Life in Kabul is tough. Not in the way you’d probably expect. Security is fine. Honest Mum! Its all the essentials of daily life; electricity, water, roads, communication, air quality, that are all fucked up. Nothing works. Every thing that heats, burns, lights, pumps, pushes, pulls, opens, closes, sends, delivers, drives, covers, cooks, cools. Nothing, absolutely nothing, here does what is says on the tin.
Living here is like camping at Glastonbury Festival on a legendary wet weekend in June. By the end of four days at the annual Pilston musical extravaganza, you feel like shit, you look like shit, youÕre cold, youÕre dirty, most of your possessions, along with your mind are either lost or in an irreparable state. But that’s what it is. You pay your ticket money, you make your choice. By the following Wednesday its all but a dream. By Friday it’s a boast in the pub; ‘I survived Armageddon and lived to tell.’
Kabul is like that, only it never ends, it’s Groundhog Day. Every day. This is TIA (This Is Afghanistan)child mortality to access to clean drinking water. They have a world index rankings that measure free press or how corrupt governments are but nobody mentions The S.G.I. and nothing you can do will change it. This is not a moan about living in a poor country. I’ve done Third World and bought a few t-shirts. Africa is like a Swiss clock compared to here. This place is unique. The U.N. measures everything from The Shoddy Goods Index is used as measure of the quality of manufactured goods in the country you live. This complicated mathematical equation is based on taking a box of matches and counting out how many in a box actually light. From this simple statistic you can then work out how fucked up the country is.
Here we have Khyber Matches with the box art portraying one thing Afghans are very good at: Massacring invading infidels. The matches? Well just say lighting the stove become an exhilarating game of dare and chance. Much like crossing the Khyber Pass. Will the gas hob light or will it be you? Russian roulette can also be played in the shower. One colleague went for an early morning splash and woke up in hospital thanks to a gas leak in the heater.
I live in an old four-bedroom single story house. In its day it would have been beautiful. Now it’s like a house that Blackwater built. That’s if Blackwater, the legendary mercenary company, did health and safety. If they did they would use this as a house as a sort of Fallujah type mock-up for domestic accident training. We have security alerts here every day, warning of suicide attacks and kidnappings etc. Many NGOs even have to go on Hostile Environment Training. But no one I’ve spoken to has been instructed on how to negotiate a shower with a water pump that emits sparks combined with a showerhead that sprays water directly onto a light switch inside the cubicle. There maybe be little chance of SBVIED in my bathroom but it’s surely more dangerous than the road to Kandahar. This morning the bukhari chimney fell off inside the living room spewing black smoke and ash everywhere. Somehow whilst washing the soot off my face in the sink I realised that the water was somehow electrified. A tingling sensation you don’t get with Lemon Zest body wash.
However this leads me to concede one massive improvement since my last visit. We now have virtually 24-hour electricity. Well it’s about fourteen but this is a huge increase from the virtual zero before. The power cables that come from Uzbekistan have finally been switched on and most of the city is awashoppressive gloomy regime, providing gloomy oppressive lighting. with Central Asian electricity. The nice touch is that the electricity matches its origin; an It’s not actually all the Afghan’s fault. The manufacturing base here is so marginal that even the most basic goods are imported.
There is a sliding country scale of rubbish. If it’s made in Afghanistan it has no guarantee (well it’s guaranteed not to work). Next it’s Pakistan. They make matches so volatile that the Israelis could use them in Gaza. Then it’s the Chinese. They send us the stuff that Europe won’t accept or that Russia has returned as too dangerous Iranian goods are seen as gold standard of quality here. I don’t know how they say, ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ in Farsi but the proud look from an Afghani shopkeeper as he waxes lyrical about Persian workmanship is very convincing. Even the Americans will admit to that fact. US defence spokespeople are regularly seen trumpeting the advanced bomb making techniques of the Iranians. When it comes to I.E.D’s they are world leaders.
Unfortunately for me I am off on a military embed next week with the US forces. This is why I am hoping that the hyperbole surrounding Iranian manufactured goods is just that. Here’s to shoddy workmanship then.
The Afghan Hound
Out here there are no verbs – we are stoned immaculate
09 Mar 2009