Image preceding reduction in virility

A family that goes to a vasectomy together, stays together. But it wasn’t my friend F on the table this time, it was me. Ken, the Canadian super-surgeon agreed to do the snip , and so at 9.30, we as a family went to his house for the big event. Now in case you think I am getting weird, the kids came along because Julie was to be surgeon’s assistant, and there was no one else to look after them.

I lay on his daughter’s bed upstairs (she was not present, let me add), and stared at the ceiling, the occasional thought of the millions of potential children of mine whose futures were being sealed off. Julie passed the Betadine and the anaesthetic and Ken tucked in. He didn’t play Eagles this time as the soundtrack, but afterwards we did drink coffee and eat quince slice together and listen to Playing the World. We then walked slowly, slowly home. Not too painful, but enough.


Bush bazaar and cheeses

A while back we went to Bush Bazaar. Alert readers may recall Bush Bazaar: it is the black market here in Kabul, where you can buy pretty much anything, from pumps for the male anatomy, to laser sights for guns, to Quaker oats, bacon and cheese. Alerter readers may recall my prescriptions for rendering edible the breakfast cereals one can purchase at Bush Bazaar (Bath time and sugary oats). Alertest readers will know that alertest is not the superlative form of the word.

On this last trip to Bush Bazaar I bought what I thought was large pieces of cheese. Cheese is not readily available in Afghanistan, and where it is, it costs a great deal, so to find six smallish rounds of cheese in not-disgusting condition for only $4 a packet was quite an exciting experience.

I got home and proudly displayed my finds to Julie, only to be informed in tart tones shortly thereafter that what I thought was blocks of cheese was in fact slices of cheese separated by paper, melted together and refrozen. The fats in the cheese had turned the paper soft, but not so soft that you could eat it: a mouthful tasted pretty much like cheesy paper. Perplexed I stuck some in the freezer, wondering if it would separate more readily when frozen. There it lurked for several weeks; yesterday I got it out.

It would not separate. The paper and the cheese remained intimately linked. I narrowly avoided severing an artery when trying to insert a knife in between the frozen slices, I broke the cheese-paper block into chunks trying, I then struck on the idea of melting the cheese fondue-style, and lifting the paper out. (All this, I should note, as I prepared tortillas for dinner: the cheese was to go on top when all was done). (You can see where this story is heading).

I put the cheese in a water bath and attempted to heat it. It would not melt. It kind of softened, then re-congealed, sort of like a dairy epoxy resin. I tried fishing out the paper; it brought the cheese with it. I tried scraping off the softened cheese; the paper tore. I tried eating it: cheese paper.

I gave up and tipped the lot in the bin. Who needs cheese on a tortilla? Stupid idea.

Cheesey paper snacks. Do not try this at home. Or at work. Or anywhere.

Women like it bitter

We are sitting at lunch. A kind of gloop of potatoes, lentils and oil. It is actually pretty tasty, though the oil and salt does add a certain weight to the meal.

After the gloop is bananas. ZA is wearing a bright pink shirt, with a large E embroidered on it, and he looks at me as he peels his banana.


I demur. ‘I don’t eat them.’

‘You get bananas in your country?’

‘Sure. I have banana palms in my garden.’

‘No way.’

‘Yep, and mango. Pomegranate, plum, apricot’.

‘Whoa…wow….What about koruut?’

Koruut is a kind of hard, dry nut. It is highly astringent, and tastes how I think industrial carpet might.

‘No. No koruut. It is not a big thing in Australia.’

ZA nods. ‘Here, the women like it.’

This is news to me. ‘The women? Not men.’

He shakes his head. ‘Women’. I ponder for a minute. ‘So why do women like it?’

ZA is only a little lost for an answer. ‘You know apricot nuts? Or bitter almonds? You know how bitter they are? Koruut are like that. Women like those. They like ’em. But as to why women like them, you’ll have to ask women. But they like it bitter.’

Backside still numb; application of motorbike will help

I have just sat through two weeks of training and meetings, and my bum is numb with it all. Five days advocacy training, followed by three days security training (mainly how to survive a hostage situation) and three days strategic planning. I have nearly forgotten what it is to walk around. In the midst of that we have been dealing with the usual matters of life here: flat tyres, earthquakes, boys throwing rocks at the car and making lewd, pelvic gestures, a final memorial services for the Nuristan Eye Camp team, some issues with our kids at the school. Vexations, frustrations, yes, but it is also a beautiful time of year: clear days, cold nights, and the first wisps of wood smoke in the air. Soon the street cleaners, old men dressed in their orange Guantamo -Bay style jump suits will be burning piles of leaves in the gutters. Soon we will put our diesel stink-boxes heaters in the rooms, soon winter will start closing in. But now, it is still beautiful.

