TLC greets us every morning as we walk through the courtyard to the breakfast room. I’ve dubbed our guesthouses’s little puppy TLC, “Tastes Like Chicken”. He’s sweet, and needs TLC, but I hold a suspicion that our housekeeper is just tolerating him in the hopes of fattening him up for a cold winter’s night feast.
Each morning I return to consciousness with the local Iman’s call to prayer through the loudspeakers of the neighborhood mosque. Hearing his warbling voice before my eyes open is a cultural alarm clock that puts a smile on face despite the early pre-dawn hour. I grab my contacts and pull a blanket off the bed to wrap around me in the drafty, cold room. I turn on my computer and sit there in the dark, checking emails and writing down thoughts and details from the previous day.
The guesthouse is small, just three rooms with two beds each, a small kitchen and two shared bathrooms. We share the guesthouse with one other guest while we are there, Shaima, an American Afghan from Boulder. Stunningly beautiful, she is working with a local NGO for six months and is living here at the guesthouse which is run by Afghans 4 Tomorrow.
After a chilly shower to remove the previous days’ Kabul dust, its time to greet TLC and grab breakfast in an outbuilding across the courtyard. Breakfast is a crap shoot. The first day it included naan bread, spreadable cheese, jams, peanut butter, and eggs. A thermos of tea and a plate of eggs accompanies the meal. Day by day, it becomes scarcer and more unusual. The naan is always there, but the cheese varies, and once jars of jam or peanut butter are finished, its not automatically replaced. The cook and the guesthouse manager don’t communicate well it seems and so if things run out everyone is waiting for someone else to do it.
TLC follows us back to the guesthouse where we shut down computers and grab our stuff in time for Najibullah to ring the bell. Greetings of are passed back and forth in Dari, each day getting a little smoother. Bags and camera gear loaded up into the back of Shah Mohammed’s car and then its time for round two of endless Dari greetings. Shah Mohommad likes to mix it up which keeps us on our toes for the rapid fire greeting/how are you/replies that are issued in quick succession. He grins when he throws in a new phrase or simply changes the order to see the furrowed brows as we concentrate to keep up.
The days vary in purpose and activity, but not in the non stop pace. From the moment we hit the road, eyes and ears are trained on the scenes that unfold before us. Najibulllah points out landmarks and let us now the current Afghan news on the radio. Many mornings its discussing the latest attack in the southern provinces, a kidnapping at the school around the corner from our guesthouse, or a recent foiled bombing attempt. Who needs a morning coffee? The adrenaline shot is better than any espresso shot.
Full mornings, and the randomness of our breakfast, work up an appetite and that means kebabs, yogurt, rice with grapes and shredded carrots, a special meat dumpling called mantu. Sometimes seated crosslegged around the meal in traditional Afghan style, and sometimes at a table. Always delicious. Shah Mohammed joins us and smiles broadly as Najibullah schools us in impromptu Dari lessons, connecting thoughts and phrases from the morning’s work.
We fight the throngs of streetchildren and burqa clad beggars, giving them our leftovers as Najibullah instructs and occasionally buying their gum or magazines. Najibullah has taken us to a school for streetchildren, Aschiana, and he is always generous and patient with those that surround us before and after lunch.
Afternoon pace ramps up until dark when Najibullah tries to have us home for security reasons. We take a different route home each night and enter the first of two security gates guarding both ends of our street. Our guesthouse is on atreet with an international school and several international NGO’s that need extra security which means we soon recognize our guards with our morning and nightly passings.
Drop our bags and straight to the outbuilding again for dinner. The saving grace is the fresh naan bread, as the main course varies on its sparseness. Praise Allah for the incredible lunches at kebab shops and teahouses!
After dinner, the work begins. Tony retreats to his room to download and backup the days captured images and I go upstairs to start organizing interview notes, writing blogs, and interpreting new layers of cultural understanding. The first few nights I attempt the light a fire in the little metal stove in the middle of the room, but the brickettes smolder more than burn….and I usually give up and grab a couple extra layers of clothes. The room grows colder and colder as I work, with the solar generators giving their warning bell around 10pm. After that it’s the backup generator that has just enough juice for our computers, but no lights…headlamps are a godsend for the pre-bed bathroom run…and then sometime around midnight…dark and cold, I crawl under the layers of covers, dreaming before my head hits the pillow.
photo by Di Zinno