Day 4 – Cruisin’, 23 May 2010

Today was a my first real day in the office. I also was driven to appointments all over town. The highlights follow.

STREETS OF KABUL: The traffic is horrendous. The roads are amazing. I thought the roads were bad in rural Romania. Not even close. It took over an hour to drive from the Ministry of Commerce to our office which is probably a distance of 1-2 miles. The long drive did give me a chance to watch the goings-on. Every woman here has her head covered. Some women cover their faces but it is a significant minority. Although the dust is so bad here, most Afghans have a scarf around their necks so they can cover their noses and mouths when the dust kicks up. Motor scooter and bicycle riders don’t wear helmets but wear scarves. We drove by the Central Mosque and it was modern looking but still a pleasant looking sight. Every important office is behind cement walls and has armed guards. There are guys with rifles on every block. Scarier than the terrorists are the organizations with low-end security comprised of one toothless guy out front with AK-47 in hand. God forbid one of those guys gets spooked. We passed by several schools. The schools were a welcome visual relief — young, bright smiling faces in matching uniforms of dark pants and pale blue short sleeved shirts. Until I realized I didn’t see any girls. There is a far greater Central Asian presence in Kabul than I had anticipated. Afghanistan is close to Tajikistan, China and other Oriental countries.

CRUISING IN STYLE: The vehicle of choice in the international community is an armored Toyota Land Cruiser. The vehicle looks pretty conventional but weighs 2-3x the norm because of armor plating and bulletproof glass. The passenger door weighs close to 300 lbs. I was assured that the door would stop any bullet coming toward the car.

MOCI. I sat for awhile in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. I made the mistake of visiting the can. It won’t be a regular habit. Hole in the ground. No TP. Just a pitcher of water. No soap at the sinks. I have previously confronted nasty holes in the ground at Eastern European government ministries but not usually at the buildings where they meet with foreign businesspeople and try to convince them that this is a modern country. At the ministry, I sat with eight bright, educated, fresh faced young economists eager to learn and improve Afghanistan’s lot. I have to admit my thoughts turned dark and I wondered if one of these young men could be the next Faisal Shahzad. I feel guilty but the thought was still there.

ERRATA. My favorite Afghan export is a spice called Asafoetida. This resin is so pungent that it’s nickname is Devil’s Dung. Very appetizing. They set up a pool table in the basement of the compound’s villa and purchased a BBQ for the roof. “Party on Wayne, party on Garth.”

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