Monday, June 26, 2006

Nightmare in Kabul: The Soviets, dysentery and dial-up instead of DSL!

I arrived in Kabul three days ago. Last night I came down with dysentery. Not a pretty picture. Very undignified. Not since I was a hippie in Mexico in 1965 have I had such a memorable relationship with a bathroom.

But the worst part of all was that I couldn't just pop down to the internet café.

On April 28, 1978, the Soviet Union ruthlessly invaded Afghanistan. It was just like Pearl Harbor here in Kabul -- lots of shock and awe. Then after the dust subsided over the rubble, approximately 12,000 of Afghanistan's teachers, doctors, engineers, judges, writers, lawyers, etc. were marched off to Abu Ghraib, er, I mean Pul-e-Charkhi prison where they were tortured and buried alive in long, narrow pits because the Soviets didn't want to waste bullets on them.

At first I took Po Chai pills – Hong Kong's equivalent of Alka Seltzer – for my "dilemma". It usually works at home but would it work here? Nope. No luck.Pepto-Bismo? Imodium? Nope.The Soviets ruthlessly hurt people here in 1978. It was like they had an unstoppable thirst to inflict pain. Not just your run-of-the-mill mass slaughter. They wanted to hear their victims scream first. These people were the evil Hell-spawn from Hell. What's with that? No wonder the Afghans resisted. You would have too.

"Drink plenty of water, Jane." Yeah right. It was the freaking WATER that did this to me in the first place. 3 am. 4 am. 5 am. Yikes!

For ten long, brutal years, the Soviets slammed Afghanistan with an iron fist, finally leaving the country in shambles, with its excellent base of educated professionals and its high-quality infrastructure totally destroyed. Then there was civil war. Then there was the Taliban. Then that idiot George Bush thought it would be a good thing to hit what was left of the rubble with Shock and Awe. Good one, George. Ignore the fact that the Taliban who hid Osama bin Ladin came from Pakistan and just join the line of blood-thirsty bullies waiting to kick Afghans while they are down.

Finally, around 5 am, I broke down and broke out the Ciprofloxicin that I'd brought from Berkeley just in case. Dr. Lovett? God bless you! Now I'm finally well enough to stumble off to the internet café!

Afghanistan today is a sad place. How the people here have survived 25 years of absolute horror and can still walk and chew gum at the same time is a mystery to me. 80% of the country can't read or write – and yet there is hope. The people here have a tremendous work ethic, an contagious enthusiasm and a drive to make their lives better and to find a future for their children if not for themselves.

You cannot BELIEVE how slow the internet connections here are. I can play half a game of Free Cell solitaire between each screen change. Like Afghanistan itself, the internet connections are slow. However, the connection IS being made!

PS: You don't have dysentery," said an American staying at our guesthouse. "You merely have 'The Taliban's Revenge'. But dysentery is a major problem here, especially for babies. The mortality rate for infants in Afghanistan is 16%. And the maternal mortality rate is 16.7%.

"One in ten Afghan mothers die in childbirth? "With over a one-in-ten chance of dying in childbirth, why would anyone even WANT to get pregnant?"

"Jane, sometimes they don't have any choice." Oh. Right.