Back in Afghanistan and a burial.

So, we are back.

We arrived Thursday PM, after two days in sweltering, crazy, fasting Dubai. Women in tight tops and women in the full niqab, eyes barely visible through the narrow slits. Men in shorts and men in dishdashye, shining white. Everyone hot and thirsty. Because of Ramazan, if we were out of the guest house, we had to hide in public toilets to eat. Getting caught eating in public lands you a 2000 dirham fine and time in jail. Such is Dubai.


Kabul is predictably dry and dusty. I immediately started to get Afghan Nose (the condition of  excessive fingering of one’s nostrils because of the dusty dry air, resulting in nose-bleeds, dusty boogers and furtiveness).


And yesterday, we buried Tom and Dan, the two men of the Nuristan Eye team who had requested that Afghanistan be their resting place, should they die here. I, along with three others carried Tom’s body to the grave in the Christian cemetery, and then he was lowered into the ground alongside Dan.

When we first came here, in 1996, we stayed with Tom and Libby, and last year, we were at his 60th.

It was a long, sad day.


Why do you bother sometimes? Why do you come here and move yourself and your family halfway around the world and leave all the nice, good, fun things, why leave a place where you are appreciated and come here? Why put your kids through chaos and risk a bullet to the chest and live in dust and crap and cold? Why don’t we go? Isn’t six years enough? If people can’t learn the basics of honesty and respect in that time, when they have heard and seen it from 20 different sources, then what does it take? Why the lies and irresponsiblity and continual exploitation? More, more, just a little more?

Don’t worry about trying to convince me of the worthiness of our work. I knowit, I know the answers. It’s just that the answers aren’t enough sometimes.

missing the greenery.

For reasons a bit unclear to me still, the last week or so I have felt kind of empty of thoughts and reflections. Hence the blank spaces here. I’m not sure what it indicates. Partly, perhaps, a kind of settling in. A bedding down. In the early days of a new experience, much is new and difficult. As time passes, the extraordinary becomes less so, routines assert themselves. 

Partly also, I have been fatigued. This morning I got up at 6am for a conference call, went back to bed at 7, slept till 8.30, dozed from 10am till lunch, then slept from 2 till 3 again. Everytime I got up and got pretty quickly back down again.

Partly, I have been missing things about home. Greenery. The sea. The wind off the West Australian coast. We are on the end of summer here, and everything is dessicated, dry and dusty. With autumn the leaves are turning golden green, and there are some beautiful mornings now, but it won’t be until spring next year that clean green leaves emerge – albeit briefly, before the ubiquitous dust adheres. The nights are cold now, and already we are discussing winter, how to plan for and cope with the cold.

 Some recent photos in the absence of words.


 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.

Enormously funny

I just wrote an enormously funny post titled ‘Kabul Grossness part 2’, which involved witty, erudite comments and observations on the necessity in this country of frequent nosepicking, a regime which, if not maintained , over the course of a normal day, brought about by the dust and dryness, permits the rapid, continual and steady formation of nasal stalactites of cement-like material. Complete with references to myself (both droll and self-deprecating), and my children (tender and respectful), who can multi-task nosepicking with ordinary conversation, reading books, writing and other activities, this post was destined to draw appreciative comments from around the world.

But stupid Microsoft Word crashed and the nosepicking post was lost forever…