the large picture of the cute puupy on the front of the packet and it was with trepidation that I came clean before they went back for more. G was unpeturbed and took another bite before deciding that actually dog treats weren't that great after all. Swigging from a bottle of gin he washed away the rather tangy taste. L decided that the remedy for doggie chew mouth was a large spoonful of condensed milk. I thought that was a better choice than the gin though I was soon to find out when made to try the doggy chews and both the remedies in quick succession! So goes the holiday season, a South African braai on the roof, dog food in the kitchen, music and sunshine in the biting Kabul cold.

R and R had been going on about wanting to get a dog and so there wish came true when they unwrapped their joint present from me which was a packet of fags each and a fantastic puppy!! Very similar to the battery operated pupster I'd had as a child I'd spotted this cute pressie in Finest supermarket. The ideal christmas gift for two grown men, the little dog was suppose to yap and walk forward , sit and them perform a somersault. Poor little thing could yap if you helped him but other then that when we switched him on he just whirred, nothing else happened. I said that we could always take him back to the shop and exchange him, but the boys were already attached to our house pet and were busy putting on the doggy outfit that I'd bought for him at the same time.

Finest is currently my favourite shop primarily because of the kitten that lives in the shop, a beautiful grey tabby, I first met her when she was tiny and shy, two months later she had grown stronger and bold. Now I go to Finest purely to see her. The lads in the shop bring her out for me and she rides round the shop in my arms or on my shoulder whilst I browsed the shelves for something I probably don't need. In this place going to a supermaket it considered an outing. Having been inside for days on end the sensory input of the shelved goods, the choices and the coloured packaging is like a form of entertainment. Coupled with a kitten to keep me company I am more than happy to spend an hour in there, an alternative to the cinema or a walk in the park, neither of which is easily on offer here. I asked what they called her, the boys in the shop asked me to give her a name, we named her Tiger.

I did have a meloncholy moment the other day, I was tired of being cooped up indoors and tired of never being able to choose what and when to eat. There is also a certain amount of guilt for me with the large amounts of food that are laid on for us for lunch and dinner each day. I'm not happy that we eat first and that different meals are prepared for the local nationals and that often the guards (the lowest in the pecking order) eat our left overs. It just another example of the ways in which humans are not equal, not here, not anywhere. Feeding the cats with peices of steak left over on plates can seem like a horrendous act when there are children with nothing to eat and people search through rubbish piles for scrap metal, tin cans and food. Kabul, I am told, is for the rich, poor people are not allowed inside, they must exist on the outskirts of the city and try and make it in where it might be possible to get somewhere in life. In the Afghan Fried Chicken M, one of our Afghan staff tells me that upstairs is for VIPs, people like you he tells me and the rich Afghan middle class. I feel sick that this kind of set up is possible and accepted, for there to be this sort of segregation of importance and that internationals take that place almost automatically. I don't want that to be the case, it disturbs me. It's as mistaken as the view that all internationals are infidels and should be destroyed or thrown out. Neither view is particularly helpful. The waiters at the counter wear too large, off white shirts, one with a rather large collar, a grubby bow tie and a waistcoat. The waiters serve with good temper, they are young and if they harbour resentment it doesn't show. They are excited that I have my camera with me and I ask if I can take a shot. They are more than happy and delighted to see the pictures, asking if I can bring them a copy to the shop. I say I will. Afghan Fried Chicken is the KFC of Kabul, a fast food joint with chicken burgers, fries and a coke, hot wings and pizza to go. on the way back I have the pup- eroni in my pocket but we don't see any of the numerous stray dogs that roam the streets. The temperature is dropping here and maybe the dogs are hidden away, trying to stay warm til morning.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just a quickie to say that I met the originator of the children's story Owen and Mzee the other evening in Sufi Restaurant, here in Kabul. Peter is a delightful man, so humble and kind, he told me about the small hippo who lived with his family in the sea just off the coast of Kenya. During a Tsunami the young hippo became separated from all of his family. All alone the small hippo was found by the villagers and taken to the nearby nature reserve that was being run by Peter's girlfriend. At the time they named the hippo Owen and, as they had no other space to put him in, put him in with a 130 year old giant tortoise called Mzee. By morning the keepers came to find the animals and saw that Owen and Mzee were side by side, close together - they had become friends. These two animals were to have an amazing friendship and could speak to each other in low snuffling noises. To his detriment Owen would follow Mzee and eat leaves like the tortoise did though these were not really that good for him.

