Letter from Afghanistan IV

Sent on 14th August 2009, in this letter our correspondent discusses the final week before the elections

Yet another week has absolutely flown by. Your intrepid correspondent has not had time to put thoughts onto the screen before today which is Friday 21 August 2009.

It’s been a rather eventful week as many of you will already know with numerous incidents. I can’t say I really like the word incident when it’s used in the context of some of the happenings here but I don’t suppose the official report writers are allowed to use descriptions such as atrocity or mass murder. The week started with one such “incident”. A suicide car bomb got to within thirty metres of the main entrance to ISAF headquarters, how he got that close and through the other checkpoints is still the subject of investigation and much speculation. Anyway the bomber killed no foreign troops but did manage to kill and injure large numbers of his own countrymen, I just do not know what goes through the minds of these lunatics.

Then on Tuesday an ISAF convoy just off the Jalalabad Road was the target of another of these explosive laden Toyotas. This time a UN vehicle was caught up in the mayhem and two local staff were killed. Because military convoys are the main target of the one way taxis our drivers have instructions to stay at least fifty meters from ISAF vehicles to lessen the chance of becoming collateral damage. Personally I like the hundred meters version of this practice and would actually prefer to be a lot further away, possibly another country.

Throughout the week the saga of the audio-visual and simultaneous interpretation equipment has been running with all the allure and satisfaction of one of Kabul’s open sewers. All this expensive gear had been sat in Dubai for days and promised delivery dates came and went but nothing arrived. As you can imagine there was much shouting and screaming, and then we let the carrier’s local representative down from the rack. No, seriously we were e mailing everybody we could think of at the airline as well as the shippers but nothing seemed to happen except an ever-expanding list of excuses and a growing feeling that if this did show up it could be just in time for the 2010 elections.

On Wednesday we stripped out the small conference room we had been using so that at least we had a PA system, ISAF arrived with decent microphones and an interpretation system and we had promises of a lighting set from Afghan Television.

Thursday morning and imagine how I felt when I received a call from logistics that our man at the airport could actually see the aircraft and was driving towards it with trucks. Normally I wouldn’t welcome being woken up at 06.30 but I was definitely prepared to make an exception for this call. Christmas had come early and I couldn’t wait to unwrap the presents. It actually took another three hours for the shipment to arrive at the hotel and then a while longer to negotiate the security who, first of all seemed intent on making everything come in the long way rather than through the nearest entrance, then wanted to search all the boxes. I refused point-blank to open all this in the hostile dusty environment of the hotel car park so eventually a compromise was reached and a K9 explosives search unit wandered over the boxes, sniffed and went away. I suppose I should be grateful the dog or the handler didn’t hang around to mark out their territory.

As this was only three hours before the first press conference only basics were set up, audio distribution for the press and the projectors. Afghan TV arrived and in their usual style attempted to take over the show. I was prepared to be generous as they had at least turned up with the lighting so just this once they were allowed to place their own microphones.

Over Thursday and Friday we managed to rig the new loudspeakers and microphones as well as the interpretation system. This was a massive team effort and everything came together splendidly. At this point I have to say a special thanks to our ISAF liaison team. They joined in with the set up and provided good company and humour over the days they were with us. How they managed to do that after being stuck at the hotel over two nights because of the movement restrictions imposed on them I do not know but I shall always be grateful to them. On election day they even noticed that I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for most of the day and brought a pot of tea to me as I was working at the sound desk. Guys you know who I am talking about, thank you for everything.

As for the election it has been deemed a success in terms of voter turnout. Yes there were a large number of incidents across the country and Kabul experienced some small explosions and shootings, a bit like South London really, but here at the media centre we had the impression of being in the eye of the storm, a dead calm had descended on the place. Life was strangely normal, we sat down and had tea and meals and you could have been almost anywhere except for a couple of little hints that this wasn’t a normal setting. The car park was full of armed police and most importantly the service in the coffee shop was typically Afghan, at least an hour and sometimes more for a simple snack such as a burger or a grilled cheese sandwich.

I’ve had a few days staying at the hotel treating myself to the unaccustomed luxury of hot water from the shower whenever I wanted it, I didn’t care that the air conditioning didn’t work or that the television was dead, there was hot water. The other bonus was breakfast, alright there is no bacon or black pudding but the buffet had plenty of other goodies, enough to temporarily displace the memory of local bread and Happy Cow cheese.

The actual press conferences have been going well and the local staff are gradually getting the hang of the equipment, all I have to do now is convince them to pay attention and not miss microphone cues or play with open-ended cables thereby causing hum on the system.

Well that’s a week which commenced with the bombing at ISAF but which didn’t seem to produce the levels of mayhem that was widely expected. Nonetheless innocent people have been the victims as is usual in any country which is basically at war with itself. Casualty figures are still rising and more coffins are being returned home but if I was asked if this was all worth it I would have to say yes. The average Afghan is a nice person despite their propensity as a race for fighting and they deserve a chance to stay out of the clutches of the lunatics that ran this country back into the dark ages. All that will remain to be done is to convince the majority of the male population to start treating women as human beings and for the place to have a president who is strong enough to stop buying off warlords and religious groups at the expense of the ordinary people.

The correspondent has had the dubious pleasure of knowing MG for several years and she counts him as a close friend. During a lifetime of trying to earn as much as possible for the minimal amount of effort he has been taught to cook by the army, fooled lots of people into thinking that he knows what he is talking about when it comes to AV installations and toured the globe. Now firmly into middle-age, he can occasionally be found slumming it in various exotic locations courtesy of the UN.

Comments are closed.