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Welcome to Afghanistan

November 7, 2013

kabul290My last night before heading to Kabul tomorrow On an airline that I don’t know owned by a government (or at least flagged by them – turns out it’s privately owned) which any number of ratbag elements would love to target. Of that I have no doubt. I have always wanted to visit this ‘great game’ of a place and had even attempted to do so when Franko was there. But those plans didn’t come to anything unfortunately. Tomorrow it all happens and I am very much looking forward to it. Mind you, so many people have expressed alarm at the idea I have have been tempted into thinking I need my head read. Fortunately I have none willing, or more to the point, none able to read my head so off I go, trusting to God and pushing the envelope a little. Once more. But even as I write that I know this is no more a big deal than travelling to the south side of Washington DC to talk to potential healthcare clients. Coming to harm in that place was so real a possibility my cab driver didn’t stop to allow me to alight nor did he want his change. I had to jump from a moving car in order to make my appointment.

If there  were any misgivings last night they have evaporated over the vast plains of Iran (I have no map so this is testing my knowledge of geography), dun colour stretches marked out and scored by wandering dry creek and river beds, dotted by dark village compounds and folded up very now and then into dramatic mountain ranges. Who lives out here? Does anyone live out here? We fly over what looks like an oil drilling site but among the mountains there seems little to suggest they are inhabited. It all looks like magnificent goat country. Ruptured rock as far as the eye can see and not a stitch of green in sight.

Just as I spot snow on mountains (which clues me to the strong likelihood we are now over Afghanistan, the cloud rolls in. It turns out it has been raining here a week and Afghanistan seems to be covered mostly in cloud. We jink around a few times in order to approach the city from the east. I spot a twin engine Cherokee below us and heading in the opposite direction and I have a few moments of “I wonder what the airspace control is like in this place?!  As we swing around to land the cloud breaks and the famed mountain backdrop is visible, as are parts of the city. Mainly truck parks and semi industrial spaces actually.  The pilot unexpectedly announces “Welcome to Afghanistan” and it slightly jolts me to be told what I clearly know. The immigration process was painless and I was sprung out of the very rudimentary shed (Changi it ain’t) after only about ten minutes. Those meeting us are not allowed to come anywhere near the building so heeding instructions sent through earlier I made it to the carpark and met my new colleagues who drove me back to our residence. Kabul is surprisingly orderly – even a child’s playpen is orderly after Nairobi. The streets have kerbs (at least I this part of town), are well drained and the traffic is less push and see than say, Jakarta or Nairobi. But there is still something of that approach to negotiating intersections. We meander into the backstreets and I am taken by the density of very active small businesses that are thriving. School is just out and the kids with satchels catch my eye just as they did in Baghdad. Trees are clinging to the last of their leaves – its nine degrees outside and nice and fresh. Mud splashes everywhere and the grey skudding clouds hint at the winter to come.

I’m informed the Taliban are targeting any Westerners in town which will put a dampener on my excursions. But we have plans for getting out which heartens me, including getting into the mountains. But in the meantime I have opened the window to frosty air, eaten a feed of mutton (NZ export lamb it is not) and strewed spinach and though the night is still early feel ready for bed. It’s the holy day tomorrow. I think I will make it mine as well or I will end up working 7 days a week  – a mistake I made in Saudi Arabia.

It’s good to be here.

Diary. 6 and 7th Nov 2013

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