There is a corner of Kabul that is forever England.
The Sherpur Cantonment Cemetery, or British Cemetery, is a rare place of tranquillity sheltered behind large wooden doors, overlooked by an Afghan graveyard on the Bibi Mahro hill above.
Its oldest residents are British soldiers from the Anglo-Afghan wars. Like the 29 members of the 67th Foot (South Hampshire Regiment), buried in a mass grave after a failed attempt to climb a hill south of Kabul on the 13th December 1879. All that really remains of them is part of their grave stone, stuck along one side of the cemetery wall with other fragments of history.
On other walls are the engraved black marble slabs commemorating the deaths of ISAF soldiers in the 21st century, long lists that tell no stories other than the staccato military details of name, rank, regiment and date.
In between are assorted ranks of other visitors who never made it home. Explorers, journalists, hippies who lost the trail, engineers and aid workers; Italians and Germans and Canadians and Polish and many another country. Their headstones chart a partial history of the country.
The cemetery is tended by an old man, Rahimullah, and his son. A newspaper clipping pinned up on a mud shed tells his story, for those of us who don’t speak enough Dari to ask him himself: his thoughts on religion and death and the time Mullah Omar dropped by and asked him why he looked after the graves of infidels.
The rich dust of those infidels has fertilised a rare green space under Rahimullah’s care. If you ever find yourself in Kabul it’s worth stopping by.