Street Walking

At this point in our work we are desperately trying to finish all the tasks we have set ourselves. Our project has five components, and so we each get to spend hours trying to get our heads around alphabetical acronyms so beloved of development agencies – PMF, RBF, PIP – as well as the infamous Implementation Matrix. It was at about day 4 that I wished I hadn’t brought my light little notebook with me but rather a 30” mega laptop – I’m getting fed up with this tiny computer screen!

We’re become so busy that we no longer even leave the hotel unless we have to! We each sit in our rooms, or in a small open area on the second floor, and sometimes we congregate for meals. The sun is shining and the sky is blue, people are sitting in the garden enjoying the shade of the two big pine trees in the courtyard, but we survive on artificial light and the cooling power of the air conditioner.

Most days are the same, a bit like that film “Groundhog Day”, but recent days have been enlivened by two unusual events. First, someone decided that the restaurant here in the hotel is now closed at lunchtime. This was discovered when we went along to get lunch, so I had to go to Plan B.

Plan B meant getting my own lunch. For some strange reason, in my room I had a can of mackerel in oil, and a jar of olives. But I had no bread, and tinned mackerel without bread is like … well, nothing at all, really!

So I had to go out. This involved leaving the hotel and going past ‘our’ security team, then walking down our little street to a slightly bigger one. Here there is a barricade, with Afghan National Police on duty. They raise the barricade and let you through, and then you have to pick your way down the rutted slightly bigger street, past a row of shops (mainly hairdressers [“wedding preparation our special skill”] and barbers, as well as a small general store and a slightly larger so-called supermarket) and then across the main road to the bakery, to buy a round of naan.

My colleague Tony came with me and we made it across the road, soft-stepping between the cars like all the Afghans we’ve been watching – as one of my colleagues in Kosovo used to say, “you have to be one with the traffic” – and bought the bread, then back across the road safely. As we walked down the middle-sized street Tony said, “hang on, I’ll see if they have yoghurt”, and disappeared into the general store. I waited outside. A man came out of the barber’s shop and sat down on his steps. He looked at me, and proceeded (by mime and the odd Dari word I understood) to tell me I should come in to his shop and he would trim my beard and cut down my little tufts at the side of my head!

Of course I declined – it may have made a good story, but what would Paula at Blue Note say if I let someone else cut my hair? Nobody has touched it since she cut it when I popped in the day before my interview for UPEI, back in 2008. I got the job, and she got a customer.

Tony got his yoghurt, and we kept walking, and in the supermarket I bought a cucumber and some oranges, then we came back to the hotel. The ANP opened the barrier to let us through, and as we entered the security team opened our bags to check what was inside, and gave us the usual pat down, but my naan cleared their scrutiny and I had a good lunch.

Second, after our meeting this morning, I needed to go to the bank and change some money, I also needed to buy some more credit for my Afghan phone, as I was down to my last 20 Afs (about 40 cents) and that wouldn’t give me too many calls.

“No problem!” said Jawed, our driver, “give me the money!”

So I gave him 500 Afs ($10) for the phone top-up, and US$50 for the bank, and suddenly we stopped on a street corner. Jawed whistled, and a man came out from under the shade of a tree where he had been sitting with friends. Moments later I had my phone card, and my 2500 Afs.

So there you have it – another exciting couple of days in Afghanistan!

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