Monday, March 16, 2009

Initial Observations

4 March 2009

A few random musing and observations from my first ten days in-country. These are in no particular order, nor is there any overall theme. Just some minor items which may be a source of amusement or edification:

1) Shortly after I arrived, I was introduced to one of our people and it was later pointed out to me that he would be easy to recognize in the future since he had only one leg and walked with a crutch. It quickly became apparent that this was a silly observation since, in Kabul, one can’t go two blocks without seeing someone missing a limb (usually a leg), the legacy of the Soviet invasion and more recent conflict. In my compound alone, there are three people visibly scarred by conflict (two of them amputees). Not exactly the ideal identifying factor in Afghanistan.
2) The day I left Dubai, I checked the weather for Kabul just to see how I should prepare. Somewhat disturbingly, the Google weather service listed “smoke” as the current atmospheric conditions in Kabul. Not fog, not smog, not mist or clouds or rain, but “smoke.” No mention as to the source or severity. What kind of city lists “smoke” on its weather report? The Kabul kind of city.
3) The tea-boy (I don’t know the Dari word yet) is the guy who fetches tea whenever two or more Afghans sit in one place for more than two minutes. Great steaming pots of green tea are produced, along with precisely one cup for each person sitting (no anticipation others joining) and a bowl of sugar. The odd thing about this to me was the fact that the tea boy, who is actually a grown man approximately 25 years of age, goes barefoot all the time, regardless of weather. Unsurprisingly, his feet are filthy, which calls into question the Muslim requirements for cleanliness.
4) As a result of two packs of cigarettes a day and the ever-present Afghan dust that filters into every room, I have a head-start on the dreaded “Kabul cough.” Those who have smoked most of their lives or spend an inordinate time working with asbestos or fiberglass insulation will be familiar with the symptoms. I suspect that this sort of thing is one of the hidden causes of shorter life-spans in Afghanistan, explosions and gunfire being the more overt but less insidious causes.

There are a few more, about the packs of stray dogs and the aforementioned Afghan penchant for icy stares, but I’ll leave those for fuller treatment later.

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