A few days before I left Kabul in September 2006, I decided to take one last tour of the city. Kabul has to be experienced to be believed. One must live there. Awaken there. Sleep there. Breath in it’s polluted, dusty air. Hear the sounds of it’s loud cacophonous symphony of madness. As foreign a city as a Westerner will ever experience, it’s a smaller, more chaotic version of Cairo, Egypt. Traffic makes no sense. Mass transit is a hazard to your health. Millie Buses will run out in front of anything and the black smoke that blows from the exhaust will both blind and asphyxiate you. People are always out in traffic. Yellow Taxi’s will run you off the road. UN convoys or Embassy Convoys drive as if they own not only the roads but the city as well. Plus, you have the bonus sensation of never knowing when an IED or suicide bomber might decide to make it your lucky day. Blue Burqas everywhere. Beggers and other street people standing in the middle of the road. Kids with “lucky smoke cans.” Armed guards are everywhere. Stopping traffic so that their boss may safely exit and enter traffic. The security forces of Embassy officials will shoot at you if you come too close. General Dostum and other Afghani officials security will run you off the road. Afghani police at various junctures will attempt to stop you and extort monies from you. I’ve seen Afghani being pulled out of their vehicles by local police. Trash dumps surrounded by goats and children at random junctures throughout the city. There is no rhyme and certainly no reason to the city. The only certainty is that you will be confronted with chaos, corruption and poverty at every instant. The only other constant is Islam. For good or bad, Islam reigns supreme with it’s burqas, muezzins, mullahs and mosques.
This city and it’s peoples are still in recovery from the past 30 years of war and catastrophe.
Kabul is madness. Pandemonium. “Pure pandalirium!” as Jeff Foxworthy might say.
Even so, I’ve always been a bit stir crazy and can’t stay confined to a safe house, hotel or base camp for too long without losing my sanity.
Kabul has it’s charms. I can’t count the times that a traffic cop has asked me to pull over and have tea with him. People smile at you on the streets if you venture out enough. Babur’s Gardens. Wazir Akhbar Khan District. The Serena and Intercontinental Hotels. Chicken Street must be experienced to be believed.
Ror–the cat who replaced me–had asked me to take him on a ride to show him around Kabul. Best places to shop. Places of interest such as Massoud Circle, Kabul International Airport, a couple of good restaurants…and other places that might be “fun” to hang out. The way to Camp Eggers and the US Embassy Compound.
So, off we went. Our vehicle was nondescript. Nothing out of the ordinary. I kept it dirty on purpose because Afghani vehicles are universally dust covered. Kabul is a dusty city. The only clean vehicles are Coalition, UN or US owned. I didn’t want to stand out in that manner. Become a target for a bicycle borne IED. Not my idea of a good day. Additionally, I try to drive exactly like the Afghanis. They drive wildly. No rhyme or reason. No real traffic laws. There aren’t any traffic signal lights or signs. The only traffic control are the cops in the circles and they are universally ignored.
It’s always an adventure on the road in the capital city.
I took Ror to see Chicken Street where you can buy every and anything from real and forged Greek coins to Chinese Rugs being sold as Persian Rugs to sapphires, rubies and emeralds to actual (illegal) Persian Rugs. It’s a great place to find a bargain. But because of the influx of foreigners the bargains are becoming more and more difficult to come by these days.
We swing by the U.S. Embassy, ISAF HQ and Camp Eggers…Massoud Circle….Kabul Airport and various other places such as Wazir Akhbar Khan District with it’s underground drinking establishments and the beautiful (and some not so beautiful) “waitresses” of the Chinese “Restaurants.” Then we get lost. I make a turn into a part of Kabul in which I had never ventured. We wound up lost for about a 1/2 hour. Eventually, I get my bearings and we cruise back to Camp Phoenix.
Later, when I return to Afghanistan with MPRI, I will stay in the Safi-Landmark hotel. This just happens to be in the area in which Ror and I were lost that day.