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Are you Making a Difference?

January 4, 2015

Afghan Girl 290Some old stone warehouses scattered across Kandahar are in surprisingly good state of repair given they were constructed by the British in the nineteenth century. The square masonry and precise lines catch my eye as does the stonework. But the slowly gathering crowd is watching us approach and I take my eyes off the building and pay more attention to these local Afghans in rags. They are a collection of the poorest in the community. They don’t project any sense of destitution, but rather a sharp curiosity about what is going on around them. In this place everyone watches everyone else. And here at the old wooden gates to the British warehouse compound everyone watches more than most.

The gates are probably the original gates and I fancy colonial uniforms guarding the place. But the sharp eyed swarthy Afghan in his filthy robes is no glistening trooper. He takes some convincing but I am soon allowed inside along with my Afghan colleagues. I step into an area the size of a tennis court and the gate clunks shut behind me. This is a food distribution point and the NGO with whom my company is collaborating has set it up to channel food aid to those who need it. Naturally there are those who would try and get their hands on this food so they can sell it. Silk Road DNA runs deep in this place and any opportunity to make a buck is seized at the first opportunity. So my colleagues are careful to survey the community first, putting in the time and effort to identify those who will directly benefit from the largesse of western donors. Korean vegetable oil and Australian wheat in this case. Having surveyed the community, and pre approved the poorest citizens to receive this aid, there is now a careful effort to ensure it is only those folk who are granted access to the compound where the food is stored. Read more

Doing HR in Afghanistan

August 30, 2014

HR in AFG290“Hi Sir, staff arrived safely at the RV”. So read the text that arrived late into the night, long after the neighbours kids have been put to bed (that has become my clock). And with that text a sense of relief. There is an HR dimension to Afghanistan I never really appreciated until I came here. It’s one thing to make assessments about your own situation, deciding to shop or not shop, to go to this area or not go to this area. But the responsibility taken for other people is another weight again, and not a dynamic I ever had to contend with in Australia. As a CEO in Sydney, how many HR decisions were weighed against the possibility of staff being killed? None that I can think of, unless I consider the regular booze ups when something accidental might happen. At best all you do in that case is make sure you plan events away from the office premises. See, what you are really thinking about is public liability, adverse media and insurance claims. Your decision to have a Melbourne Cup lunch weighs those things, not the possibility of any fatal action. Read more

Mind Your Head (And Your Prostate)

August 21, 2014

meat 290A journalist by the name of Foley was beheaded, the news of which swamped the fact that a foreigner was similarly treated on the main road to the airport in Kabul today. An event that has suddenly put everyone on their toes. But I had an appointment to have an ultrasound done. So off down town we went, caught in traffic and mindful that anyone out there just might be interested in targeting a foreigner. Especially a wandering one. For while we had an address, it was not such an obvious place to find. As with so many markets and shopping centres in the Middle East shopping enclaves are built around a specific product. If you want to buy water pumps there will be 24 shops in a particular stretch of road that sell water pumps. Nearby will be shops selling pipes, then shops selling valves. If you want second hand Seiko watches that last ticked in 1974 there are 17 shops at a particular square the owners of which will be happy to look after you. Read more

Kabul Summer Evening Rooftop

August 16, 2014

sunset290The sun has finally dropped across the distant ridge in the west and suffused that part of the country in a peach wash that the camera fails to capture adequately so I have stopped trying. It’s a witching hour. Kites wobble high in the sky, some so startlingly elevated that I wait to see if a low flying aircraft is going to sever its connection. Less stable airfoils bob and dip, are pulled high, but then sideslip their objection and fall towards the ground in a stammering dive before being encouraged aloft again by unseen hands. They dance their various dances against the hills that are lovely in their soft pastel duns and blues. No hill or range is the same shade and as the temperature slips back towards thirty, layers of grey and tan, blue and purple softly and quietly march back towards a smudgy horizon. A grey blue haze over the city, that laces the horizon to the south, is capped by a peach dome directly above me that is being dragged too swiftly to the horizon, like a billowing cape towed by the sun. Read more