A few weeks ago I bought Carl’s Yamaha trailbike, as he was heading home to the UK. It has broken lights, missing panels, the oil tank leaks, the fuel cap is missing, the rear tyre bald, the seat is loose, it blows a lot of smoke, it makes a vigorous farting noise at high revs, various parts are wrong (the kick start, the micro chip). Taken together, this means that it functions only more or less, often less, and it’s habit of stalling as I pull out to overtake, leaving me scrabbling to avoid being flattened by the approaching truck, is alarming. But it is still a mostly excellent means of getting around in Kabul’s awful traffic.

A few nights back I went up to N and B’s to pick up Pieta and Elijah, who had been playing with their kids. I was going to drive, but even at 6pm the traffic was dented-bumper-to-broken-headlight. I turned around and got out the untrusty motorbike, and hooted off up Darulaman, stalling at 200m intervals. Unfortunately, as noted, the headlight is broken, so it’s either zoom in darkness and risk striking a pile of bricks, a person, a dog or six, or perhaps all the above;  or use high beam, and blind the oncoming traffic. I used high beam, but still missed the turn off to their street. Then I got a flat tyre. But I did eventually find N and B’ place, only to realise I had only one helmet. And discovered that Elijah had brought his giant panda bear, and his ukelele, and that Pieta had a pile of books. So there I was, put-putting home, with a flat tyre, Pieta behind me, no helmet, Elijah in front, helmetted, with me carrying a panda bear and a ukelele, in the dusty chill of the Kabul night air.

Ahhh, Afghanistan.


* Pls note, worried readers: I have since purchased an additional helmet.

More Kabul weirdness

I was sitting at N’s house this morning, where a group of us had gathered to do what followers of Jesus often do, church. Since some time now we have not met in the large building where we used to meet, as it poses too great a security risk. Now, we vary times and locations, meeting in small groups across the city.

I sat on the toshak and look across at the person next to me. She had a German bible. She also had a sidearm. I guessed she was military. Not a particularly brilliant piece of logic: while there are a lot of international civilians here who have weapons, they are pretty discreet about them. I watched as she read her bible and followed the message, which this morning was given by a visiting Irishman.

Guns and bibles. Guns in church. Guns and Jesus.

Not sure what to make of that. I have never knowingly sat next to an armed person in church before. And I happen to be committed to non-violence. Not the kind of non-violence often wrongly construed as standing by while your children are hurt, but an assertive, intervening pacifism. I believe that war represents a failure of imagination and an abandoning of creativity, and that violence must be met with an equally determined, committed and powerful force. But many, maybe most Christians don’t think like that. Most, if you press them, allow for justifiable self defence, aggressive self defence, just war (whatever that is) and so on.

I went away wondering about it all. What could I say to her? Should I say anything? Should followers of Christ be police (for this is what she was; part of the German police training force here). Should Christians ever take up a weapon? Christ, as I read him, as I see him, abdicated the use of violence. He saw that the way to win, was to allow your enemy to show, through their use of violence, their weakness and brokenness. Such brokenness, made public, shames the enemy and forces him to negotiate, to examine himself, to change (I guess this wouldn’t work with the profoundly psychotic and disturbed… restraint might be the only option there?). I have tried to follow this pattern, imperfectly, since I decided to follow Christ some 18 years ago. It has seen me injured a number of times. One person tried to strangle me. Another struck me to the ground. I have stood between men with knives in their hands and I have gone and had tea with the drug dealer in our street, in an attempt to win him. It is a lot harder to do this than to use force. Force is quick, blunt and effective in the short term. But it never succeeds ultimately: every war, every occupation, the life of every person who once used violence shows that.

I didn’t feel very warmly towards my gun-carrying sister. I made some joke about her later, which neither she, nor the others present found funny. We need police, I know that. And to say that followers of Christ cannot be police is ridiculous. Have to think some more about this.

Now hiring

We are recruiting about 9 new positions for Hagar. I made up a list of the jobs, brief descriptions and listed the requirements. I asked applicants to state how they met the requirements, and then posted the advertisements on a few websites here in Kabul.

Within minutes, I started receiving applications. 90% of these applicants have simply fired back a CV, shooting straight from the hip. None of them – repeat – none of them have addressed the requirements. Their cover letters are all addressed to ‘Dear Sir/ Madam’, despite the advertisement requesting that applications be addressed to ‘Phil Sparrow’. Some applicants haven’t even bothered to change the details of their documents from the last job they applied for – so I have applications for positions with WFP, the Afghan Human Rights Commission and so on. Many applicants claim to speak excellent English, but their letters are full of the most basic typos. People have had ‘Gander Training’, have studied ‘Enlish’, they describe themselves as speaking ‘perfection English’. Many begin like this:

To Whom It May Concern

I have recently found out through your job vacancy that your prestigious office is to recruiting new employee for the above mentioned post of so, being equipped and having the qualification needed for the post I apply and have the confidence that I will be able to contribute positively toward the achievement of your organization goal and objectives.”

