Tonight, l’m propped up in bed, fully clothed and wearing my puffy coat. The electricity in my room is out, which means my space heater is off, and as it’s the only source of heat, its getting a wee bit chilly. Considering the way the day started, its seems almost fitting.
The morning started out with a bang. Pardon the pun. Hoping against hope that the loud explosion that blew open my windows was simply thunder, I peered outside to see a large plume of smoke rising on the other side of the courtyard’s wall. Alas, the rainstorm continued silently, the ensuing gun battle ensured that the rising smoke and second explosion couldn’t be mistaken for any natural weather phenomenon.
Several of the guesthouse guards ran past my window with guns and perched themselves on the wall. Gunshots rang out for nearly half an hour on the streets around us. I grabbed my bag and threw in my passport, and opened my door so that I could head to the main reception to see what’s going on, but when I step out one of the guards gestures to go back inside and softly repeats –” its okay its okay”. I retreat and text a couple people to see what’s what.
My friend Mike was staying in a room in a different building of the same guesthouse, he wasn’t answering his iphone and I couldn’t seem to get my clumsy fingers to dig through my phone to figure out the number on his Afghan phone. So I called my other friend Travis who lives in Kabul, and who I assumed, would be sleeping soundly through the whole thing. Surprisingly, he answered on the first ring saying, “I know all about it, you okay?” “Yeah, aside from the gun battle going on outside my guesthouse.” I can hear gunfire through his phone, and outside my window, in stereo except that I’m deaf in one ear… so not really.
I decide to go check on Mike and to see what the hotel staff is hearing. I grab my laptop and bag and walk through the courtyard, to the main building. More guards run past and the guesthouse staff are gathered at the desk watching the news unfold on Al Jazeera. I exchange pleasantries and knock on Mike’s door. No answer. I knock again. Nothing. I wonder if he’s simply slept through it. My hands are steadier so I find his Afghan number in my phone and call him. I can hear it ringing inside, Mike picks up and where I’m at, when I reply, “Outside your door.” He hangs up and the door opens.
He’s fully awake and dressed in his shalwar kameez and we go to the breakfast room to get some tea and watch the news together. Gunfire is still ringing out occasionally, prompting looks around to read the reaction of the staff.
We eat, drink tea, and discuss the unusual circumstances of the timing of the attack. Typically suicide bombers attack between 8-9am on workdays to make the maximum impact and create the maximum confusion. This attack happened at 6:30am on a Friday, the one day government offices are closed.
I cancel my morning meetings, but by the afternoon venture out to grab some kebabs, the streets empty except for shopkeepers sweeping up glass and debris from their shops destroyed in the blast. One end of the street is still blocked off, but otherwise traffic is moving through improvised checkpoints fairly smoothly. The motorcycle makes things easier to move through. I remember my driver, Habibe, complaining just two days prior, about the inconvenience of the checkpoints and how Corollas are always stopped. The irony that a different Corolla left a large crater this morning where the Euro guesthouse once stood is not lost on me.
The news stations piece together more and more of the attack throughout the day, with the end result that 16 dead and 34 injured. Certainly a welcome back reminder to not take anything for granted. This is not the first attack in Kabul I’ve witnessed, but certainly the closest I’ve been, and frankly hopefully the closest I ever get.
My heart goes out to all those that didn’t survive the morning.
My friend and Mountain 2 Mountain’s cameraman, Travis Beard, was one of the first photojournalists on the scene, his footage is seen in this MSNBC coverage.