Peter was able to observe these two very different creatures together as they interacted and had the privilege of being able to film and photograph them at close quarters. Peter's photographs were bought and published and many he posted himself on the internet for others to share in the story. Peter was contacted by many people following publication, many asking questions about the curious pair and some asking for the rights to the children's book. It wasn't until a 6yr old girl called Isabella wrote asking about the animals that a collaborative writing partership came into being and the book Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship was created.

“Soon, they were inseparable. Their bond remains very strong to this day. They swim together, eat together, drink together, and sleep next to each other. They rub noses. Owen leads the way to different parts of the enclosure, then Mzee leads the way. Owen playfully nuzzles Mzee’s neck, and Mzee stretches his neck forward asking for more, just as he does when Stephen tickles him under the chin.”

Owen and Mzee has been used by many teachers to illustrate concepts such as the possibility for very differennt beings to get along, to communicate and to live side by side in harmony, to show how the old and the young can also find ways to connect and to help and guide each other.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Biting creature turns girl into boy.....

I'm here in the office, I've lost track of what day it is and I'm waiting for my first patient to arrive. I'm pretty sure it is monday.

I'm now slowly morphing out of my London life, no sexy dresses and high heels here; I find myself blending in with the blokes. I've got my 5.11 tactical trousers on (they had to have them tailored for me, so I'm now wearing a pair of mens trousers but with short legs) lets just say they're a bit long in the crotch and therefore look a bit like clown pants - v glam. Anyway, it doesn't really matter here and pseudomilitary clothing is considered normal. So the butch side of me is getting way out of control :).

I did have a body armour vest made for a woman (slightly more space at the front) but as I don't have much to put in it anyway I've now got one of the guys' hand me downs which is much lighter and much more comfortable. Many years ago Bonnie Langford was playing Peter Pan in Pantomime, she had to have her ample chest strapped down and I remember thinking what a good idea that seemed. Luckily my Chinese grandmother seems to have counteracted the larger chested celtic side of the family and I've no need to strap.

It's strange, in a way, as I feel quite at home, though I know that life here for most of my friends back home would seem like one hellish choice to have made. I'm happy comparing kit with the boys and I don't have to discuss pop stars or celebrity gossip or other 'girly' topics that have never really excited me.

As I lay in bed last night, the generator had stopped and the power was off - I'd just been wandering the house with my head torch on, and now I was wondering about fate and why it seems that one is made for particular things. Happiness or satisfaction in life seems partly to do with whether you can match what you were made for with where you end up. All the advice, well meaning or not, from family, friends, teachers and work colleagues doesn't make a bit of difference if they don't know you. They can tell you what they might want for you, what they project upon you, or what might be beneficial for them, but it takes a very wise person to see what it is that you need, to be able to say that what might really suit you may be quite different from what everyone else expects. Oh, and don't worry, I'm not about to come out of the closet, if that's what you're thinking ;)

All my life that I've planned for a less than easy environment. For a good couple of years as a child I refused to go to bed without underwear on just in case I got kidnapped during the night. I was of course immune to my mother's protests that it was unhygienic to sleep in your underwear. I just couldn't bear the idea of being taken out through the bedroom window, night dress billowing and no clean pants.

You might say that this is a sign of neurosis rather than just being prepared but still, thinking back on the things I liked best, really it was the torches and the pen knives, the CB radio and the camping kit that I preferred, and I'd hate it when relatives would buy me something pink and girly and my brother something that was actually useful. Saying that though, I was also probably the only tom boy who also loved makeup and was very happy climbing trees outside the house in my electric blue miniskirt from Tammy Girl, leg warmers and full 1980's kohl black eyes and electric blue mascara. So although I'm now kitted out like a boy, I hope that I can retain some of my femininity.

Although 80's fashion is back in London, the interpretation here is less than desirable; local fashion for young Afghans is skin tight stone washed jeans with lots of zips everywhere, a leather jacket and slip-on pointed cowboy shoes - everyone here looks like a dodgy Essex geezer.

