Kabul, Afghanistan: The best place for people-watching in the entire world!
There is so much going on in Kabul that I don't even know where to start. "How come all the burkas here are light blue?" I asked my Afghan friend. (Burkas are decorative bedsheets with filigree eye-holes worn by many Afghan women when out in public.)
"Because the color repels the heat?" Nope. Gotta come up with something better than that. These are WOMEN we are talking about. If they were the boss of things, burkas would come in every color in the world -- or, better yet, they wouldn't have to be worn at all.
The teenager sitting next to me at the internet cafe looked like your typical Afghan kid -- until his cell phone rang and he answered, "What up, fool?"
"Are you by any chance from the States?
"I live in Falls Church, Virginia. I'm here for the summer, visiting relatives." He keeps in touch with his friends in America via MySpace.
On the news last night, they said that the "Taliban" burned down yet another primary school. The news guy said that several Qur'ans were also burned. The news guy was all indignant. My Afghan friend was indignant too. "Muslims all over the world," said my friend, "were infuriated when Mohammed [PBUH] was made fun of in Danish cartoons but here are these self-proclaimed religious nuts financed by Pakistan burning Qur'ans and nobody cares."
At the Ministry of Health we learned that 70% of the people in Afghanistan suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a result of over 25 years of poverty and war. 70% of the country has "issues"? This place is a people-watching paradise!
Then you got the tribal costumes and outfits and hats. And the donkeys. And the bicyclist boys with their burka-wearing mothers perched on the back wheel. And the seamstresses with treadle machines sewing clothes and the hillsides covered with adobe box houses that leave you wondering, "How do people get UP there?" because there are no roads -- or water pipes either.
Then we drove through "Old Kabul". It was a gigantic flea market from Hell! Scrap metal like you wouldn't believe, over a mile of shops that used to be container-ship containers and interesting-looking men selling used tires, used bicycles, used tools and lots of used STUFF scrounged from bombed-out buildings. "Stop the car!" I yelled. "I GOT to take a picture!" This was my kind of place. My friend Joe Thompson woulda gone crazy here, sorting through all those tons and tons and tons of junk.
Look at that! A whole herd of goats just cut through downtown traffic. They drive in Kabul like they were inside a video game so those goatherds were GOOD.
Last night we heard loud explosions and screams. I ran to the window. This is it! We are actually under attack! Nah. It was a party.
The streets are rocky. The people are dirt poor. The embassies are hidden behind anti-rocket barriers. There are men everywhere and very few women. All the buildings are either bombed out, bullet-riddled or are being rebuilt from the bombs. And the faces of the men on the street are endlessly fascinating. Endlessly fascinating. As a devoted people-watcher, I thoroughly approve of Kabul!
PS: What is truly sad about Kabul is that, as my friend Matt said, "You go to Guatemala and it's dirt poor from the wars -- but it's always been dirt poor." But thirty years ago, Kabul was a modern, booming metropolis and now it looks like a cross between bombed-out Dresden and a hillside slum outside of Rio de Janero.
Bright spot: "Future Generations," a NGO, has recently helped a section of Kabul to organize, get sewage, get street signs and even get out the vote. People in Kabul are energetic and willing to roll up their sleeves whenever there is NGO money available to fund projects instead of weapons.
And anyone wanting to donate to a school in Kabul for girls who didn't get an education under the Taliban, please go to www.afghans4tomorrow.com. Thanks.