Back again

After a glorious month away I’m back in Kabul.Towards the end of my holiday, sick with being asked about Afghanistan, I was wishing I’d followed Mr Wood’s advice and pretended to be an insurance salesman from Barnsley. Conversations veered from those down the pub along the lines of ‘Alright Harry, how’s Afghanistan?’ ‘Oh, you know, so-so. Pint of Guinness please Fred.’ to in-depth interrogations on the socio-political situation that highlighted how little I understand. There was the inevitable degree of reverse culture shock and readjustment (Look! Water from a tap! And I can drink it!) but also a useful time for reflecting on my life in Afghanistan, what I’m doing, where I’m going, where I want to be. (Mind you, am still not sure about any of these.) Then, of course, there were the mince pies, the port and stilton, friends and family… Glorious. Was sorry to leave.

And strangely glad to arrive back in Kabul and the blizzard that hit half an hour after we landed and the heater at home that the guard had lit to warm my room before I got back.

On the way out of Kabul in December, an afternoon in Dubai with a friend hanging out at a fancy shopping centre had acted as a useful decompression chamber: marvelling at the lavish opulence, eating good food, walking around feeling safe and relaxed, women with pretty legs. It worked the same way in reverse: exhausted after a sleepless night, waiting in the chaos of Terminal 2 at four in the morning for an onward plane that was delayed for five hours among confused crowds of aid workers, diplomats and mercenaries all pushing the handful of Afghans to the side.

A couple of days before I got back the Taliban had attacked Kabul’s flashest hotel, killing six people. It’s the first attack of its kind directly targeting the international community and more have been promised. I suspect this has rather upset the international community as most, including myself, are now on lockdown and so aren’t allowed out of our houses except to go to work. Fear is an effective weapon, and the restaurant trade will be suffering.

In the rest of the country meanwhile, extreme cold and snow is reported to have killed some 200 people and tens of thousands of animals. It’s down to minus 20 Celsius in Kabul and will be worse elsewhere in the country. It’s said to be the worst weather in many a long year.

And strangely, though I’m not entirely sure why, I’m kinda happy to be back.


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