The Devil’s Voice with an Angel’s Heart

July 6, 2014

mosque290 The dusk is electric this Holy day evening of Ramadan. To the south the horizon dances with light as a dry storm flashes its skirts with light but makes no noise. Two hours after the fast is broken and the air is full of voices. The voices of mullahs chanting the broadcasts. A legion of them filling the air above the city extolling the faithful and the unfaithful alike, to come to the path of enlightenment. God is, after all the only one god and Mohammed is his prophet. Over and over. Carried gently from the far horizon, soft and malleable, the sound of silver. Carried from and echoing off the nearby hills, clearer and more distinct, tinging in the air like crystal. Crackling from the speakers half a block away, hard as steel and as inviting as a witches bosom. Read more

My Neighbours

June 27, 2014

nbour290My neighbours? My neighbours are no different to your neighbours. Sure they live in a rabbit warren of mud roofed, grass sprouting houses all interconnected by covered walkways. Probably a bit different to the McMansion or Californian Bungalow or nondescript Australian Housing Estate Modern style over your back fence. But their kids play and shout and wrestle like your neighbours kids. They chase each other and play tag like yours do. They climb trees and raid fruit like the neighbours kids do. Though in this case they are nicking their own fruit – the walls around their compound are far too high and precarious for them to get up and over into the neighbours place. Knees are skinned, heads are bumped, cats are tormented, bicycles crashed and girls are teased by the boys. My Kabul neighbours are no different to neighbours anywhere. Well, mostly. Read more

Let’s Visit Taliban Central. Oh okay.

May 24, 2014

The Taliban kdr290conveniently announce the 12 May will mark their summer offensive kick off. Other reports and rumours underscore that date with hints of a big and signatory attack on Kabul, possibly the airport. Great. Goodonya. Thanks. I am flying out of Kabul on the 12th. I dropped off to sleep last night testing what I knew about the security situation, reviewing what I have in my overnight bag in case things get weird and in the end drop off to sleep feeling pretty sanguine about the trip to Kandahar. Read more

Seven Steps to Security Serenity in Kabul

April 23, 2014

kabul290You can find humour anyhere. If you look for it. In fact in this place, to which we should ascribe ingrained sadness, there is a vein of light heartedness that everyone is so ready to tap. As friend Ray noted last week, these people are so quick to laugh and smile, unless and until you put a camera in front of them. Then they become as grave and as implacable as a thirteen year old girl with braces that went on only yesterday. There is even an ironic humour contained in the ‘seven steps to security serenity’ to which every departing traveller using the international airport is subject. It goes something like this. Read more

What Were You Thinking?!

April 11, 2014

face290Afghanistan now stretches out below me like an old brown blanket, little patches of squares hinting at villages made of those clay walled square compounds. We have quickly left the snow capped ramparts that surround Kabul. Two months ago the city was captive to blue white, but the rising temperature has quickly melted that away. Now only the highest peaks, and those slopes facing north are softened by it.

As a I walked down the ramp to the Emirates flight texts on my phone  alerted me to the attack on the front gate of the Ministry of Interior. At least five police dead. The sun sparkled over us and a vibrant blue hummed  spring across the heavens.  I looked at the ground crew doing their thing.  Looked at the older Afghan grandmother in front of me clutching a brand new passport up to her face with both hands. Glanced back at the Russian contractors clearly happy to be leaving town. Then across the city towards TV hill. Just this side of that hill people are picking up body parts of friends and colleagues. And at least five men are not going home tonight. I shuffle forward, my passport is examined by a kid in winter uniform who does not know what he is doing and soon (quickly) I forget what has happened in the city as I stow bags and get settled into my seat. It’s all we can do really. Read more

Hair Trigger

March 29, 2014

trigger 290As we roll into election week there is a fragility of life that stabs us every day, despite the so necessary ‘get on with living’ attitude that pervades this place. An attack yesterday – or was it the day before, it’s easy to lose track – on a guest house is applauded for its failure, for the efficiency of the security forces  (rightly so) and for the survival of the intended targets. Yet a ten year old girl, an unintended target, died. Found in a ditch nearby after the security forces finished off the insurgents.  So too a couple of local lads employed as guards.  Both dead.  I look at these people in the street and wonder what their hopes and dreams might be. Not the collective ones of nationhood and security, but the personal ones.  I wonder that about these three that died. What were their hopes and dreams?  Who loved them with a brotherly and sisterly love, that love now turned to mourning? Who loved them as lovers, heads together as they dreamed shared dreams? Read more

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