Earthquake waking and Mardi Gras

28 02 2010

The final of the TM Shrove Tuesday pancake race

I was woken by someone rocking my bed and walking on the roof shortly before 4am this morning. The Bokari stove rattle made me think they were serious but after a while the rocking stopped and i realised it was an earthquake. At only 5.7 richter and over a hundred miles from Kabul this is only remarkable because it’s the first one I’ve noticed since I’ve been here. Nothing compared to the Chilean monster but ‘moderate’ was enough to stop me getting back to sleep, especially as I slept through the bomb blast of Friday morning, only a mile away.

To keep us busy we held a Shrove Tuesday pancake race around the fort with strategically placed string hurdles to toss the pancake over. It wasn’t the most stylish event that Turquoise Mountain have held but the dog didn’t go hungry. We have plans to do these competitive events more often, unfortunately the burka dash and stripping and reassembling the guards’ AK-47 guns have so far been vetoed.

With US Ambassador Ikenberry at the Mardi Gras Ball

The previous weekend was the Mardi Gras Ball at the US Embassy which was a laugh just to see what the cooped up Embassy staff get up to when they let their hair down. I’ve not seen any pictures of unusual drinking antics but apparently there were fights after we left and the staff aren’t allowed to have guests around for a while!

Following the deliberate attacks on internationals one would think that the local police might ease off on hassling foreigners for a few days however my passport’s at the Indian consulate for a Visas so twice I’ve spent over half an hour waiting at a checkpoint to see how long they’ll take to break. This time it was my driver’s uncle who called from the Home Ministry to get us sent on our way. Generally the police are a nuisance and a threat with or without guns, driving aggressively forcing all other travellers out of their way. Most amusing is the piles of shopping in the back as they race home with blue lights flashing.

Duncan DJ


Earthquake at the party

24 10 2009
Rendering a mud-brick wall with cargil, literally mud-straw. Note the small street-side windows for privacy.

Rendering a mud-brick wall with cargil, literally mud-straw. Note the small street-side windows for privacy.

There was an earthquake on Thursday night that momentarily disturbed our party held for USAID-sponsored staff leaving Kabul and also welcoming the new. Much vodka jelly was consumed in view of the glimmering lights of Kabul’s hill developments. The fort has a few new cracks in the wall and the kitchen table was covered with a new layer of dust at breakfast. The epicentre was in Northern Afghanistan near the neck of the Wakhan peninsular, a remote mountainous region with limited access. Damage in Kabul was minor but reports of casualties will take a while to filter through from the mountain communities already cut off but the oncoming winter.

View of the hill settlements during the day. As city electrical power has strengthened so the evening view improves.

View of the hill settlements during the day. As city electrical power has strengthened so the evening view improves.

International pressure has done its job. Karzai now publicly supports a runoff in the name of a bonafide government and long-term stability. Bring on November 7th!

Although TM’s work is fairly distant from the wider political issues of Afghanistan not surprisingly our lifestyle is not. There is a strong argument for reducing military force based on the number of Pakistani Taliban who cross the border to more than match each increase in ISAF forces. A political commentator and author of Ghost Wars, Steve Coll is critical of leaving a void but from the insider’s view his argument for a ‘winnable solution’ seems stretched. Rory Stewart provides an articulated argument for a reduction in international military numbers matched by an increased focus on development that instead stabilises the nation from inside. However the difference between community development and ‘state-building’ can be difficult to see from the top of a 9 figure budget courtesy of the US tax payer. See an extension of these arguments here. (As difficult as it is to profile the Taliban’s make up and expectations it is also hard to project the course of Afghanistan’s future and the effect of essentially a re-Talibanisation of the country were the international community to withdraw. Key to this is the debate whether removing the Taliban, if ever possible, would lead to a destabilisation of Al Qaeda, the more real threat to international security.

Excuse the brief move from everyday life to politics but as I say some days it is difficult to separate the two.

Duncan DJ