For women it's much more difficult to say as they are much less visible; the younger ones are obviously really into fashion though clothing cuts tend to be long and not figure hugging so there's not a lot of variation on that front, and then there is the ubiquitous headscarf and the blue burkha. According to one of our drivers there is a place in town a street where the shops sell only burkhas, different designs for the embroidery and now some variation on the pale blue that was the only colour allowed previously under the taliban. I asked the driver if this seemed like a slightly scary concept - the street of burkha sellers... he is young and he seemed to think it was a bit scary. In my heart I was able to joke because I do not have to wear one and cannot imagine what being made to wear one would be like. In my liberal upbringing I don't think I've ever been made to wear anything more stressful than a school uniform and even then there was freedom of expression in the way that you wore your tie, your shoes, your hair.

At the Afghan Military Hospital I spotted one of the American's arriving in a burkha, all that was visible were her tan desert combat boots poking out of the bottom. I look forward to a time where Afghan fashion is truly resurgent, there are some amazing fabrics, beautiful designs but very rarely do we get to see them displayed and worn in all their glory. Pride and bearing are strong parts of being Afghan, it's one of the things that you notice about the men, they are masculine even when cycling a bike, a heavy blanket casually draped in a wrap around them. They do not wear track suits for leisure and they are not fat and lazy. The women too have presence but for many it's a confused presence; they are not themselves sure what their profile should be outside the home (or at least where I encounter them) and it hurts me that they are often so subservient and silent, as if they are safer if noone notices them.

I haven't seen or heard the cat for a few days now, but the food is always gone when I go to feed him so something must be eating it.... Maybe I should lie in wait and find out...

I got some really bad bites in bed the first night I got here, I thought either bed bugs or fleas. I've no idea what it was that bit me but must have been a little bit venomous as have a spray of wheals like a triffid strike across my left flank that just won't go away and they hurt. I'm just hoping that the skin there doesn't decide to fall off as that would be a rather boring present for christmas.

We are planning a roof top Braai (barbecue) and will hopefully go shopping for meat and stuff - cooking outside in the snow will be an interesting experience but better than being stuck in doors all day. Christmas falls on a friday this year so it's everyone's day off here. There are not that many expats left in country as most people are out for Christmas and the New Year. I'm trying to round up any orphan ex pats who have not much to do. We have a Wii here so what more could a person want than a barbecue, maybe a beer or two and an excited gathering of South Africans, Brits and Philipinnos round a Nintendo Wii? I think they thought I was being particularly British when I suggested playing sardines. I'm now going to have to put up with endless jibes about singing God save the Queen and listening to the Queen's speech on Crimbo day!

So for now, I'll continue to cause a stir by putting on my makeup in my combats whilst sitting at the ops room table; waterproof mascara is a must for any hostile environment.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Afghan pics from a colleague

These beautiful pictures of Afghanistan were taken by a colleague.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why don’t the insurgents just fuck off and stop being so selfish!

So my Afghan honeymoon officially ended this morning; I was sat in the clinic when the bomb by the Heetal hotel went off. At first I thought something large and heavy had fallen over upstairs and not wanting to jump to conclusions I carried on typing up my notes. When I noticed that there was dust everywhere in the air and one of the nurses came round the corner saying we've got to go doc, I shifted gear and came face to face with the nastiest side of Afghanistan. A suicide bomber had driven a car loaded with explosives into the gates of a nearby compound and everyone was out on the rooftops of the villas, looking out, watching the smoke rising. About 5 minutes later and we were dealing with a casualty, a guy who had been seated in a car when the blast hit, it had blown out the windows of the car and created small missiles of glass that had lacerated his cheek and eye, multiple cuts that were bleeding profusely. Stumbling through our gate covered in blood, it looked much worse than it actually was (thank god) he was one of the lucky ones; the walking wounded who could physically get himself to us. We sorted him out and stretchered him off to an international military hospital. At roughly the same time another bomb had exploded in an attack on an NGO compound at a location about 30 mins flight time from Kabul. Not knowing what the casualty list would look like we were on standby to medevac expats that needed to be brought out.

We had a patient in the clinic with us and certainly for him it was a slightly unnerving experience, a wound dressing with your pants off is hardly the best time for a bomb to go off!

