Sunday, December 6, 2009

Welcome to Kabul, Part I

I know I know. You’re all mad at me for not providing daily posts about my transition into life in Afghanistan. Please accept my most sincere apologies for the media blackout. However, the delay was intentional. I was waiting until I had:
  1. made some progress on overcoming my jet lag, at least to the point where I stopped napping at 4PM and getting a burst of energy at midnight. I'm still getting hungry at random times, but it's manageable.
  2. gained both some perspective on and a broad view of life here in Kabul
  3. managed to clear my thoughts of the alphabet soup that comes with trying to learn a whole new set of bureaucratic acronyms. Really, it’s like learning a whole new language!

After just about a week at post, I think I’ve managed to accomplish items 1 & 2. Item 3 is going to take a while. A VERY LONG WHILE. But I feel I've reached the point where I can give you all that update* you’ve all been waiting for. I have a lot to cover, so I’m just going to organize this topic by topic – apologies for the lack of a cohesive narrative.

*A quick disclaimer: due to security risks, I have to be careful about how much information I share about life on the US Embassy in Kabul. Topics like layout of the Embassy compound and daily movements are particularly sensitive. I will provide as much general information as I can, but I won’t be able to go into a lot of detail on many subjects.

I’m also not going to be able to share many pictures, as photography is not allowed inside the compound. However, a quick search on google shows that this rule is not exactly enforced. I’ll try to post photos when I can, but this is just a warning photographic evidence of our life in Kabul will likely be sparse. I'll try to make up for it with links to photos that are already out on the Internets, as well as lots of photos of any trips Nick and I take.

Enough with the warnings. On with the show!

The Compound
The Embassy compound has two sides, with a road running between them: the Embassy side, and the CAFE side. CAFE stands for “Compound Across from the Embassy.” Catchy, eh? The Embassy side has the Embassy buildings, obviously, and also the apartments, the tennis court, the pool, a small store, and some hooches. The CAFE side has the USAID offices, the small grocery/supply store, and some more hooches. ISAF headquarters (International Security Assistance Force, i.e. NATO), some other embassies, and the Presidential Palace are also in the neighborhood.

Kabul City
Thus far I really haven't traveled beyond the Embassy walls, so I don’t have much to say about the city itself. I can, however, comment on the weather and the quality of the air.

The air here is bad. BAD BAD BAD. There’s a kind of haze that hangs over the city at all times; at first glance it looks like the mist that hangs over the lakes and forests in the Adirondacks in the summer. But unlike the Adirondack mist, the pollution mist never burns off. It’s just there. ALL. THE. TIME. On good days the mist clears enough so that the ring of mountains that surround Kabul is visible. On really good days one might even catch a glimpse of some snow-capped peaks. On bad days, the mist makes it impossible to see the buildings across the street.

"What is in this mist", you ask? I don’t think you want to know the answer. But here’s a link to a photo from Afghan Magazine that will give you some visual evidence so as to inform your guesses. And for those of you who want a somewhat scientific discussion of the problem, here’s a nice NPR article.

The weather at the moment is not unlike DC weather. Chilly, but not freezing (although it feels winter-cold today), with lots of rain that has arrived in temporary showers of various lengths and intensities. It snowed a little yesterday, although it didn’t stick.

Our Apartment
Nick and I are lucky enough to be living in one of the apartments on the Embassy side of the compound. The apartment is quite cozy, and given that it’s about the same size as our condo in DC, we have little trouble sharing the space. It’s a one bedroom apartment, with living room and kitchen, and it even has space for a small dining table. The bathroom is much larger than in our condo, so that’s certainly an upgrade! The apartment comes mostly furnished, with a couch, arm chairs, dining table, queen size bed, dressers, major kitchen appliances, lamps, TV/DVD player, various side tables etc. The only furniture we’ve brought from home is our coffee table. Other items brought from home include some small kitchen appliances, floor lamps, folding chairs for extra seating, linens and towels, cookware, place settings, computers and stereo. Compared to life in the hooches, we're living in modest luxury. Compared to the living conditions out in the field, we might as well be living at the Plaza!

On a sad note (those of you who are friends with me on Facebook will already know this story), we are sans TV at the moment. Quick backstory: Nick arranged the TV setup so that the cable ran through his mega-desktop computer and displayed on the mega-LCD, HD, 26” monitor we bought just for this assignment. Ok, back to the sad part. On Friday afternoon Nick and I were watching a DVD, when all of the sudden smoke started billowing out from the back of the computer monitor. The monitor went kaput, and now we’re left without the pleasures of TV or Nick’s video games. We’ve called Vizio tech support, and fingers crossed they’ll just send us a new monitor without too much fuss.

Living in the apartment block is kind of like being back in a college dorm. Except with private bathrooms and more guns. Case in point: some of the apartment doors are decorated with white boards. There’s a laundry room on each floor, and people will move your laundry aside if you’re not quick on draw getting it out of the washer or dryer. It’s kind of loud in the hallways on the night before the start of the weekend (Thursday nights here, given that we have Fridays off based on the Muslim calendar). And the food in the dining hall is of questionable quality and provenance.

Ok ,that’s all for Part I of my overview of life at the US Embassy, Kabul. I’m hard at work on Part II; topics for that post will be my job, what Nick and I do on our down time, the safety situation, the food situation, and my sartorial habits. I may also include a "Day in the Life" section. If you have any specific questions you want answered, post them in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them in Part II.

Back to trying to sort out the acronym soup....

No comments:

Post a Comment