I am back in Kabul. As always, it is brown. Cold too, at present. We had some useful meetings in Phnom Penh. I also took the opportunity to eat some excellent Fish Amok and Lak Loc. Cambodian food is exquisite.
En-route back to Kabul, I spent several hours in the Emirates business class lounge at Bangkok airport. Having flown a bit over recent years, I was able to use points to upgrade to business class for the flight from Bangkok to Dubai, something I appreciated given the flight went though the night, arriving at 0430. Not very restful in spite of the business class leg room.
While in the lounge though, I took a shower in their well appointed facilities. This involved receiving a pack of three towels from the shower mistress. I would have thought one sufficient. On de-cladding and entering the shower, I was faced with a gleaming stainless steel rod set upright in the shower wall. It had a gleaming handpiece, three gleaming nozzles set in the middle, and a large gleaming shower head the size of a dinner plate. It was quite unclear though, how to turn it on. After some chilly fiddling, I was suddenly drenched in cold water. With alacrity, I fiddled a bit more and cleverly worked out the hidden levers and was soon able to calmly manipulate the many functions of this cutting-edge ablution technology. Though the shower head was completely, excessively adequate, I was able to employ the handpiece to further wet my body, and by turning on the nozzles, I could direct spray at my chest, stomach and groin simultaneously. I was nearly delirious with excitement. If only we could get such a shower into the hands of the poor, I thought.
As I towelled myself off with three separate towels, I wondered why it is that a simple shower isn’t enough. How many millions of dollars were spent researching and designing this utterly unnecessary bit of bathroom junk? Why is such a thing on anyone’s ‘to do’ list? If we are clever enough to build such a thing, can’t we do something about water distribution for the 2 billion people who don’t have any?
I know the answers to this idle speculation. Fancy showers make rich people feel privileged and happy, whereas the happiness of poor people is irrelevant. Fancy showers exist only in the elite domain, and so maintain the illusion so necessary for wealthy people that they have entered this domain on their own merits. If hard work were all it took to become rich, most Afghans would be millionaires. But hard work has little to do with it.
Happily, within a day of my elite shower experience, I was back in Kabul, in our bathroom that looks like those found in mental asylums, and I was washing again in a bucket under a trickle. And – that I can do that signals just how removed even I am from the really marginalised people here.
Barbed wire and bags: the arrivals area at Kabul airport.