All in all the majority of the dead and wounded were Afghans, from both bomb site locations. Civilian Afghans just going about their daily business, without the luxury of armored cars or close protection, these, the most vulnerable people are taken out by so called taliban insurgents. If I were an ordinary Afghan I think I’d say “Fuck off insurgents! Stop blowing yourselves and us up”. These events show the demarcation lines. Here in the clinic, all staff were on hand, expats from various countries and Afghan staff all working for the patient, a Philippino national. We were all equally appalled by the events though many here are old hands at shrugging it off though noone ever really gets happy with it.

Our clients are the expat community and as the reports came in we could stand down as we heard that the fatalities were all Afghan and any injured expats would be flown out by the Dubai team. Not that it made it any better; I thought of the many families who would be lamenting and keening the injustice. I thought about the cost of being here, of my friends in the military who are sent here for six months to a year at a time, housed in their bases, they make a massive personal commitment. On the bases there are no bars or easy places to go and just hang out. Many of the bases here are dry, so there’s not even the chance to relax with a beer. Meetings are still happening at 10.30om, not often bed before 1am and up again at 6am. A completely thankless task; all in the name of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. I wondered if many people back home knew how hard and how long some of the international soldiers here work.

Later in the afternoon we had a small collection of visitors with a variety of glass shard related injuries. Based in a house not far from us and the blast, their place had taken a hammering; glass windows turned into shredding apparatus. One poor chap was butt naked having just emerged from the shower, somehow he escaped with only minor cuts whilst the wall behind him was absolutely peppered with shards and shrapnel.

And me, I’m now just tired. The ops manager managed to make me laugh when he told me about the bagram shop – we’d sent one of the drivers there to get me some extra small technical trousers for me (sounds glam, I know!). Given that they have no changing room there (it’s just a room with lots of shelves stuffed with blokes military kit), I was forbidden from asking them to create a changing room just for me. Instead I was confined to quarters and the driver sent to fetch them for me to try on at home, like some kind of Victorian nightmare!! The driver arrived only to find that the poor souls were deep in glass themselves, their shop windows blown in this morning. “No time for trousers, fixing windows!! Go away”. “What about later?” our driver said, not wanting to go away empty handed, NO! Fixing windows and then going home! …A fairly reasonable excuse for a foiled shopping trip, I thought. At least I am in one piece and will live to shop another day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

my first day on the job and I've learnt two new phrases: poo-pond and bug-out bag.

A poo-pond is apparently some kind of large man made lake for unsavoury man made items, usually found on military bases and popular here I'm told. An ingenious idea, the poo-pond has it's own colony of bacteria that thrive in this environment afloat on a sea of excrement like butt pirates on a holiday cruise.

According to wikipedia a bug-out bag is a portable kit popular in the survivalist subculture that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy two hours when you "bug out", something that happens when zombies start chasing you and/or the world comes to an end. These bags are also particularly popular over here in Afghanistan, so much so that I decided to get two: one in black (sensible for all occasions) and one in tan just in case I do desert zombies at some point;

I was fascinated by the numerous sites dedicated to bugging out; there were all sorts of suggestions on the web for creating your own camouflaged bug out trailer or BOT. I thought I was being paranoid when I thought twice about buying a soft top convertible as it wouldn't provide much protection from a zombie attack...I did not realise however that there were people out there who are seriously preparing for this stuff.

After the excitment of the purchase of new kit and the discovery of new and more horrible ways for us to experiment with making hideous toilet facilities I fed the cats. As you will imagine, it wasn't long after my arrival that I'd hunted out the ubiquitous moggies, here we have a very large black and white thing with enormous paws and a rasping meow like a siren. He is accompanied by a timid wild furry tabby. From the clinic I can hear the black and white one's demands to be tended to by his humans. I giggled to myself as I ran outside into the freezing courtyard with a fine china bowl of chopped up south african sausage meat left over from dinner. The moggies house is on top of the generator and I slipped in between the sandbags to deliver the meat. A small dead chaffinch like bird had appeared when I fed them yesterday and now all that was left were a few straggly feathers, no feet or beak to be seen, the puss cats had snaffled the lot.

As yet, I have not been outside of the compound and it seems quite strange that I am in an entirely foreign country yet you'd hardly know it from here but for the supremely crap internet connection and the numerous choppers passing over head. So far I've eaten burger and chips, burger and chips and sausage and chips so not doing so badly on the butlins kiss me quick food front, think I might ask chef to do some afghan food for me as actually prefer it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

London - Dubai - Kabul

My first Blog!! So a bit exciting but still experimenting with what to write. I arrived yesterday in Kabul after a few days in Dubai. Lets just say that the contrast between the two places is extreme and in fact London is a damn sight more like Kabul than Dubai is, perhaps that's why it feels more like home here?

