OH MY GOD! What an experience… arrival, reception, in-briefs, in-processing, short stays in plywood buildings, loading duffel bags onto trucks, unloading truckloads of duffels, a new country, surrounded by strangers, meeting people you know, meeting people you don’t know, NATO partner soldiers… I’ve spoken with a Mongolian. Romanians are pretty cool people. The French don’t say much, but they look a lot. Getting off the plane to, “Welcome to The Suck!” Brain spinning with so much information that you have to choose what to pay attention to.
We arrived in Kabul in the middle of the night, so the drive from KIA (Kabul International Airport) to the main camp wasn’t much to speak of. There was almost no movement at all on the streets. It looked poor, but it was dark and you really couldn’t see much. Then there were a day and a half there at the main camp before going to another FOB. We took a trip through Kabul in daylight. I can’t describe it. More stuff than you can imagine, and it was all going on at once. The poverty is unbelievable, the buildings damaged years ago that are still occupied in whatever condition they were left after the dust of the explosion cleared, the mud everywhere, the filthy Kabul river, the meat hanging in shop windows for who knows how long, the overwhelming poverty.
The boy who appeared to be about my son’s age who was standing next to the corrugated tin shack (lean-to) that he lives in. It was the size of four port o’ lets and seems to be held together by the same stuff that holds a house of cards together. He just stood there and stared.
Then there was the traffic… utterly unbelievable. The main road was a divided highway in places, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. There were people everwhere, walking, riding bicycles, cars everywhere, buses packed to the gills, trucks, donkey carts, chaos chaos chaos. Then there was the chaos; there are no traffic laws in Afghanistan. You don’t need a license to drive, just a car and willingness to brave that insanity. It shows.
The novelty… houses clinging improbably to the mountainside all the way to the top. It makes you wonder how they get up there. The houses and the people. How do they live?
We sat on the bus in our body armor, helmeted-up, weapons loaded, and looked at them. They looked at us curiously. Some were annoyed, as the bus driver blew his dual horns nearly constantly… and they were very loud… so that we could bull our way through the insane traffic, escorted by weapons carriers. We didn’t want to get held up long enough to make a target of opportunity for anyone. Most people seemed to simply look… some waved. One, cut off, spit.
I was shocked by the entire trip, and so were the other team members. Our eyes were opened to Kabul. We’re told the poverty is much worse where we will be going soon.
In the 1920’s the King of Afghanistan had two palaces built; one for him, and one for his queen. They are called, oddly enough, The King’s Palace and The Queen’s Palace. The Queen’s Palace is also called Darulaman Palace, which means “Place of Peace.” It has not had an entirely peaceful history. When the communists took over, they killed some family members there and booted the rest out and made it some type of headquarters. It has been the scene of fights involving the Soviets, the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, and NATO forces. It has seen better days. There is a plan to refurbish it. Here’s to better days for these national treasures.