I think that sentence is from a Jane Austen novel. Or they have lines in them like this:

“I have full command on the relevant subjects. As far as the communication skill is concerned, I can register, interpret and convey my verbal and nonverbal stimulus and response and lead programs well up to the standards and policy of Hagar Afghanistan.”


Eh? Here’s a selection of the best/ worst bits:

Languages:        Read        Write        Speaking    Understand

  • English         flounce     Flounce     Flounce         V. Good        

  • Dari          Excellent    Excellent    Excellent    Excellent

  • Pashto        Excellent    Excellent    Excellennt    Excellent

  • Urdu        Excellent    Excellent    V. Good     V. Good

Dear Mr.Phil Sparow

I have an aim to join your organization and try my best to benefit your organization form

The most useful and high standard skill that I have developed during three non-stop simultaneous years…

I hope I will get the chance start with your organization and build up a new empire composed of experience and dedication.

To Whom It May Concern:

I would likes to apply for the above Position. I can feel myself a component candidate for the above position.


Human rights and gender and word.

Human rights in Afghanistan.

Repot writing.

Loses Rudeness abut woman’s.

Loses the currency without cultures abut the woman.

Participate of the woman’s in the community.


Participate of the woman’s in dally live.

Lose contrariety with woman.

Dues defective effect.


What is ‘Dues defective effect’? Is it a skill I need in an employee, that they lose rudeness about woman’s? Do I want an empire builder? Flounce English? (Sounds dangerous). And what is a ‘component candidate’? Do I need to know that that candidate feels himself?

“I am seeking a professionally rewarded and challenging position in a company that is aggressively expanding in Afghanistan market.”

I think the Taliban is aggressively expanding in Afghanistan. Perhaps he should apply there.

Honestly, it was a depressing afternoon’s reading. Such desperation, such hope, such dreams of a better future were hidden in these applications. I have put all the worst and unusable applications aside, and when I get a moment, I will write back, asking them to spell check (really, it is not so hard these days with Office software), asking them to address letters to the listed person, asking them to address the criteria.

It reminds me of when we were recruiting for a finance manager back in 2000, and got a string of people who claimed they were all trained accountants. I tell no lie, not one of them got all the answers right on a very basic maths test. Not one could balance a ledger. Well, to be fair that was in Taliban times, when all the skilled people were fleeing here as fast as they could push a wheelbarrow full of their bits of things.

The sad thing is that most of these people are probably competent enough. If they were less frenzied in their applications, and took say, 1 hour, to look at the description, address the letter to me, get the name of our organisation right, check out the website, and give me two or three lines on how they meet the requirements, they’d get an interview. What’s with the rush? It is not as though the first application in my inbox gets the job.

I’ll let Mr JT have the last word here:

Dear Sir/Madam,

please find attached, That I am Candida in below positon so I sent my resume for your consideration and I am looking Forward to having an opportunity how I can Contribute with your team.

I dont think we want anyone who has Candida in below position.


We are back in Kabul two days. We arrived 5.30 on Tuesday night – it was dark and cold, but we had asked our watchman to light the diesel heater, so one room was warm enought. And friends had cooked us dinner. But! Kabul had a surprise in store. The cold weather had frozen the gas bottle, so there was no way to heat our dinner. Job no. 1 on arrival was to disconnect the gas bottle and move it inside, where it was marginally warmer. Mostly it is best they are outside, because of their tendency to leak and explode (more than once we have rescued screaming neighbours with singed hair from burning kitchens because of exploding gas bottles). But in this case dinner took priority.

Day two dawned bright, clear and freezing cold. The kids refused to get out of bed to get dressed for school. Eventually pressure, threats, blackmail and force did the trick and wrapped up like Eskimos,we all toddled off to our various occupations. On returning home at 4pm, job no. 2 awaited: the water pump wasn’t working, so we had no water. About an hour later I had fixed that one and we were all in business: water, heat, gas. What else do we need?

As a result of all this, I thought up a new song for the AfghanTourist Board:

Ah the joys of living in Kabul

The joys of living in Kabul

The joys of living in Kabul – 

Are very very few.

I am also thinking up new slogans for the Board:

 Afghanistan: makes you appreciate home.

Afghanistan: every day an adventure in home repair

Afghanistan: Come on in, the war’s lovely

Bound to think of some more soon. I will pitch them to the Tourist Board (if there is such a thing) later on.