Days 23-24: Rocky Mountain High and Funky Chicken, 12 June 2010

1. CHICKEN STREET. I visited Chicken Street. Chicken Street is the only street in Kabul where we are allowed to walk semi-freely. It is closed to auto traffic so the chances of a car bomb are low and there are more policemen and soldiers than other streets. We went on Friday, which is the Muslim Sabbath, and it was a bit of a disappointment. There were very few people about. Instead of being like a bazaar or souk, it was a bunch of stores along one street. Not to mention that the security wasn’t all that impenetrable. What I found interesting was that there was some bargaining but not a great deal. I went into a scarf store. First of all, there was a little kid hanging out inside asking me to come visit his store across the street. I assume he was related to the owner of this store. Otherwise, he’d have gotten his as- beat. Anyhow, I asked how much for the scarves and the price was $10 apiece. I said 2 for $15 and you have a deal. The shop owner said No. I walked out the door expecting the fellow to chase me down the street like at the Khan-el-Khalili in Cairo. Nope. Didn’t even shout. I bought a few knick-knacks while I was there. Nothing special.

2. BEGGARS: There were beggars on Chicken Street. I was in East Timor last year and was amazed by the lack of beggars in Dili, the capital city, despite the abject poverty. It’s not the case here. There are plenty of beggars in Kabul — male, female, young, old, infirm, healthy.

3. RUSSIAN SHOP. We have Kyrgyz and Kazakh guys on our project. They are great guys. They frequent the “Russian Shop.” The proprietors speak Russian and peddle some paraphernalia from the Soviet occupation days. Although truth be told, they sell a lot more US and NATO t-shirt kind of stuff now. I decided to go the Russian shop. I bought a couple of T-shirts for the kids. I really didn’t bargain hard. I thought the prices were OK. So, the proprietor gave me one of those Pashtu Osama style hats. So, now I am stylin’ and profilin’. When I grow the beard back this winter, I will be sure to attract lots of FBI attention.

4. CEMETERY. I noticed a cemetery on the way up the mountain. I asked the driver if Afghans buried their dead in boxes or directly in the ground. He said both. What I found interesting was that very few graves were marked with an inscribed headstone. Most graves were marked by a plain thin stone. Something like a piece of flag stone with a triangular shape. The density of the graves was not the Prague cemetery but it was pretty close. Very dense. Picture a small plot of arid land, hundreds of pointy stones planted in dirt with a mountain of poor houses directly behind it, separated by a dirt road and a ring of garbage.

5. FOOD POISONING PLUS BROKEN BATHROOM=BAD COMBO. (NOTE: NOT GRAPHIC BUT YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ.) I have been shocked that since I arrived I haven’t had a cold, Osama’s revenge, jet lag, nothing. Well, our cooks made a British dinner the other night — roast, Yorkshire pudding, veggies, etc. Four of us got sick. Afterwards, several folks said it looked really bad and they didn’t eat it. Thanks for the warning, buddy. I just assume British food looks bad. (JT: You are the exception.) Compounding the issue, our bathrooms in the basement stopped working on Thursday night in time for the weekend. So, I have been hiking up to the bathroom on the roof deck. All the other bathrooms in the house are private. So, it’s not a lot of fun knocking on someone’s door at midnight and saying, “Hey, mind if I lighten my load.” Finish. And then say, “If I were you, I’d try not to go in there for the next 5-10 minutes.” There is a small public facility on the roof deck. Kabul is a mile-high city. Almost 6000 feet altitude. So, running up four flights of stairs to the roof, high altitude and a case of the trots = not a lot of fun. When I fantasized about joining the mile-high club, this wasn’t it. Maybe all the up and down the stairs to the bathroom in the altitude will improve my wind. (-;

6. JAMES BOND I’M NOT. There was a movie, I think it was a Bond movie, where someone opens a bottle of expensive wine with a long probe or needle. The sommelier just jabbed the needle in the wine bottle and pulled out the cork. I wanted to open a bottle of wine and there was no corkscrew about so I decided I would use this method. My implement: the punch on my pocket knife. I wasn’t so successful and pushed the cork halfway into the wine. So I decided to push the cork into the wine. Too bad I never took physics. Well, a geyser erupted and my pale yellow walls painted only four weeks ago were splattered permanently with red wine in a pattern Kandinsky would be proud of.

7. MUGGED IN LONDON. There’s a new Yahoo spam thing where the spammers get ahold of your Yahoo address book and send spam to all the email addresses. The email says that you have been mugged in London and you have no cash or credit cards and are in tears. It comes from your email address as opposed to Nigeria or one of the other scam locations. When Yahoo discovers the problem, they lock down your account for 24 hours. Thus, you can’t send out a general note telling everyone to disregard the spam. So, I received all kinds of emails from people including a few offers to help. When I responded, I wrote, “Ironically, I survived Kabul, Afghanistan only to be mugged in London!”

8. WORLD CUP. World Cup is a really big deal on the project. Even the Americans are international types, so they all know and love soccer. No one gives a rat’s rear about the NBA finals except the other guy from Jersey. One of our colleagues is taking her R&R in South Africa to go to the World Cup matches. Tonight is US v. UK. There are six folks from the UK on our project plus a few from the Commonwealth. Trouble’s abrewin’. USA! USA! (Most of our security guys are British and they are heavily armed. So, I will be sure to be a gracious winner if the US comes out on top.)

ERRATA:
– The Thursday night BBQ was outstanding. One of our colleagues, for his birthday, made fantastic tandoori chicken on the grill and there was a garbage can full of Tuborg beer. Although the most interesting beverage was pomegranate wine. There were some guys from an agricultural support project. They took some of their farmers’ pomegranates and fermented their own wine. Like that old SNL sketch, you could use the wine as a pancake syrup or a disinfectant. Only bad part of the BBQ: I met some really nice guys from the US, big fans of music like Booker T. and the MGs but they were from Dallas and they were … you guessed it … Cowboys fans. Everyone has their faults.
– Bathroom update: The plumber just finished. Wahoo!
– Apologies. I forgot to take the camera. And my camera phone is horrendous.
– Thanks for the emails. Much appreciated. I haven’t responded to all of them yet but they were thoroughly enjoyed.

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