We arrived a couple days ago in Kabul and it hasn’t let us down. Its a thriving, bustling, war torn city that assaults your senses every second until you crash exhausted into bed.
It has all the images you would expect, bluebird colored burqa clad women, beggars, bullet riddled buildings, and busy streets filled with cars, bicycles, people, police, and the occasional tank or two. Our driver, Shah Mohammed, tenses and speeds up whenever we pass one – because THOSE are the targets and you don’t want to be near one if it blows up.
Its a heady lesson for tailgaters.
Our driver is an ex military commander, ironically he was in the transportation department, and I feel completely comfortable in his capable hands as he steers between buses, around donkey carts and pedestrians, in the complete and utter chaos of the Kabul streets. Its a complete free for all in all directions with bodies crossing in between cars and buses like a speed game of chicken. Drivers don’t yield for anyone. Human, donkey, bicycle, tank, or bus – the littlest car will confidently pull out into oncoming traffic, the wrong way, and calmly beep his horn and somehow melt into the six lanes of miscellaneous traffic.
What I didn’t expect was the complete and total destruction of the infrastructure of a city. One hundred times worse than what I saw in Beirut. Buildings completely gutted out and crumbling with people and businesses still occupying them in some fashion. Only one road we’ve been us thus far, the newly fixed one from the airport is ‘driveable’, a few main thoroughfares are rutted and bumpy, but every side street requires serious off road driving skills.
Everything is done on the streets. Need to change money? There’s a guy at the roundabout that we stop at to change $200 dollars into local currency. Need to buy a phone card for the cellphone? There’s a ‘shop’ on the side of a busy intersection with a cart full of whichever phone card needed. The markets are streetside and carts pulling apples, bananas, construction materials, and pretty much anything else you could need, set up each morning inches from the traffic.
Our translator and driver offer great advice and direction, and err on the side of security to the point I get a little claustrophobic. You can’t just go walk out for a cup of tea or get a bottle of water. There are security guards and barriers at each end of our alleyway, as well as a night guard. While the meetings we are taking and the activities we are doing far exceed my initial wish list…there are a few items that will probably get scratched off. The bird market is out – for security reasons. Too crowded and too visible to be safe. Local music at a restaurant or teahouse at night is also out, we are back at the guesthouse before dark each night and have our dinner here.
Yet, unexpectedly, I feel quite comfortable here. I wake each morning to the local Iman’s call to prayer, and find myself with a content smile on my face. I’m not looking at buying real estate, but despite the chaos, stress, and security threats…I’m where I want to be.