That’s shorthand for the routes we have travelled in the last two weeks. Kabul to Dubai, to Bangkok, to Phnom Penh, back to Bangkok, then home to Kabul via Dubai. It was a good, needed holiday. We were close to the edge of exhaustion. Strange, how we can live in a place like this so long, through so much, but still find it exhausting. I think the steady deterioration in security is weighing more heavily on me these days – I am the head of Hagar here (or as I prefer to be called, the Supreme Total Commander) and so I call the security level and make the decisions. The fact that there hasn’t been too many hard calls so far, or that I call it only for me, my family, two Kiwi consultants and my Afghan staff doesn’t make its weight much less. It’s the dynamic of being in a highly unpredictable place, where the unpredictability has a high cost to it.
Flying back into Kabul from Dubai, what you first notice is that the plane is full of muscled men with short or shaved heads. It never used to be that way. The flights used to be full of aid workers - thin, angst ridden, passionate, cynical, weary, chain smoking Marlboro Lights (the aidworkers cigarette of choice). In contrast, these iron men sport tattoos, badges reading, ‘Enduring Freedom’, Yankees caps and tough stares. A lounging, slightly arrogant confidence is the trademark of these men, who are mercenaries, private security agents, police trainers or do close protection (euphemism for bodyguards who shoot first and don’t ask questions). The plane groans under the weight of so much testosterone and attitude. Our kids were the only ones on the flight and most of these men did not look impressed to see them. You could see them thinking, ‘Child. Small. Liability. Eliminate.’
What you next notice happens when you get here. You leave the terminal and start the drive into Kabul or where ever you are living and you see immediately that Afghanistan is brown and dusty. After coming from the lush greens and moist air of the tropics, Kabul seems like some desert wasteland. Actually, that’s not too far off reality. But then finally you notice that you are quite happy to be back here.
Afghanistan: brown, dusty and not working too well. But happy to be here, nonetheless.