The Soft Sound of Mortar Fire

Kabul, Afghanistan.

   July 20th, 2009:
    – “Daily Afghanistan Outlook” headlines: Last week – 145 Terror Attacks, 66 dead, 228 wounded
    – Yesterday: Karzai backing former jihad commander Abdur Rab Rasul Sayyaf as commander of Kabul
       forces and security …elections coming in a few weeks, fight fire with fire I guess
    – Today: cleaning people accompanied by automatic weapons in room
    – Breakfast: word is militants pouring into the city. Advised to leave now, while I still can

     After breakfast I take a ride around the city. Only 25 bombings today. It’s early. A world gone mad. Afghan military everywhere. A NATO APC in a small convoy rolls down the street, the man wielding the 50 up top pointing it at anyone and anything that comes near. You can tell he’s scared, the gun rolling from side to side like a bobble head on the Paris Dakar rally. Kids run, laugh, and point, the gunner points back. A dangeorus game but the kids are bored, and like any kids around the world, can see the fear in the gunners movements, so time for some fun. Cars slow down, weave to the outside lanes, get out of the way. The convoy quickly rolls through, dissapearing as fast as they can. 

     We stop on the outskirts of the city at an old fort. A man invites me to his home for lunch, my driver says “No, too dangerous”. Everyone wants their pictures taken, the driver wants to go. The man doesn’t wait too long, he runs off down the trail. We pass by a half stadium looking building. “That is where they tried to assassinate Karzai”, my driver says. He turns on the radio. “Taliban song”, he says.

     Sunset at the Gardens of Babur. A little bit of calm in a world gone mad. Locals picnicking, children playing. A bit of grass, newly planted trees. The women still in burkas …no pictures of women in burkas I’m told by the driver. Ah well, I won’t push, I’m sure they have enough to worry about without some American kid on vacation pointing a camera at them. Boom …in the distance. Make that 26. Time to go, its getting dark. Below, a view of the Pul-e Khishti Mosque from the Gardens of Babur in Kabul. Almost pretty, with the militant filled hills in the background, lacking any sign of the women in burkas ushering their kids home for another hot night in a house lacking electricity and running water, although the holes in the walls do provide some natural air conditioning. The sun filtered by another day of dust raised by the numerous bombings throughout the city. A picture does a great job of filtering out automatic weapon fire too…

     I get out of the car on the street at the hotel wall. Down the barb wired entry, through the two manned bunkers, around the sandbags. I knock on the outer door, someone opens and I’m in-between the two walls leading to the hotel. Through the x-ray station, around the black masked guards. I hear a call through on the radio, I wait for the inner guards to open the steel door. A bomb sniffing dog sniffs me up and down, good doggie. The door slides open, five fully armored men with autos ready are spread out semi circle around the opening door. I smile and give them a wave. Into the courtyard, I wave to the sniper on the roof-top corner closest to me, he waves back, I smile. This is insane.

     I get a half-assed standing ovation in the lobby, as well as a lot of laughter, from the mercs I met the past few days. They thought I was dead, out all day, after dark now. “You got balls, I’ll give you that” says the New Zealander as he slips another grenade into place. I talk a bit and than they are ready to go, heading out to only God knows where, fully armored, fully equipped, and apparently ready to make some money.

     I head to my room and eventually go to bed. You can hear the rat-tat-tat of automatic weapon fire throughout the city, the occasional boom-boom-boom of something bigger. The soft of sound of mortar fire in the hills surrounding Kabul lulls me to sleep, calming and almost soothing, like the croaking of frogs and the clicking of cicadas in the country night, Afghan style. Sounds like the boys are making a lot of money tonight…


Chasing the Sun


It’s fun, chasing the sun. …a bit expensive, but oh so colorful.

Post #100. …figured I would go back to something I’m good at – photography.
…ok, not necessarily good, just more gooder than writing that is. It’s all relative.

A few from the past 100 and a few that will be in the next 100…

From top to bottom, left to right: Axum, Ethiopia // Yankari National Park, Nigeria // Lake Lagdo, Cameroon // Niokolo-Koba National Park, Senegal // Dahab, Egypt // Bagan, Myanmar // Mt. Nebo, Jordan // Kabul, Afghanistan // Dahab, Egypt // Halong Bay, Vietnam // Northern Sudan // Lake Tana, Ethiopia // Bagan, Myanmar // Simien Mountains, Ethiopia // Axum, Ethiopia // Bagan, Myanmar // Northern Sudan // Black Desert, Egypt // Black Desert, Egypt // Niokolo-Koba National Park, Senegal // Bagan, Myanmar.

I think it’s gonna be a lifetime pursuit…


Kabul, Afghanistan.

     Do I really have to write anything here?
     Ok, maybe the whole story later, but for now a few thoughts.

     I came home. She IS home.

     Don’t believe the TV.
     It’s nothing like that. It’s much worse.
     Unless you’re a westerner. Than you can just go home.

According to some comments: She IS the enemy.
None of the commenters have been there.
I’ll let them believe the TV.
I just smile. They have no idea.



Book Review: Lonely Planet Afghanistan

     Ok. Before I even get started on this one I wanna say that I did go to Afghanistan in July, 2009, and I did read this book beforehand and during my stay there. I’m the “adventurous” type and went simply for a holiday. Not as part of an NGO or military or work or anything like that. Just for the fun of it I guess you would say. From my personal experience I can say, adamantly, DO NOT USE THIS AS A GUIDEBOOK along the lines of where to stay, visit, eat or anything else like that. This is one guidebook that can get you killed.

     The 1st edition, published in 2007. I’m not sure this was a wise decision by Lonely Planet. Actually, what I should say, is this was published to make money and that is it. There is no way anyone can publish a book on a country like Afghanistan and even slightly think that it will help their readers with lodging and visiting decisions. The book was probably outdated a few months before the publishing date…

     Take everything in this book with a grain of salt. It’s a fast moving country and to try to list “tourist” sites, places to stay, and places to eat could be potentially deadly. Good background info read before you go, definitely, but used as a “guide” …good luck.

     Case in point: I originally was going to stay at a highly recommended hotel in the book. I got there, Kabul that is, walked out of the airport and, talking to the mercs there, found out that the manager of that particular hotel was killed a few months earlier. …in the lobby of the hotel. Shot right behind the front desk. The mercs were really adamant about not staying there as the hotel was now compromised and an extremely dangerous place to stay. They gave me about a 75% chance of being kidnapped. Hmm. LP gave it a highly rated…

     Now, it’s not all bad. If your thinking of going than I would definitely recommend this as a good, comprehensive background and general overview type read of the country. In that sense one of the more recent out there. Written and published in the easy and eye pleasing Lonely Planet style, I would even say it’s worth the money if you’re at all interested in the country. I even learned a few important phrases before I went. CBIED, DBIED, DCIED …and things like that. The authors do have multiple “warnings” about information in the book also, so hats off to them there. Maybe even one of the more interesting lonely Planet’s I’ve read. So, in the historical and background context of the book, I would definitely give it a highly recommended.

     As a guidebook though, not recommended at all. If you are going though, and don’t feel like spending the money, I left mine in the library of the Serena Kabul. Really didn’t wanna part with it, but didn’t wanna carry it around for the next two months either.

Bottom Line:
…as a Background Read: Highly Recommended
…as a Guidebook: Potentially Deadly

     Help me keep traveling, reviewing, and taking pictures. If you want to buy this book, or any other book through Amazon, than click and buy through the photo above. Thank you!!! John