Leaving England it was cold and wet, typical early december weather, neither here nor there but not exactly comfortable in any way, drizzly, you know how it is. Arrived in Dubai to a sand storm, wind whipping up a desert frenzy and the skies heavy with what I thought was fog but was actually fine sand particles dangling in the air between the numerous skyscrapers. Usual shit to deal with on arrival at the hotel, I was staying at Media one hotel in Media city and after flying through the night I was pretty keen to get in the shower and then in to bed. The staff were lovely but totally ineffectual, half asleep I managed to have breakfast and visit the gym. Sue was the get up and go gym mistress in tracksuit who greeted me. Not quite sure how many times I could get Ma'am into a single sentence but Sue was doing a pretty good job. Dressed as she was in her matching shiny tracksuit and commanding as she was I was a little scared that she would drop me to the floor and demand sit ups.... I was in no fit state.

I wandered about the hotel in a daze for a few hours before they found me somewhere to go, a pretty room but with no electricity; I couldn't switch down the aircon or dry my hair, but after a massive hot bath at least I was clean and could get into bed for a couple of hours. I fell into one of those deep and confusing dream states, I was having a nightmare, in this one an evil man was killing lots of people, torturing them, dragging them around the town. I was woken by Crispian ringing me, usually I am instantly alert but it took ages to pull myself from the syrup of my awful dream and I could barely speak. It's a strange thing that one can be surrounded by so called luxury - fine linen, soft pillows, a totally controlled environment and yet none of it feels real. There's no earth in dubai, no true oxygen, and the trees are not free, by the roadside I saw that they'd painted the brown trunks green in order that they match the colour of the hedges behind them, I felt sick. I drove around in a taxi, divorced from the concrete environment, knowing all the while that the taxi driver probably resented me as yet another white colonial face, money in my pocket and an attitude to match. Though I don't have an attitude and I am wracked with guilt as I go about my 'luxury' life there.

JJ the security manager from Atlantis was my angel host. I had met JJ last time I was in Dubai; I'd spotted him on his Segway moving around the aquaventure water park and, it seems that he had spotted me too; a rather unglamorous affair with me in a newly purchased pink and yellow child size bikini, wrestling with a large rubber ring whilsts navigating water rapids. I'd sprained my ankle in Kabul a few days before and was guarding it whilst foolishly racing around in a water park. My white bits aglow, I'd watched JJ alight from his segway and light up a fag.
Later when I was leaving the park having parted with all of £50 quid for two photos, there was JJ again in the front entrance. We got chatting and as it turned out we had several people in common and we exchanged details.

This time around JJ was there to host me and celebrate my new job with me - We drank champagne and ate cheese and bread in the hotel. Some people are just good people and I'm sure JJ is one of them. I really wanted to see the dolphins at aquaventure and JJ said that he'd find out when they were running sessions tomorrow. I'd seen the dolphins the last time I was in and was really keen to get in to the water with them and touch them. At just over £100 it seemed like a small price to pay to be able to get so close.

The next morning I had stuff to sort out at the office but by 1300hrs I was whizzing my way to aquaventure in a taxi, slightly late as usual but high in the thought of swimming with hdolphins. JJ was there to meet me at the entrance and we dashed inside, golf carted it to the dolphin area at the end of the beach and thankfully I was there in perfect time! In a short wetsuit and vest, we met Lexi, a ten year old female indo pacific dolphin. Lexi was amazing, and I was really quite speechless to be kissed by a dolphin, to be able to hug and hold her and to dance with her. She pulled me along by her pectoral fins, lying on her back. I make no judgement about whether dolphins in captivity like this are right or wrong. Of all the evils in the world this is not the worst.

So I reviewed my time in Dubai with mixed feelings, there's no getting away from the mix, no matter where you go there will be beautiful elements and terrible suffering. Dubai has the patina of busy commercial enterprise, the streets look clean and expats bustle about between offices. But this a place of segregation, of a class system based on your ethnicity and it is not good. It does not sit well with me from England where we have tried so hard to move forward from that. In this place people are not equal, those who have money can buy those who have not.