Bird shit walking

Walking through the centre of Kabul towards the Old City was not a relaxing experience. The main drag was packed with people – shoppers, amblers, hawkers, traders – I was concentrating too hard on finding a way through the scrum and keeping sight of my companions to really notice who was around me. Never threatened, but on edge in the constricting streets: one didn’t want to linger.

Crossing the river – the stagnant effluent trickling between beaches of rubbish that passes for a river – and passing the Pul-e Khishti mosque, we were finally able to peel ourselves out of the crowd down a narrow shadowed lane, filled with the musty smell of chicken shit and grain and a strange sense of calm.

This is the bird market. A short stretch of cloistered alleyway that feels like a relic of Kabul’s past, some pigeon-fancying uncle lost on his rooftop. Cages line the twisting walls and fill the cage-like shops. Pigeons, finches, canaries and the prized partridges in their doomed bamboo coops, released for fighting. A medley of chirruping and singing. Old men sitting inside their dens, looking out as impassively as their wares. An avian sense of bored waiting. Intrigued, but not wanting to linger for too long.

Back to the mayhem of the street and back across the bridge past the Murad Khane: a small maze of houses and shops being rebuilt by a foreign organisation that trains local craftsman, trying to revive a relic of the past from meters high sediment of mud and rubbish, for whom I’m not sure.

Past that to the Bush bazaar, named after George W. in honour of the things that have fallen of the back of his truck and found their way here for sale. Concrete lanes covered by tarps, filled with old clothes and shoes and tubs of protein substitute and packs of MREs – meals ready to eat, and BP5 biscuits for the malnourished, Operation Enduring Freedom stationary and, one suspects, much else beside if one cared to linger and root around.

It’s an interesting corner of Kabul, a bizarre mix in the anarchic maelstrom of the old city centre. I’d like to explore it more thoroughly, to be able to wonder and get lost and look. To carry out an archaeological study of the layers of waste: bird’s shit and Bush’s shit and Kabul’s shit. But I do not find it relaxing to walk there; do not find it comfortable to do so. Some would think me stupid for going there at all, taking unnecessary risks. Maybe, but while I didn’t particularly enjoy it, it felt like a small victory of sorts, this walk. A petty defiance against the international communities’ tendency towards extreme isolation and disconnect from the city we live in.

Many foreigners here are not allowed to step foot outside their compounds, have lists of places they can and (more often) cannot go to, and strict rules about how high the walls, how thick the barbed wire, how many armed guards surround them. It is not a situation most want or enjoy. It drives many to distraction. I am lucky to be able to walk a little further, though it gives me no greater feel for the place when I’m too nervous to stop and look around me.

It’s hard to describe the causes of that nervousness. There’s the obvious but unlikely risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then there’s that disconnect; the sense of us and them it breeds, of being so very out of place and watched by an unknown crowd. A bird-like suspicion, to stretch the point.

Somewhere down that main drag, one of our company spotted some old work colleagues. My disquiet disappeared as we greeted. With strangers’ faces coming into sudden focus as individuals, with the contact of a handshake and a smile, I was fleetingly emplaced in the crowd: connected to it and briefly at ease. We parted and moved on, eyes scanning the crowd but no longer seeing.

If it’s hard to look around at the time, at least one can think about it afterwards.

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6 Responses to “Bird shit walking”

  1. Global Voices Online » Afghanistan: Peace, and Trash Says:

    […] Further north, Harry Rud wanders through the trash-filled streets of Kabul, and remarks on just how disconnected foreigners […]

  2. Roberta Says:

    As I said over dinner, one word to make walking the streets easier: burqa. I’d be intrigued whether any of your international colleagues have tried it.

  3. Global Voices in Italiano » Afghanistan: pace, spazzatura e riconciliazione Says:

    […] Più a nord, Harry Rud [in] cammina per le strade ricolme di spazzatura di Kabul, e fa notare quanto uno straniero possa […]

  4. Marianne Says:

    Nice post dude – great writing. I found it subtle but evocative and was left with a strong impression of that isolation.

  5. Global Voices amin´ny teny malagasy » Afganistana:Fandriampahalemana … Says:

    […] eo ihany. Somary any avaratra any, i Harry Rud dia mamakivaky ireo arabe voaràvaka fako erak’i Kabola, ary mahamarika hoe hatraiza no […]

  6. walk in tubs and showers Says:

    walk in tubs and showers…

    […]Bird shit walking « harry rud[…]…

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