Letters from Kabul: 22 February 2013

22 February 2013

So here I am, back in Kabul after a two month break. I’m sending this letter out to those of you who received the previous iteration, and to a few others who have indicated interest. As always, the normal caveat applies – if you want to be taken off the list, just let me know. I won’t be offended.

While I was back on PEI, over Christmas, a couple of people asked if they could forward these letters on to other people. I don’t have a problem with that; all I would ask is that they are not published anywhere. They are written as letters, rather than as articles or blogs.

So, here is the first letter from Kabul for 2013.

I’ve missed most of the winter, although there is still a lot of snow on the mountains around the city, and there are drifts of ice in the darker corners alongside the walls of the back streets. The days have been mainly bright and cool, blue skies and about 8 degrees (Celsius). I’ve been back for nearly a week now, and am just about over my jet lag. I still wake up every morning at 0330 but as long as I can then go back to sleep for another few hours, all is good!

A few first impressions. The streets are looking even cleaner than they were in the late fall, the roads are in good shape and repairs are continuing to the drainage lines. Everywhere I go I see the city workers, clad in their bright orange jump suits, clearing drains, sweeping pavement, shovelling piles of garbage in to the back of city trucks. The rose bushes along the medians have been pruned, they stand sentinel waiting for the spring.

And, the most amazing sight of all, cars stopping at the traffic lights! Then waiting until the light turns green before they move forward. A small step, perhaps, but after the anarchy of the roads I experienced before, a great leap forward.

1.4 Traffic Ligbhts

Of course, not all the traffic lights are fixed, and traffic is still insanely busy, but there is a sense that a certain degree of order is returning to the streets of Kabul.

On one of our trips to a meeting we drove through the old city for the first time. There are still remnants of houses that existed before the ruin and destruction of the last 30 years began to take its toll. The timber framed balconies are quite beautiful, and give an idea of what the city must have looked like before the advent of motorized traffic.

1.1 old City 1

Further along the same street we came across rows of new bread ovens. These have been distributed by the government, in an attempt to wean people away from the old wood burning ovens. The new ones use gas, which produces less pollution, is more efficient, and reduces the stress on Afghanistan’s remaining forests and wood supplies. I haven’t had a chance to see one in action yet, but I’m hoping to do so before too long. As long as the taste and texture of the bread remains the same!

1.2 Old City 2

I still haven’t eaten fish, I’m a bit leery of something that’s been caught a few hundred kilometres away, transported in the back of a truck, and then pegged up on a board by the side of the street. Still, I did get a chance to get up close and personal with one of them, a type of carp which is caught in the lakes and rivers of Nangarhar province, which lies between Kabul and Pakistan.

1.3 Fish

As you can see, not only will he weigh and cut you a couple of fillets, but he’ll even fire up the brazier and cook them for you as well!

I think I’ll stick to the lamb and chicken. And the bread!

It’s been a busy week, as we prepare for our big Project Steering Committee meeting next week. This is where our work plan and budget for the next year are reviewed, so there has been a lot of work getting everything ready. Hopefully all will go smoothly, and we shall be able to start implementing some of the activities we have been planning with our Afghan colleagues.

Today we’re moving out of the hotel and in to our new house. Here we shall have our project office and our accommodations, all under one roof. We’re very excited at this new stage coming to fruition after months of planning. But more about that next week.

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