Arriving in Kabul


Arriving in Kabul
by bppopkin

Week Three
In a land in conflict, Afghanistan – Saturday, 27 February 2010

Military aircraft runway on native soil with thin crushed, slightly compacted gravel cover, very windy, dust storm noon flight to Kabul from Farah. Stalled take-off as we wait boarding of repair flight equipment to our Raytheon Aircraft Beech 1900 D Airliner. In the military briefing, I overhear communications are e-blocked by insurgents. I hear spiral flight maneuvers are being tracked by US military for possible suicide flights. So beware of friendly fire, we are told.

Oh, did I mention, our passenger briefing cards are in French? Aka LES CARTE DES MESURES DE SECURITE. As it reads, FOR YOUR SAFTETY, or POUS VOUS SECURITE. Apologies for missing the French accent marks.

I hear the snapping of flags in the gusty wind and small-arms fire coming closer. Will try my REI zip-in Navy blue coat, black DC-found watch cap, multi-sourced unmatched foam ear plugs, and lining-worn-out black leather last century gloves protect me. Sancta Maria, Ora Pronobis, as we take off with ground turbulent in brown dusty soup.

Of dusty soup, several years ago, I was driving the Mrs. and granddaughter to a ladies basketball game at the San Francisco-area college where I was teaching students physical geology. We got caught in a fog that evening, and mentioned we were in a fog soup. Alegria looked around and asked if were in the bottom of the bowl. I suppose we were.

Now back in a luxuriously suite at the Kabul Guest House, very nice to be hear. Lining up dinner meetings. Must be careful, as the breakfast utensils break apart – the handle slip off the business ends. Of course, water leaks in the bathroom. But otherwise, lovely, after Farah.

Say, TV in Farah has a few dozen channels, mostly Indian or variations of Armed Forces Radio. Not too interesting, but I saw and loved the Schwarzenegger movie, and read three books about How the West Was Won, and the Napoleonic Wars in Portugal. Better than conjugating irregular Portuguese verbs. In Kabul, TV has nearly 1000 cable stations, mostly Indian as well. Listening to yet another Indian romance saga while brushing my teeth, I wonder if anyone has written anything on the ecosystems of Afghanistan bathrooms. It would be jolly fun to have a microscope and dissecting kit, and appropriate ponies, to at least classify the countless fauna in my bathroom, from nats, nit, flies, roaches, wasps, worms, snails, mold, and whatnot.

I have been beefing up with my body armor. Presses, lifts, etc. Must remember to warm up first and rotate those arm sockets and massage mussels between lifts to avoid unnecessary later pain.

Walking into the lunch line in my Guest House, I notice that all the expatriates enter the line to the left, while all the Afghans enter the same line to the right, with predictable miasma in the middle where the two starters meet. I wonder, as most of us read from left to right, and they from right to left, if that is the reason.

At my contractor’s office, I was asked to sign some training-completion certificates, and pulled out a ball-point pen from the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Resort. The pen’s cap and base were dark red color, while the hand-held part was white. The clerk who brought me the certificates jumped back and said, “No, sir, not red ink!” I showed him the ink was black, by demonstration, and he was relieved. I suppose there is something unacceptable about red ink.

Reminds me of a Russian revolution story. A US journalist traveled to Moscow to report to the West on conditions under communism. He told his editor before leaving New York, “I will of course report truthfully. If I write back in blue or black, you will know what I write is true. But if I write back in red, you will know what I write is untrue.” Several weeks later, the editor receives a detailed written report, which reads, “Everything here in the new Russia under communism is abundant, safe, and happy. There are no bread, milk, eggs, meat, vegetable or fruit shortages. Everyone I meet feels secure. And the people are happy in their new situation. The new Russia has everything a person could want, except for red ink.”

At breakfast, they say when they started the cash-for-work program, the expatriate leader was an Egyptian named Firouk. Naturally, the Afghans feel into calling him Cash Firouk, mixing up cash-for-work with Cash Firouk. I tell them as story told to me by an esteemed international attorney:

A young, white man enters an elevator. Then a very tall, athletic black man enters. The white man looks at the black man. The black man says, “Seven-feet tall, 300 pounds, balls weigh three pounds, Turner Brown.” The white man passes out. The black man awakens him, and says, “Sorry, I didn’t want to shock you, but you were staring at me, so I thought to tell you what you wanted to know. I am seven feet tall, weigh 300 pounds, and my balls weigh three pounds, each. My name is Turner Brown.” The white man, obviously relieved, says, “Oh, I thought you said ‘turn around.’”

A similar story told to me by a Romance Language Professor goes like this. A man was in a serious accident and was rushed to hospital. He lay moaning and bandaged up in his hospital bed. The young night nurse overhears him saying, “My testicles, please. My testicles, please.” She is embarrassed, but after all, she is a nurse, they are in a hospital, and her patient is suffering. She decides to relieve him… Afterwards, he tells her, “Nurse, that was very nice, but, what are my test results, please.”

Working with my interpreter, seems the translations are fine, the interpreter is less so. He is unfamiliar with these terms: handling (thinks it’s transportation), reactivity (thinks it’s sensitivity), stability (thinks it’s allergy), sweep (thinks it’s clean), corrosive (thinks it’s harmful), and several terms like irritant, itching, mist, spray, and sweep. But we worked it out. I hope.

I invited an Afghan colleague, a Columbia University-educated anthropologist for dinner at my guest house, and my gender specialist/ environmental compliance officer as well. She sent me an e-mail a bit before dinner, “Is Omar still coming? I may be running late as my finance in on the phone here.” She meant that antiquated, say Victorian term, fiancée, I think, or did she mean finance? We laughed about it later. There as soooooo many jokes about missing words, I can hardly begin. So I won’t.

But since you asked, oh, nevermind. You likely heard so many. No need to bore you. Say, I sure could use some fly paper in this room. Ugh.

One more thing. You don’t realize how boring you are until others bore you. I need to shut up more; God gave me two ears and only one mouth. Case-in-point, my Scottish security guard tells me, when we land, he’ll give me a short brief, but for now, be sure to take your sleeping bag and body armor. When we land, we’ll have four vehicles. So-and-so will lead the first, blah-blah the second, I will take the third with you, and yazoo-yazoo the fourth. We will take a less common route, and when we arrive at post… Ugh.


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Darius Kadivar

Thanks for Your Insights

by Darius Kadivar on

And Wishing You safety during your stay.

Your feedbacks on this country so culturally linked to us Persians is truly appreciated !

Happy Nowrooz !


please send more photos if possible

by persian_yingyang on

would like to see the new afghanistan.