Day 2, Tuesday March 15:

Was wide awake at 3.30am, tried to get back to sleep, but by 4.30am decided to turn on the light and read my ‘history of Afghanistan” notes. After a while the roosters started their cockle-doodle-doo-ing and then the ‘call to prayer’ kept me company as it wafted over Kabul. We headed out early, eager to fit as much into the day as possible.

Again I donned my long, shapeless, black coat and black headscarf. The cheeky manager made me feel quite self-conscious when he said: “are you going out in that? Aren’t you hot?” Well yes, but aren’t I supposed to wear this?” He shrugged his shoulders, and sure enough, after a few blocks I realised I was the ‘blackest’ woman on the street and looked like I’d just got off a flight from Saudi Arabia. Afghan women were wearing trendy, colourful jackets, and loose, bright scarves. I felt silly, so stopped at the first scarf shop I saw and purchased a couple of soft-pink/burgundy toned striped scarves and tossed one lightly over my head to replace my black pinned-down one. I also loosened my jacket and undid the top buttons to reveal a bit of colour and felt much more normal, and blended in much better! There was one expectation blown away on the first day: I assumed the women were either in a burqa or dressed dowdy in black, boring clothes. Wrong. I hardly saw a burqa on my first day, and most women were dressed very colourfully and very fashionably. When I saw one girl wearing a fluorescent pink headscarf, I figured I could relax a bit.

We walked down the main part of Chicken Street and I became mesmerised by the antiques and curios in the windows of dusty, little shops. I was invited in and sometimes took the bait, looking far too enthusiastic for Martin’s liking. It was only our first day, and I was about to buy every copper vase and ‘200 year-old’ brass ‘antique’ teapot in sight! I made a note to come back another day with a few dollars to contribute to the Afghan economy.

Abandoned swimming pool from Soviet era, never used

I wanted to get a birds-eye view over Kabul so we hailed a taxi and headed up the mountain called Bibi-Maroo. This mountain is known as the resting place for some rusted soviet tanks, and a massive concrete swimming pool, built by the Communists, but never used becaus they couldn’t pump water to the top of the hill – although I heard boys would often climb down and play soccer in there. As you could imagine, it’s a surreal image.

I enjoyed taking plenty of time to walk around the top of the mountain taking in the 360 degree views and realising just how huge, sprawling and crowded Kabul is, with a population of about 4 million crammed in the valley surrounded by the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Below us were tall apartment blocks, factories, commercial centres, and sprawling residential areas, all sitting underneath a layer of smog.

One view over Kabul from Bibi Maroo

View from the other side

And an ominous presence in the sky – a large, white blimp. You know, a zeppelin air balloon thingy. I figure it’s for surveillance purposes, it just hovered and moved over the city all day. Eerie.

Martin had arranged to meet a former German work colleague for lunch (Martin has worked in Afghanistan before and speaks the local language), so we headed over to his friends office, and I was surprised and delighted to see boys on the street playing a game of cricket (yes, cricket!). Had to get a few pics of that and the boys were happy to oblige.

Boys playing cricket in the street

Martin’s friend, Thomas, wanted to go to his favourite restaurant a block away, so we pulled up to a quiet street, in front of an unmarked gate and suddenly the gate opened and we were ushered in by a security guard with a gun. We were searched and then guided through to the outside courtyard and I was surprised to see that every single person was a well-dressed foreigner. This was obviously a favourite haunt for ex-pats, and Thomas explained that such places have removed their signs in the last 6 months because of bombings of places that foreigners frequent. I pulled my headscarf off and undid my jacket and tried to relax, but actually felt quite uncomfortable being in the place that was obviously a kind of ‘bubble.’ Women at a nearby table chatted as they ate pizza, sipped café lattes and puffed on their cigarettes. Everyone looked quite important, I figured they were either journalists, security contractors or aid workers, and reckoned I could pick who was what. Although I did feel uncomfortable at this closed off, exclusive place with a high-priced menu, I was glad I went there to see and feel what is known as the ex-pat ‘bubble’. It was something I had been thinking about all day as we were walking and driving around town. I noticed quite some buildings surrounded in concrete blast walls and razor wire, totally closed off and protected by security guys armed with weapons, crouched behind sandbags. There were no signs but I figured each of these places were offices for various international groups, foreign embassies and NGOs. In Iraq they were all housed in one place: The Green Zone. That was like a city-state with embassies, offices, military headquarters and Burger King. Here there were a series of Green-zones across town. Fragmented, but still serving the same purpose: keeping the foreigner in and safe, and keeping the locals at arms length. Hmm, while it makes me uncomfortable, I know that individual aid-workers are not to blame. They often dislike the security measures they have to live under to do their jobs. But I would ask the question: how can they do their jobs well, serving the Afghan people, while they live in this bubble? I know of aid workers who worked liked this for a time and then left in frustration. They answered the question in the negative; they believed they could not do their jobs well, so instead of supporting the green-zone system of working and being, they left.

Lot’s to think about. Feeling very tired and a bit stuffy in the nose from the large amounts of dust around town, and the dry air. Crashed after dinner feeling a bit sore from all the walking, but happy about a great day seeing more of Kabul. Feeling safe and happy – a large plus has been having my own personal translator – Martin’s language skills have been invaluable!

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