Archive for July, 2009

Tour de Kaboul

July 26, 2009

Le Tour de Kaboul has yet to garner the prestige of the Tour de France with all of its athletic prowess, but for the dizzying danger of the course and brave recklessness of the competitors, it deserves respect.

Between the potholes, mud dust and air pollution, the appalling, terrifying driving of taxis, buses and gun-toting security companies, it is a formidable event. The danger posed by crazed French spectators is nothing compared to that from the Afghan hawkers and pedlars, seemingly blind and oblivious school children and flocks of angry goats. Policing of the event, by bored, scared soldiers and a few futile traffic policemen does little to calm the tensions. Cycling in Kabul is a hazardous affair.

The bikes are all the same; simple black Chinese things, straight framed and usually falling apart. Brakes are optional; their use frowned on as unsporting, as is the ability to judge speed, distance or looking where you are going. The use of performance harming drugs appears to be not uncommon.

The riders in this year’s Tour are as always a startlingly eclectic bunch. Here are the ones to watch out for:

The proud wearer of the yellow jersey is to be seen also wearing a pakol, surgical mask, and swimming goggles to keep out the dust.

Weaving at full pelt between a crowd of cars while holding an umbrella to keep the sun off, looking ever such a dandy, is the wearer of the green jersey.

Winner of the polka-dot jersey, the man with a hundred-weight of freshly cut sheep-skins and offal piled high on his handlebars and back panniers, his wobbling route marked by dots of blood in the dust.

Sharing the white jersey, and current record holders for most people on one bike, five kids.

Awarded the title of Lanterne Rouge for coming in last but at least surviving, the guy who fell of his bike while cutting up a military convoy and, surprisingly, didn’t get shot.

Sadly, previous year’s Tours have been marred by cheating, with at least one competitor filling his bike up with explosives (technically termed a BBIED, or Bike-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) and blowing up himself and several spectators. He was disqualified.

Finally, though not strictly a competitor, an honourable mention to the beautiful Afghan woman, sitting side-saddle on the back of a bike as it creaked through the maelstrom, looking as serene and composed as a queen in her carriage.

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Afghans on top

July 20, 2009

Afghan climbers have reached the top of Noshaq. They are the first Afghan’s to stand atop the country’s highest mountain, at 7,492 meters.

Hip hip, hooray!

That’s rather high, and I’m bloody impressed.

Rocket induced hole

July 16, 2009

It’s caption competition time. The writer of the best caption gets a bit of shrapnel engraved with one of rud’s finest bon mots.

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To give a bit more detail; this is why it is generally a bad idea to build a health post, school, veterinary clinic or anything else within a hundred meters of a police station. Rockets do not seem to be very accurate.

Often times, when looking for a bit of land, the government will offer something close to one of their buildings saying ‘oh yes, it will be very safe here.’ Yeah right, you just want to shine in our reflected glory. Or the military will see what a nice job we’ve done with the place and want to move in next door.

On the sign outside another of our buildings, also close to a police camp, someone had added ‘Re’ where it read ‘Constructed by…’, so many times had it been damaged in the cross fire and repaired.

The politics of lunch

July 14, 2009

A chap got fired from IRD for complaining about the separation of Afghans’ and expats’ eating arrangements. Culinary apartheid.

In many INGOs I know the expats eat separately from the national staff in Kabul. In my last outfit, we ate together, apart from some expats who preferred to go to a café for lunch or bring in their own from home.

My current gig operates a two-tier system. The expats tend to eat separately, outside the office at home, and pay more for the privilege of marginally better fare.

The food in the office is certainly a sore point, not for who eats it but the quality. Far as I’m concerned it’s not bad – have certainly eaten far worse – but it’s still not good enough for some and is probably the most hotly debated topic at work. The cook nearly caused a mutiny at one stage.

As I’m one of the few who has my team with me in Kabul, I tend to eat with them in the office. But once a week I enjoy leaving them to it and hanging out with my foreign colleagues.

Afghan staff are not invited. Which obviously isn’t fair or nice. But it is nice to have the opportunity to discuss some issues we wouldn’t otherwise, over a cup of expensive coffee.

It would be a different story if we ate separately within the same office, but going home makes the division feel somehow less acute. I’m conscious of the inequity and not always easy with it, but I wouldn’t change it.

What I cannot accept is not being allowed to attend the 14th July celebrations at the embassy with my foreign colleagues simply because of my nationality. Bloody French connards.

Band-e Amir photos

July 7, 2009

A few pics from my recent trip to Band-e Amir.

first sight of band e amir

band e amir

band e panir

I swam in that lake at the back there, Band-e Panir, a lake of cheese. And got a round of applause from the Afghan guys nearby for diving in. Oh yeah.

band e amir 5

band e amir 4

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It’s with photos I often find my vague attempt at being anonymous most annoying, as I can’t show you the really cool ones of us pottering about in a pink peddello.

Afghanistan: my part in its downfall*

July 5, 2009

It’s been two years to the day since I first arrived in Kabul. As part of my anniversary celebrations I’ve been dwelling on the impact I’ve had on this country (egotistical of me I know, but then blogging seems to do that to me). Here are ten random things I’ve done to change the world around me:

1.Living in a house modest by many expat standards but that has still helped lead to a huge rise in house prices in Kabul, benefiting a few but forcing out many more from affordable housing in their own city.

2.Tempting qualified Afghans out of service to their own government with hugely better pay at an INGO

3.Failing to build the capacity of those people, in a position that will be filled by another expat rather than someone I have trained to replace me.

4.Failing to even have the common decency of learning the local languages, and having only the scantiest knowledge of a country on which I am experimenting with ill-informed development projects.

5.Taking a large cut of the budget of those development projects as my salary, most of which I will take home with me.

6.Treating my life as more valuable than those of my staff

7.Drinking in an Islamic country and generally being a bad influence as well as an example of the debauchery and gross-oppulance of the West. Not good for long-term cross-cultural understading that one.

8.Flying about too much and demanding electricity from the generators and generally contributing to a lot of carbon emissions in a country that will probably be devastated by climate change.

9.Eating scarce food when others around me starved

10.Bitching about all and sundry, how various policies will lead to the downfall of this country, but doing nothing to suggest better alternatives.

*With an affectionate nod to Spike Milligan for the title.

Eastern summer nights

July 3, 2009

sky at night

The view from my bed in Kunar. Taken with a crap camera. Imagine a sky alight with stars.

Am in the east, where it’s hot. Too hot to sleep inside without electricity, so the beds have been moved out into the garden.

As dusk faded through the trees up in Asad Abad, the serenade of a nightingale was replaced by the buzzing of insects and the loud wash of the river. A rather magical, slightly hallucinogenic night, drifting in and out of sleep as helicopters occasionally thundered low overhead through the warm, heavy air.

Now back in Jalalabad, sleeping out on the roof. The moon shimmering through the mosquito net as it billows in the wind, a stately four-poster sailing bed.

Or maybe I’ve got sunstroke.