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Arriving in Kabul

Saturday, September 20, 2008 by Marianne Elliott

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As we drove from the airport into Kabul city Horia started
to tell me about the work we would be doing together. She had been waiting for
a long time for me to arrive, since long before I even applied for the job, and
was excited to finally have me there. But I struggled to concentrate on what
she was telling me because I wanted to spend the whole trip looking out the
window, getting my first real look at Kabul, my new home.

The airport is to the north east of Kabul city centre and as
we drove south towards the city I saw a large collection of rundown apartment
buildings. Horia told me they were called the “Macrorayan” building, one of a
set of similar apartment complexes throughout the city. Built by the Soviet
regime to house civil servants they looked to me like they might have become
home to squatters. Their walls were pocked with bullet holes and they were
surrounded by bare dirt and mud. But Horia told me that she lived with her
family in one of the other Macrorayan neighbourhoods. These apartments,
although they didn’t always have electricity or running water, were affordable
only to Afghan’s with decent jobs and at least a government salary. Rental
costs for houses in Kabul had apparently gone sky-high since the arrival of
thousands of foreigners like me, and ordinary Afghans were struggling more and
more to afford housing for their families.

As we continued to drive I saw where some of the millions of
other Afghans in Kabul lived, the ones without regular jobs or income. In the
dirty cold mud along both sides of the road there were men, women and children
making their way in and out of mud and tin shacks, . In 2001, at the time of
the fall of the Taleban, the population of Kabul was estimated at 500,000.
Today the population of Kabul is estimated to be around three million. This
extraordinarily rapid growth has happened alongside the slow process of
developing a constitution and then electing a president and then a parliament.
This has been a period during which the civil and criminal justice system has
had to be rebuilt across the country, and during which the entire education
system has needed revision and massive expansion.

So while the machinery of government in Afghanistan was
slowly being rebuilt, the city of Kabul was being flooded with new arrivals.
People came from all over Afghanistan in the hope of work and opportunities.
Instead they found a city totally unequipped to accommodate them and they began
the struggle to survive that makes up the day-to-day existence of people living
in extreme poverty all over the world. In Kabul they were doing this in a
setting of political instability, potential insecurity and, when I arrived that
day, harsh winter conditions.

As we entered Kabul city itself the streets looked really
familiar to me. Although I was thousands of miles from Gaza city, here in Kabul
I saw the same signs of heavy weapons. Kabul is littered with the corpses of
buildings long dead. Some of these buildings destroyed many years ago during
the Soviet invasion in 1979, more were destroyed during the uprising against
the Soviet-controlled government a little over a decade later. Some of the
buildings met their fate more recently. According to one UN report ninety
percent of the building in Kabul were damaged from 1992 to 1996 as the
militia groups that had overthrown
the Soviets fractured and fought for control of the city. Still more were
destroyed during the US-led invasion to oust the Taleban government in October

Although the bombing in Kabul had clearly been more
sustained and much heavier than in Gaza, I recognised the state of the
buildings. I also recognised the script on all the signs hanging above
storefronts closed up with the same heavy metal doors that I also knew from

Later, when I started to
learn Dari I would use my familiarity with Arabic to impress my teacher. He
didn’t know that I had taken three lessons a week for two years with my patient
and gracious Arabic teacher Ibrahim in Gaza. So when I learned to recognise the
Dari letters quickly and could even sight-read simple children’s books in Dari
he thought I was some kind of linguistic genius. For about a week. Then I
started accidentally using Arabic words in my fledgling Dari sentences and the
truth came out.


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One Response to "Arriving in Kabul"

  1. Gypsy Alex says:

    Picturing you on this journey, my friend. You are so brave! I can hardly believe I know you! Tell us more…

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