By the second day in Kabul I had an opportunity to view Afghanistan and it’s two polar opposites. On the first day I was shown the nurturing, forward moving Afghanistan with the Mahboba’s Promise Organisation, and their maternity healthcare project opening. Having a chance to meet orphaned children there who were being helped and educated by great people, who want to help improve their country. Meeting journalists, who don’t want to be writing stories about mass murder in the capital city, but who would rather be writing about inspirational people and the circumstances in which they have lived and from having discussions about how Panjshir struggled to finally successfully implement the beginning of girls education in the province…. to the talk of death, corruption, terrorism and racism the following morning, all undone within a morning whilst most of us slept, with the sudden and awful murder occurring in a charity hospital in the city centre. A shadow under which the previous day resided.
Living this duality on a daily basis would I feel eventually take its toll on me. This perpetual never ending cycle of a kind of bipolar lifestyle in the extreme, in which the good things you see and are happening all the time around the country are frequently eclipsed by a deathly shadow that takes centre stage on an international scale, leaving very little space for good news in a place where it is desperately needed.
In the morning I decided to venture out and take another look around a different part of Kabul, but with the echos of family telling me to be careful still ringing in my head from the last few days I felt I was starting to become too comfortable and taking more and more chances, staying out later and going to different places, which resulted in me taking my GPS tracker with me on my walk. I don’t know how it would have helped, but it was something.
In the afternoon I was asked by the guys if I wanted to join them for lunch, and I was strangely surprised when what I thought would be a nice walk into the centre to a cafe or restaurant turned into a short walk through Kabul’s quiet back residential roads to a unmarked 15ft high metal gate that when knocked upon, a hatch opened to reveal the stare of an armed guard who’s facial expression quickly turned to a smile of familiarity. As he opened the door and allowed us in, we found ourselves in a checkpoint area where we were searched and asked if we had any weapons, this being funny to them and the guards, as everyone laughed whilst saying no we were ushered in through another doorway past high walls into the garden area of the cafe, we took our seats under the trees nicely nestled in the shade and as the guys continued with their usual chatter about day to day issues they were struggling with, I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the tall walls surrounding me, the barbed wire and the armed guards. something that had definitely become the normal everyday experience for them, but for me was very very strange and found difficult to detach myself from.
When a smile broke on my face and I finally brought this up with them, we turned to the discussion I had really been wanting to have since I arrived. The fact of security and the realities of living in a place like Kabul. This conversation took the form of a discussion involving things such as housing complexes conjoined by a single door that act as emergency exits, safe rooms in houses, employees of certain companies being set curfews and a sort of house arrest situation if the threat level was deemed to be too high (which was something one of the girls in the house was currently on, resulting in her not joining us). As well as the fact that your guards who are in charge of the security in your complex, eventually and inevitably become your friends, but who are also the first point of contact if anything were to drastically go wrong and the inevitable guilt that comes with that.
I am told a story of one of the guys about the only time they have been in direct danger in Kabul. It obviously involves the taliban, but is a story of a siege on a building in the centre which inevitably resulted in an armed battle between the military and the taliban with cars and general public caught in the middle. After the incident they talked to their family but chose not to mention anything about the event.
After this we make our way back through the back roads to the complex and I decide to get my hair cut. Once I find a place and eventually manage to leave after he takes his time giving me the “Zac Efron” he said was so popular, I find myself being asked question in English again for the first time since Tajikistan. It would seem that the cutting of my hair has broken the false assumption that I was Pakistani.
On my return I’m asked if I would like to accompany a photographer to a tomb of Marshal Mohammed Quasim Fahim. one of the leaders in Kabul that died recently of natural causes. I obviously agreed and we set off in a taxi to try find our way there, it was the first time visiting this place for the driver too so admittedly we ended up going the wrong way a few times but manage to get there. when re arrive I’m told that the men who stand guard are the leaders guards when he was alive and that his son will pay for the guards to guard his father’s tomb. When asked for how long the driver responds with “for the rest of their lives”. After a walk around and visit into the site we set our eyes on a small cluster of tanks at the bottom of the hill and decide to go down and join in with the children playing on them and police working out on them.