is beige. Mud brick houses, dust, and endless brown hills around the city.
Got used to not seeing many women. Most are still in blue Burqas. Girls are
at shool again but women have not exactly got liberation. As families
sqeeze into estate cars women are squashed into the boot. There is a
ministry of women but it is weak especially outside Kabul. Many people in
Kabul have returned from other countries so it is more liberal by
comparison to the rest of the country. I buy my bread every morning from a
local nannery and carry it warm back in both arms to avoid it breaking.
Horse and carts are common forms of transport for goods and human horses
are also common. Kids and women in burqas beg at restraunts and road
junctions. Some have specific patches.
I live in a first floor flat above a butchers with four other
internationals. Large sides of beef and lamb hand below my window covered
in flies. Unfortunately it would be virtually impossible to be vegitarian.
Local food consists of meat, often kabab, with rice and/or large nan.
Highly paid internationals are catered for by Thai, Italian, Indian and
Chinese restaurants which have sprung up to capatalise from them. Locals
are friendly. I have experienced only hospitality and smiles. I am trying
to learn some Dari which is the main language in Kabul but still get the
pronounciation wrong and call people a cammel instead of saying how are
you. I have been getting yellow taxis everywhere against UN security
guidelines and walking in the markets barganing for basic household stuff.
I have to wear standad office dress at work and even Afghans say they would
feel uncomfortable coming in their traditional dress. However, at weekends,
Friday and Saturday, I wear a shalma kamez (baggy trousers and long shirt)
which is far more comfortable. Winter is coming with the evenings are
getting cold. In December Kabul usually has heavy snow and is very cold.
Some parts of the country can get to as low as -30 centergrade. In the
summer it can get to over 50 centergrade.
General security seems ok in Kabul, probably because the defence ministeres private army of about 18,000 contols it, and ISAF troops patrol the city. However, there is constant reports of fighting in other parts of the country. In the south and east there are pro
Taliban groups fighting the coalition forces and in the north different war
lords are fighting. Lots of opium in the north so plenty to fight over.
Most seem more oppotunist than idealists or fighting for religious or other principles. Not so different to our polititians. How is Andrew Smith? The president Kaizai is not popular except with the Americans
who put him in power. If the elections are fair then he is unlikely to win.
Already there is strong opposition to him in the Transitional Authority
running the country. I am due to be stationed in Mazar in the north but the
UN seems to be in be in bunkers there at the moment. Fed up with UN land in
HQ, Kabul and prepared to go to get out of HQ. Afghans are rarely consulted
and internationals make the decisions based on often on guess work.
Initiative and questioning is not encouraged especially by UN volunteers
such as me. I have already been told to watch my place! Unfortunately for
all its inperfection the UN is the only chance Afghanistan has. If the US
does not try to manipulate the elections, if war lords do not disrupt the
process, if women are allowed to vote, if people are not intiminated, if
the UN electoral component get the voluntary contributions from doners, if
Pakistan does not interfer and if the international community cares enough
Afghanistan has a chance of peace. The problem is that the fighting has
not only destroyed the country but has destroyed the fabric of the culture
and that is harder and takes longer to rebuild.
Infant mortality is up to 25% for under fives, the literacy rate for men
and women repectively is 46% and 16% and the average mortality rate is 45
years. The hard climate, life and 23 years of war mean that people look
about 10 years older than they are. I have addressed a few old men looking
at them as a grandfather figure to find they are younger than me. Still
about 9 million mines mean that live stock is diminished and missing legs
common. The American cluster bombs have added to this. Just recently four
houses were blown up with four deaths when a child brought a cluster bomb
home. There is a market for the expolsives in the cluster bombs. Poverty
and desperation force people into this business with often the inevitable
The Great Game in Afghanistan continues and as usual the ones that suffer the most are the ordinary citizens who don't care for democracy or elections but just want to have peace and the chance to live out their hard 45 years.