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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kites and Cuts

My day started with a call from Rob, one of our paramedics; the patient that I saw last night is back and needing some attention - nothing serious, just a little reassurance. The funny thing about this place is that eventually everyone knows everyone and it's no exception in this case, the patient is also a friend - an unavoidable circumstance, so after we get things tidied up he and I decide to go to breakfast at Flower Street cafe. It's a beautiful day, a little cloudy but very bright, it's Nawrous, the Islamic New year and today is a public holiday in Afghanistan so many places are closed. Flower Street cafe is also closed for the celebrations and instead we head to the Gandermack. It really is a beautiful day and it feels incredibly peaceful here in Kabul. We sit outside in the garden, on a picnic bench in the sunshine and have an English cooked breakfast and coffee. The coffee is in a mocha, stove brewed, and I'm excited about having something other than instant nescafe. For some reason the coffee is watery, not at all like the thick treacle that usually pours from a mocha, so later, after we've finished eating, I go with the waiter back to the kitchen to make a round of coffee myself. I spoon in the ground coffee and fill the mocha with water - leaving it with the guys in the kitchen to brew up. I briefly think about staying to see what happens but I don't. A few minutes later and our kind waiter delivers the fresh brew to the table but still it is watery and I'm none the wiser as to why it's coming out like that. To be honest though, I can't complain at all as it's been a wonderful morning with good company - a fascinating french man who has been here since 1998 - and quiet like a sunday morning.

After breakfast I am dropped of at the Serena Hotel - the only five star hotel in Afghanistan. I've never been there before and so I'm excited to see inside. Once inside I am actually quite surprised at how posh it is, I'd grown used to a difference in outlook; there are plenty of places here which have cost a lot of money but are still tacky as hell. The Serena, at least at first glance, seems to be worthy of it's international five stars. I'm here for the clothing sale, I couldn't resist the lure of a bit of shopping on our day off, and I am not disappointed - a number of shops and sales people have organised to bring their wares: carpets, wood carving, jewellery, bags, paintings and calligraphy, and stalls are set up in one of the courtyards. I am very happy pottering for a couple of hours, it's hot in the sun but my shopping stamina prevails and I purchase coasters, some felt animals and a couple of scarves. I'm enjoying myself immensely and it's only 11am.

Shortly, I get chatting to a couple of guys who work at the Serena and who have been pivotal in setting up today's sale. The guys are from Sri Lanka and incredibly friendly and kind, I'm taken on a tour of the hotel and am very impressed by the gym, and swimming pool. The thing about life here is that as long as you can get the balance right then it all becomes bearable, for me, I can't stand being cooped up and not getting to see anything, I also long for a proper swimming pool, cool and serene.

After my tour we join some of the hotel staff who are playing with kites in the garden, there are various people in different uniforms; green with highly embroidered lapels and belts, shirt and tie for front of house, and Chef in his kitchen whites and tall hat. Chef has the most amazing deep aqua coloured eyes, set in his tanned skin, he is an intelligent and perceptive man. The staff all help me with my kite flying. At first there is a lot of crashing into the trees and shrubs in the garden, quite a few of our kites get stuck and we have to cut the string and leave the kites stuck high up in the branches. One of mine flies high up over the top of the hotel building and crashes upon the roof and gets stuck there. Luckily there are armed guards on the roof and after a bit of tugging on the string to dislodge the kite, a face pops up over the parapapet smiling and throws down my kite. Sadly it's mangled, the paper torn and unfixable, and the kite dangles by it's string, caught in a tree on the way down from the roof. No matter we take another one, fix it to the reel of string and off we go again. It's an amazing feeling, once the kite catches on a thermal and lifts way, way up in to the air, once free from the surrounding buildings and their vortices, the kite stays aloft with virtually no effort. I am flying one reasonably close and I can see it, sometimes silhouetted by the sun, it tugs gently against the string, leaping and pulling. I am controlling it with just finger and thumb, I feel like a bird, my feet planted on the ground but my body transported along the string to the dancing, weaving kite, riding the updraft... It's meditative, transcendental. As the kite rises higher it disappears from sight and only the intensely strong sun fills my visual fields, a thin but sturdy kite string arising from my finger tips disappears in to the sky and I feel like I am connected directly to god, that if I pull hard enough on the string that something strange and beautiful might return to me attached to the end instead of my kite.

The guys who are helping me to fly the kite, warn me to be careful with my fingers, I do what I usually do which is to nod and grin and wonder what the fuss is about until I get the kite tugging fast and hard and the string flies across my fingers, whipping like wire and I am left notched and bleeding in seconds. A fierce sort of paper cut, stings like hell and I get another one not long after right across my thumb, scoring the nail as well as my finger tip; this sport is dangerous :)

After my second injury and with blood all over the place I decide to stop and go and mingle back in the courtyard with the fair, I stop inside with some NGO guys for a juice and then get a taxi back home.

Back home the guys are watching a movie and I hang out with them for a while before feeling like I need to sleep. Later Lyle tells me that I look a little sunburned and it then makes sense; the kite flying in the hot sun (doing the very thing your mother told you never to do - looking up into the solar haze). I get into bed and fall asleep, dreaming wild and wonderful things. When i wake up is to the sound of my phone, P-monster telling me that he's finally reached a nearby bar but sadly the karaoke is not tonight it's tomorrow, so not to worry about getting myself over there. Instead I go to find my house mates, in search of food and not wanting to go yet another second-hand round with yesterday's lasagne which is still sitting in the fridge. We try Afghan Fried Chicken but it's closed and instead opt for our local Indian, Namaste. I'm still in my pyjamas but really it doesn't matter as they look like what I'd probably be wearing anyway except for that they are pink. We step out in to the night and our security team ensure that we make it safely the few hundred yards we need to go to get the restaurant.

It’s been a really good day and I am at peace, the people that I met today want things to be good for their businesses to thrive and to have and share good things. Back in the UK I’m online helping a friend with his business proposal and simultaneously chatting on skype to someone else here in Kabul. The illusion of peace is gone when B tells me of the rocket attacks down on the Jalalabad road, aimed at Camp Phoenix the American Military Base. He says it’s been a bit annoying listening to the sound of the air raid sirens going for the last two hours, but he’s getting used to it.

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