So, here we sit in Camp Darulaman, in Kabul, waiting for our Afghan counterparts to finish with another project (you’d laugh if I told you what it is) so that we can start getting to know them. We are settled in our “B-huts,” plywood covered wood frame buildings with metal roofs that house about six men apiece. The buildings are lined up “dress right dress” in a graveled yard only about 300 meters by 100 meters, surrounded by high walls made of modular barrier materials. There are towers at each corner, and a motor pool at one end where all the vehicles are parked. Roughly in the center there is a mess hall, which is really very good, and couple of rows of huts from there are the shower/sanitary trailers, which are kept very clean. We also have a fitness center, with treadmills, stationary bikes, and weights. There are plywood “kiosks” of bottled water every time you turn around.
We’ve been here about 5 days now. It’s really much nicer than Camp Phoenix, although there is no PX. There is a bazaar every Sunday, which we haven’t been here for yet. This Sunday will be our first.
Kabul is a sprawling city. There are more than a couple of million people in Kabul, and from higher up the hill you can see the vastness of it. There are a couple of two to three thousand foot mountains right in the middle of the city that flows around them and draws up their sides as if by some sort of human capillary action. Our “terp,” or interpreter explained to us that the higher up the mountainside, the poorer the inhabitant of the abode. He found it amusing that in the US in a city this size, the higher up the mountain, the richer the inhabitant is likely to be.
Our mountainside dwellers wouldn’t have to walk up the mountain to get to their home, and would be more than happy to pay for the spectacular view, the inherent security of being exhausting to reach, and to look down upon their fellows like Snoopy doing his vulture routine. These folks pay for their lack of financial fortune with excellent aerobic fitness and a one mile, two hour walk home uphill all the way. The houses cling to the mountainside almost desperately, looking for all the world like they really shouldn’t stay up there, but they do. Very few look as if they were built recently.
If people anywhere in the world would have sprouted wings out of necessity, it would have been Afghans. “These people are harder than Chinese arithmetic,” as one Colonel put it.
Afghanistan has an enormous infant mortality rate, and a huge child mortality rate as well. The main causes are simple diseases and a horrible accident rate. Afghanistan is simply not very well child-proofed. Children are hit by cars in this country all the time. In addition to the fact that there really are no traffic laws or licensing requirements here, people literally will step off of the curb without looking. Either way, about one in ten children die in infancy, and many more will never see their fifth birthday.
One reason is the water. If we, as Americans, drank the water here we would die. We would die painful, cramping, horrible dignity-stripped deaths. We drink bottled water. The Afghans in many places do not have that luxury. Children contract diseases that are largely unheard of in the US, like cholera, and many of them die from it. Those that don’t develop the most wicked immune systems that you could possibly imagine. American sewage is cleaner than the Kabul River. No wonder these people are harder than woodpecker lips. It’s like the natural selection from hell.
In the US, we say that no parent should ever bury one of their children. These people do it all the time. Not only that, but their death rate from women dying in childbirth is enormous, approaching medieval standards. Death is simply a lot easier to come by here. Throw in 30 plus years of warfare, and you’ve got a pretty deadly place to live. Yet there are people all over the place here. Afghanistan has five million more people than Iraq.
From higher up the hillside, you can see an enormous expanse of city sprawling before you. The Afghans use the Islamic calendar, and it is 1386, I think. Looking at the city, having been on the streets, it truly is 1386. With cars and trucks and buses and motorcycles. There are multi-storied buildings, but most are severely damaged and are being used anyway. When American movies depict a post-apocalyptic world, they depict something like this. Millions of people living with barely any infrastructure… it is simply amazing.
These people are hard. They are born hard, and they live hard. They have to be hard to live. The soft ones die. Fast. We watch Survivor on TV. These people live it every day. Hey, here’s an idea… Survivor: Afghanistan. Put those guys right in the middle of Kabul. I might find a better place out in the countryside when we move out to the east around Jalalabad in a few weeks. Yup… send those money-grubbing nimrods over here… we’ve got something for them. I’d like to see Richard fishing naked in the Pesch River. Then again, maybe not. It would be like a bus wreck, though… you wouldn’t want to look, but you’d have to. Yuck. Taliban aside, this is one of the most challenging places on Earth to live.
Here in Camp Dubs we’ve got clean water, showers, toilets, great chow, and relative safety. Jalalabad is a different story, but that’s weeks away now.