One of the oddities of living in Kabul is that the in’s and out’s of daily life often make international news.
When this incredibly snarky piece by Rod Nordland came out in the New York Times, for example, I realized that I personally knew every project, and most of the individuals involved, that he described and so quickly dismissed. In fact, I had even taken part in one of them, the fashion show organized by Young Women for Change.
While Rod’s “article” was an overly-simplified and misrepresentative portrayal of art and private initiatives - not, in most cases, aid, as he claims – another recently published piece gets life in Kabul beautifully right.
Despite its dramatic title, “Kabul: Survival in a Suburban Warzone”, Ben Farmer’s description of Kabul Jan and, specifically, of the neighborhood that we and so many other expats share, resonate deeply. These lines especially,
Crowds of children tear around kicking footballs or playing hide and seek as watchful fathers stand at the gate. Tradesmen and labourers walk the potholed dirt streets and alleys shouting their wares and looking for work. At the weekend – Friday in Afghanistan – the men wash their cars and pack in their families to go visiting. The call to prayer, ice cream salesmen and American Black Hawk helicopters flying low enough to rattle the windows provide the soundtrack.
And after this morning’s four-hour long attack on Kabul International Airport, this section as well:
Each [attack] follows a similar pattern. A quiet morning is shattered by a blast and often gunfire, leaving everyone craning to see where smoke is rising. Phone networks often jam as people seek assurances their relatives are safe and then people check local radio, TV and even Twitter to see where the attack struck.
One aspect of Kabul life that I came to admire was how quickly the city got back to work after attacks. Daily life refused to be halted and often resumed minutes after the shooting had stopped and the blood was hosed away.
Initial security reports suggested that the attack had been a rocket attack in Quala e Fatulah, but it was not us, and life did go on and is going on. Outside, there is the loud whirring of machinery as they finally – but slowly – pave our dirt road. From next door, there is the clunk of bricks being laid for the monstrosity of a poppy palace the neighbors are building. A few times an hour, the melody of the ice cream carts drifts in through the open windows and, every few hours, the Black Hawks make their routine flight over the city.
This is the reality that Ben Farmer describes and, the longer I stay in Afghanistan, the more I appreciate his type of writing. 12 years in, it’s too easy to resort to the headline-catching cliches and stereotypes that paint vivid, if inaccurate, portraits of life in this “suburban warzone.”
Because Afghanistan is more than a headline; for millions – including, now, for me – this is reality and these are the in’s and out’s of my daily life.